By Larry Ludwig
June 3, 2014
[Photo by douard Lock of dancers in The Seasons” on São Paulo Companhia de Dana’s website]
The São Paulo Companhia de Dana continues its rise up the ranks of internationally renowned dance companies. The Companhia (hereafter referred to as the Company or SPCD), under the leadership of Artistic Director Ins Boga, has progressed dramatically since its formation back in 2008. It has gone from a small company performing set standard classical ballet and modern contemporary dance pieces in São Paulo City to today’s organization of world-class professional and artistic excellence, performing not only nationwide in Brasil, but also throughout South America, Western Europe and the Middle East. It has attracted and continues to attract the attention of composers and choreographers from around the world, who create, either by commission or spontaneous voluntary submissions, new, innovative works to be debuted and danced, world premiered for that matter, by the Company. The list includes Giovanni Di Palma of Italy who choreographed last year’s “Romeo and Juliet” of Prokofiev (SPCD’s first full length ballet), as well as Canadian choreographer douard Lock’s, “The Seasons”, with music composed by Gavin Bryars of England. 1/
On April 25/26 the São Paulo Companhia de Dana (SPCD) presented its world premiere of “The Seasons” of douard Lock, Canadian-Moroccan Montral-based choreographer, with original music by Gavin Bryars. Bryars has reworked Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” from 1723 to a 21st century version, expanding the piece from four movements into twelve movements or segments, each presumably representing one of the twelve months of the year. The premiere performance took place at the Teatro Municipal Jos de Castro Mendes/the Jos de Castro Municipal Theater in the city of Campinas, a city of some 1,000,000 inhabitants in the “interior” of São Paulo State, Brasil, an hour to an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the city of São Paulo, traffic willing.
The performance of “The Seasons” was preceded by a presentation of “Gnawa”, a SPCD signature modern/contemporary dance piece choreographed by Nacho Duato of Spain back in 2008; danced to a variety of musical; compositions of 20th-21st century composers. “Gnawa” represents the cultural confluence of Black African slaves, commercial entrepreneurs and Islam within Africa. It was exuberantly performed by the SPCD dancers, being well received by an enthusiastic full-house audience, an excellent warm-up act for “The Seasons” to come.
“The Seasons” is what in the world of classical ballet might be called a series of divertissements. That is, a sequence of dance steps not tied to any one overall story/plot line, albeit, here in “The Seasons, a particular divertissement can and occasionally did contain a thematic story line inclusive to the segment itself. “The Seasons” is however not a classical dance piece per se, but a mix of both classical (for instance spins and arabesques) and modern/contemporary dance forms. The dancing is largely incredibly rapid, utilizing high-energy non-stop quick, very quick movement, sometimes robotic-like, of arms, legs, feet, hands, head, torso, mixed in with very effective synchronized spotlighting… as well as with the use of rapid-fire blinking on-off strobe lighting (the kind of lighting often associated with nightclubs and rock concerts). The stage was surrounded by black walls/drapery, with most of the costumes of the dancers in dark-to-black tones, accompanying the mostly dark lighting on stage. The darkness worked well to accentuate the movement of uncovered arms and legs and the white ballet shoes. The light skin tones, the white shoes had the effect of the audience suddenly seeing brilliantly lit movements juxtaposed against the dark background, movements which just as suddenly disappeared back into the darkness. That darkness was interrupted occasionally by moments of bright/brilliant lighting of the entire stage, effectively creating additional opposing theatrical emotional contrasts for the audience. Especially fascinating was how the dancers knew just where on stage they had to move to suddenly be under a brilliant spotlight. There was constant movement, constant new spotlight locations throughout all twelve movements.
“The Seasons” movements/divertissements were danced by a complement of only twelve dancers. The length of each of those movements was of significant duration, causing the audience to be in awe of the dancers’ talent, their ability to perform and memorize-in-sequence so many, sometimes what seemed like hundreds of separate body movements in any one of the twelve segments. Equally awesome, if not astonishing, was the dancers level of stamina and physical conditioning required to accomplish the dancing of the total twelve segments… The dancers level of athleticism simply amazing.
An aside: One of the more interesting and endearing dance moves was, while the dancers both were standing as in the picture above, the male ballerina’s use of his arm to move the ballerina’s legs in circular rotations, a most pleasing, somewhat mesmerizing effect. (FYI: About two-to-three minutes of the performance can also be seen on You-Tube, at “The Seasons, 2014 douard Lock”).
The overall impact of this “Seasons” work is what I call frenetic, intense non-stop frenetic… something here-to-fore not experienced by this ballet/modern dance viewer. The seemingly never-ending, in-your-face, rapid-fire pacing takes some getting used to, forces one to pay close attention to the dancers at all times. In some respects not unlike a soccer match, where if for one second you let your attention lapse you may miss a goal being scored. Extra attention above and beyond the normal attention spam was called for with “Seasons”. All the more so in view of the generally dark lighting on stage, which sometimes made it difficult to actually see and focus on those many footsteps and bodily movements. One did not want to miss what might be a more climatic, more dramatic, more uplifting, more stunning dance moment!!
The dancing, as you may guess by now, was spectacular. But as noted, very demanding in terms of audience viewing. After some nine-to-ten segments had been danced, one felt an unconscious need for a respite, a moment of pause to reflect and take-in what had been seen/danced to that point. In fact, that almost occurred in the 11th divertissement (or month, presumably November), when for the only time during the entire work, the music slowed down to a relatively calm, legato like tempo. Alas, reflection was not to be. For whatever reason, the choreographer kept up with those rapid fire, quick velocity dance steps, albeit in this instance, in opposition to slower music. Myself and others in the audience thought the 11th segment would have been more effective and psychologically satisfying if the steps had matched the slower paced music.
Should also note, that unlike “Gnawa” and most of SPCD’s other dance works to date, all performed to recorded music, “Seasons” was performed to live music with five musicians: two violas, two cellos and one bass. They performed outstandingly, but as noted by a conductor-apprentice friend, also in attendance, one of the violas was out-of-tune (a cardinal sin from the point of view of a budding conductor). Have a feeling that like myself, most of the audience ears were not quite so finely tuned, most likely noticing nothing musically amiss.
Would I go back for a second viewing of “Seasons”? A most definite YES!!!! It is an invigorating, uniquely interesting and challenging work, well worth one’s while. And yes, the work was well received by the audience, who at the conclusion, gave the performance a vociferous, long standing ovation of acclaim. Bravos and Huzzahs aplenty.
Forgot to mention that the two April premiere performances were sold out, SRO. Some 300 perspective audience members were turned away Friday night, with 250 not able to get tickets on Saturday. So think it incumbent on yours-truly (myself) to thank SPCD Director Ins Boga, her assistant Morgana Lima and Education and Communications Co-ordinator, Marcela Benvegnu, for my invitation and transportation to the Campinas premiere. More information about SPCD can be found on its website, www.Sãopaulocompanhiadedanca.art.br.
1/ The Company has also commissioned works by Brasilian choreographers and composers, premiering four of them during 2013 at the Teatro Srgio Cardoso in São Paulo. While focusing heavily heretofore on traditional ballet and contemporary dance works in the internaitonal repertory, SPCD is also taking advantage of its cultural blend of African, European and Native American heritage, including samba and capoeira, to create and develop a unique Brazilian dance repertory. For instance one of the four works, “Vadiando” choreographed by Ana Vitória Freire, incorporates dance movements from Brasil’s martial-arts equivalent, Capoeira, a mix of dance, acrobatics, marital defensive/offensive bodily movements , and a mix of instrumental music and verbal chants. The “Vadiando”piece is danced an original soundtrack by Brasilian composers Jorge Pea & Clio Barros. The three additional commissioned Brasilian pieces also premiering during December 2013 were “Pormenores” by Alex Neoral, “Azougue”by Rui Moreira and “Mamihlapinatapai” by Jomar Mesquita in collaboration with Rodrigo de Castro. Music for “Azougue” was composed by Rui Moreira & Lobi Traor, for “Mamihlapinatapai” by Silvio Rodrgues, Rodrigo Leão and Cris Scabello, while a Sonata and a Partita for solo violin of Johann Sebastian Bach, played live, accompanied “Pormenores”.
Previous articles by Larry:
A Day of Ballet With the São Paulo Companhia de Dana
Opera Wonderful: “Porgy” Down South São Paulo, Brasil Way“