São Paulo Dance Company: Anthem / Gnawa / Agora

Choreography Goyo Montero, Nacho Duato and Cassi Abranches
Dance Consortium
Sadler’s Wells Theatre

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São Paulo Dance Company in Goyo Montero's Anthem Credit: Iari Davies
São Paulo Dance Company in Goyo Montero's Anthem Credit: Charles Lima
São Paulo Dance Company in Nacho Duato's Gnawa Credit: Iari Davies
São Paulo Dance Company in Nacho Duato's Gnawa Credit: Iari Davies
São Paulo Dance Company in Cassi Abranches's Agora Credit: Camilo Munoz + Iari Davies
São Paulo Dance Company in Cassi Abranches's Agora Credit: Camilo Munoz + Iari Davies

Part of its February / March fourteen-city UK and Ireland tour, São Paulo Dance Company’s two-day visit to Sadler’s Wells is sold out, returns only. Most of London’s Brazilian community seems to be out in force to cheer on its countrymen and women. The reception is loud and joyful. The global plague interrupted their anticipated visit in 2020: no wonder there is such excitement.

But it’s not a vibrant-coloured Brazilian carnival, more of a collective meditation from three perspectives: three very similar twenty-five-minute ensemble pieces (in muted colours) by Goyo Montero, Nacho Duato and Cassi Abranches.

Resident choreographer with Carlos Acosta’s company Acosta Danza, Montero’s expansive Anthem from 2019 takes me back to Acosta Danza’s visit in 2019 with Pontus Lidberg’s seventeen-minute Paysage, Soudain, la nuit.

Soundscape by Owen Belton, wind blows, voices sound, time ticks, fourteen dancers come in euphoric waves. Arms sway, bodies cluster and shift like an amoeba. I see Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, and Hofesh Shechter, too. Lights lower (lighting throughout by Pedro de Christo and André Boll), dusk descends.

Is this ritual prayer, are they under command to obey, are they oppressed victims, or soldiers in training, pledging allegiance? A man collapses—in anger, in protest, there are screams, ominous sounds, visceral reactions? Are they under threat?

It seems it “reflects on collective identities that bring people together across communities, generations and nations”. Says a lot about how one brings one’s own interpretation to the dance, which often gives you the space to do just that.

Gnawa, created by Nacho Duato in 2005 and restaged by SPDC in 2009, “draws on the Mediterranean colours and flavours of Valencia, powered by the hypnotic, ritualistic music of North Africa (created by seven composers—Hassan Hakmoun, Adam Rudolph, Juan Alberto Arteche, Javier Paxariño, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Velez and Kusur e Sarkissian)”, capturing “the spirituality of the mystical Islamic fellowship of the Gnawa people”.

Hmm. I see Batsheva Dance Company style folk-infused dancing. I hear water running, pipes and percussion, tropical sounds, and see beautiful dancers, skittish gazelles and moths drawn to the lights. A couple seems to be channelling Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, their moves animalistic, sexy, leaving little to the imagination. It’s a welcome long duet after the peasant ‘Greek’ column and circle dances.

Former dancer with Grupo Corpo, “Cassi Abranches’ colourful and flirtatious Agora sculpts the movement of each dancer’s body with the percussive beats and bass grooves of Afro-Brazilian fusion.” This is wide open to interpretation…

A metronome ticks, bodies, too, from side to side. Living sculptures in thrall to time and rhythm, twelve dancers fill the stage, speed up, become a train lit from above, shadows deepen. Sebastian Piracés’s score drives the tempo: jazzy riffs, scat vocals, a mix tape of Afro-Brazilian percussion and rock music, a syncopated club vibe.

The drama and the transcending vision of dance, performed by fabulous young bodies with energy to spare, is a joy. That is enough, explanation unnecessary. Making their UK debut, formed in 2008, São Paulo Dance Company leaves an imprint in more ways than one.

On the bus home, by chance I sit next to a young woman from São Paulo studying for an MA in Classics—unusually, I happen to have a spare concise free programme, as if I knew I’d need it just for her. Talk about bringing people together…

Artistic director Inês Bogéa has built up “a classically-trained company, which has produced over 100 dance works, almost 50 of them original commissions, and performed to more than 900,000 people in 18 different countries.” And Dance Consortium brings us the crème de la crème.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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