Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; October 1, 2014

Charlotte Kasner

Grupo Corpo in 'Parabelo'.  Photo © Sharen Bradford

Grupo Corpo in ‘Parabelo’.
Photo © Sharen Bradford

Grupo Corpo last night presented a paradox: they are undeniably energetic and technically accomplished and often live up to their name of moving as one. Yet the offerings managed to be simultaneously dull.

“Triz” – apparently a term for the moment just before a catastrophe – has excellent costumes and lighting and an effective set. Unitards are pied, although more cream and black than black and white. The first half of the piece is danced against a dark background which makes the dancers look oddly, but effectively, disembodied. Limbs appear to have a separate existence and faces appear suddenly in profile. They swing, entwine, part and entwine again, by turns as an ensemble and then as couples.

The latter part is danced against a set that from a distance looks like stripes of sun and shade on the savannah, making the dancers seem like zebras who haven’t quite grown into all of their coat pattern. Nothing much changes choreographically though as they continue to form and part in group and pairs. There are some clever, waist level lifts and everyone looks secure in their partnering.

The choice of music was poor, and I am getting bored with myself for complaining about over-amplification at Sadler’s Wells, but it was so loud that it made the backs of the seats vibrate. A guitar solo was intertwined with electronic and vocal sounds: even when I suspect that it was not meant to, the sound distorted with the volume, including when it was just a lone guitar. It twanged and throbbed, contributing to the feeling that one was being bombarded relentlessly by choreography and music, even in the more still moments. The music for the second piece was almost indistinguishable from the first, with the exception of one section that sounded like alley cays being tortured whilst someone was running a stick along a fence. There was also a bit of heavy breathing for good measure.

“Parabelo”, was more of the same but in colour – in fact it was so positively Day-Glo that the costumes could have doubled for a pack of highlighters. I presume that it was invoking Brazilian carnivals. There were moments of excellently executed choreography with sudden, sharp pirouettes and lightning-quick retires that caught the attention in an otherwise unremarkable piece. Jetés split perfectly and incredibly quickly – no one is given time to indulge in a movement, but they pop and fizz like a string of snapshots of movement. An extended section was lit in yellow and involved the dancers crouching down and breathing hard for all the world like a row of eggs about to hatch. None of it made any narrative sense.

This is undoubtedly a well-polished company who work as one even though the dancers are physically very different. The underlying technique is impressive, but what a pity they did not have more interesting and intellectually challenging material with which to work.