After Deborah Colker from Rio and Grupo Corpo from Belo Horizonte, the latest largeish dance company to come to London from Brazil this year is Ballet Bahia from Salvador. As with the previous companies, the technical standard of the dancers is impressive, designs are slick, production values are high – and there’s plenty of flesh on show.
Two of the three pieces presented were by Argentinian-born choroegrpher Luis Arrieta. The first, Sanctus Suite, set to David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus and full of religious and spiritual imagery, starts slowly but gradually builds in cumulative power. Around a central pas de deux – slow, contortionate and so controlled that just watching it makes your muscles ache – a series of episodes evoke communal suffering, a longing for another world, piety, redemption and transformation. The Christian imagery – as with Alvin Ailey’s Revelations – seems firmly rooted in a cultural history of African slavery, of forced displacement. It’s a powerful piece, with striking images and effective dramatic use of costumes and cloth.
a marriage of minimalism with meaning
Arrieta’s Noch Einmal is also striking, for its bold and simple ideas. Set to Philip Glass’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, it’s a marriage of minimalism with meaning. An ensemble of dancers repeatedly move from right to left, reversing and repeating phrases in overlapping waves of motion, a core compositional idea that’s sustained throughout. Stage right is a long strip of what looks like asphalt (but is probably polystyrene granules) from which emerges, at first imperceptibly, the hidden figure of a naked man. As the ensemble repeatedly move towards him, away and back again, he moves with infinite slowness towards the front of the stage. The ensemble’s repeated movement takes on the quality of insistence, of yearning, of aspiration. Finally one woman from the breaks from the cycle of repetition, also removing her clothes, and moves over the invisible barrier into the solo man’s space. Boldly conceived, this piece is founded on a structural idea that builds into a powerful symbolism.
The last work, Paradox by Tindaro Silvano, is one of those send ’em home happy pieces that buzzes with energy. Yet it has a darker heart, with its sparse setting, its pulsing electronic sounds; and the dancers wear a demonic slash of red across their eyes. The episodes range from fashion-posturing to clubby groove and athletic exertion. But for all its energy, it seems a little vacuous, its heart dark because it feels empty. At the end a dancer eyeballs the audience and says: “So what?” Good question, I thought.