Guest author Matthew Paluch sees Bruno Beltrão’s thrilling Grupo de Rua from Brazil at Sadler’s Wells.
|Company||Bruno Beltrão / Grupo de Rua|
|Venue||Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London|
|Date||22 November 2022|
Times are a-changing in Brazil – thank god many people think. I’ve never been lucky enough to visit but have always been intrigued to, and having a close Brazilian friend, I’ve often pondered on the culture and the artists that are borne from it.
Enter Bruno Beltrão, the celebrated Brazilian choreographer bringing his latest work to Sadler’s Wells with his company Grupo de Rua (a Rio-based, 10-person crew), as he’s been doing since 1996.
The blurb tells us all we need to initially know – “It’s hip hop but not as you expect! Expect high jumps, head spins, somersaults, fast kicks and twirling twists.” – though the work is discussing things far beyond the physical. Beltrão is “responding to the radical shift to the right, pondering what happens when a political scene creates disharmony, polarises the people and limits freedom and equality”, which is very much needed, I’d say. Dance as protest one could propose, a form of “creative resistance to drive change” (Wells blurb).
This is the second time the troupe have performed at Sadler’s Wells, the first being in 2014. But ‘perform’ isn’t the right word… their presence is a different thing. Less performative, more a snapshot into their work and being. It’s so interesting to watch really new, original work as you don’t know quite how to appreciate it.
The first fifteen minutes of the piece aren’t easy. Things feel disjointed, both movement-wise and structurally. But as the piece developed, I realised it wasn’t the problem but rather I was. This was new language to me and communicated in a new way.
It’s an amazing thing to see dance that was developed on the streets brought into theatre – the alien environment bringing with it expectations and consequent demands. But Beltrão seems to view them as opportunities, rather than shackles with the urban language finding a heightened, even more articulated existence.
The overall choreographic structure feels complex for the right reasons: diverse in groupings, with purposeful use of direction and evident covering of space. And oh, how they move. The energy that comes from the intention of such real movement, from real people, from real places isn’t lost at all. They’re otherworldly in capability: part primate, part insect, part alien… it’s astounding.
The partnering work is very original with lots of interlocking, woven contact. When more travel-focused, they use proper effort and swing to gain major height – thrilling. The movement language is towards the most contemporary dance side of hip-hop, but it still utilises the dancers’ full skill set. Sections see them turn the movement literally upside down, hands becoming feet and vice versa. Turns using a shoulder as the axis. Rapid, consecutive spin phrases on all fours, and runs across the vast space done in the same all-encompassing manner. It’s not human. At times I saw parkour without the normally required architecture, yet they still execute the same perilous, will-they-won’t-they-style gasp-inducing antics.
I loved the overall look and sound of the piece also. The music by Lucas Marcier/ARPX and Jonathan Uliel Saldanha takes many different modes with a background soundtrack of a South American city living experience. Folk-style soundscapes evolve into minimal, random scores, and beat-infused percussive avant-garde jazz.
Initially, the black box stage (with poorly executed wings showing too much offstage action!) feels a bit heavy, but then the complex, diverse light design by Renato Machado comes into its own. The early part of the evening felt more like dance on film, with the lights drawing us into framed, intimate, gestural choreographic moments. But as the movement and travel phrasing builds, so does the visual scope. There’s a rectangular screen (with video work by Eduardo Pave) high up in the upstage right corner, and I became obsessed with it because it did so little. We saw two momentary (literally two-second) colour flashes, first red and then, however long after, blue. There was a third, but I’ll divulge that later.
The costuming by Marcelo Sommer is also ideal: oversized, comfortable streetwear. Two dancers wear thawb-style gowns giving both a visual and contextual impression. The piece was touted as a political exploration and it is, but not in an obvious way. Most environments having to deal with political, and consequently social unrest find emotional outlets. This is what dance, and the broader arts can offer. The work feels heavy, desperate, and stifled all at once. Even when executing massively free movement the dancers still look repressed. There’s a sense of dread throughout… what’s around the corner etc.
The cinematic visual took me to many places with venues and emotions I’ve either experienced in person or through film. Names and locations aren’t necessary as the subjects Beltrão deals with are unspoken in many ways. It’s more a sense of collective consciousness – one of ‘this isn’t right for us, this isn’t what we want’. The third screen mode features vivid colour. Shown only in the bottom quarter of the screen in a jagged manner. I kept wondering if the screen was damaged… and then it hit: broken screen = broken system. We aren’t meant to revel in the (uneasy) beauty – we need to acknowledge the discomfort caused through repression. But the beautiful, vivid colours are still present in some form, and will be again, in fully realised technicolour.
As is the current (environmentally apt) fashion, Sadler’s Wells didn’t offer a programme with images of the dancers so I’m going to include all of their names as they’re most definitely a collective, and one of across-the-board talent: Wallyson Amorim, Camila Dias, Renann Fontoura, Eduardo Hermanson, Alci Junior, Silvia Kamyla, Samuel Dcristo, Leonardo Laureano, Leandro Rodrigues and Antonio Carlos Silva.
Hopefully to be seen again soon. Likewise, Beltrão’s work.