Anthem; Gnawa; Agora

Goyo Montero, Nacho Duato , Cassi Abranches
São Paulo Dance Company
Newcastle Theatre Royal

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Sao Paulo Dance Company in Agora, these dancers not credited Credit: Camilo Munoz + Iari Davies
Sao Paulo Dance Company in Agora Credit: Camilo Munoz + Iari Davies
Sao Paulo Dance Company in Anthem Credit: Charles Lima
Sao Paulo Dance Company in Gnawa Credit: Iari Davies

Dance Consortium, a network of venues bringing international dance to the UK, brought another cracking, vibrant, life-affirming show to Newcastle last night with the first ever visit of Brazil’s São Paulo Dance Company.

Formed in 2008 and led by Inês Bogéa, former dancer, documentary filmmaker and writer, it is a youthful and charismatic company blending modern dance with a Brazilian vibe. The dancers displayed skill in a triple bill that took us from the opening work, Anthem, which was contemporary both in setting, movement and underlying political message, via Gnawa to the joys and exuberance of punchy, samba-shifting Agora at the end.

Anthem choreographed in 2019 by Goyo Montero and with a soundtrack by Owen Boltoin, opens the evening with recorded breathing, the dancers group on stage in beautiful, greyish lighting by Goyo Montero and Nicolas Fischtel. The work develops with an intense feeling of group connectedness, then suddenly a breathtaking duet from two dancers, Luiza Yuk and Joca Antunes, leads into a series of sections that clearly indicate militarisation, strife, conflict, repression of the individual and unthinking collective behaviour.

There’s frequent use of extended, fluttering hands that suggest the fragility of freedom and flight, contrasting with robot-like movement and almost insane grins. The ending suggests hope but at a cost. A strong and inventive work, the score is sometimes jarring but the simple, descending lightbulbs, alternating with sweeping but smoke-filled, dim light across the open stage, is evocative, as are the mainly grey, similar but not uniform costumes by Goyo Montero and Fábio Namatame. A great start.

Nacho Duato’s Gnawa is older, created in 2005, and is a charming, fast-moving set of dances to North African music. Warm and sultry, it contrasts a couple, Letícia Forattini and Nielson Souza, that are of the earth, organic in movement suggesting nature itself, with six couples who have a celebratory, human feel. It’s a lovely work, traditional modern dance, built on the style and techniques of North American modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, very clear and well-structured, with the addition of more folk-inspired and relaxed Mediterranean and North African qualities. There’s a sense of ritual and togetherness, with apt costumes by Luis Devota and Modesto Lomba; I particularly liked the women’s black dresses. The music, by seven different composers of mostly African origin, is wonderful.

So to the last work, Agora, which contains a spectacular jump by the women into the men’s arms, it was choreographed by Cassi Abranches in 2019. It has a runaway piece of music by Sebastian Piraces, filled with pounding, exciting rhythms and some rock-like riffs. At the beginning, the dancers stand astride on stage with just a clock ticking, then you sense someone, something is about to happen and yes, a woman starts running, others join, and from there it’s a fast-paced piece of dance with real energy and exuberance mixing samba, heel taps, head rolls and hips pushing, often in profile with full-on duets and solos. The first duet, danced by Carolina Pegurelli and Mateus Rocha is fantastic, and it all ends as it begins with the clock ticking and the dancers facing front astride on stage. A mention here for Yoshi Suzuki’s wild solo; it was skilfully lit by Gabriel Pederneiras.

What was clear to me was the positive gender balance at leadership and programming level with two male and one female choreographer (Agora) and in each work a different female dancer highlighted. These women showed such different personalities and strengths and they positively glowed. A fantastic company that work really well as a group, they are filled with joy, exuberance and skill putting energy centre stage. Catch them tonight or on tour in Bradford, Salford, Wolverhampton, Inverness and Norwich.

Reviewer: Dora Frankel

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