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Energy, innovation and confrontation

Theatre, National Arts Centre
04/21/2016 -  & April 22, 2016
ID: Entidades – Na Pista (*)
Rafael Balbino, Johnny Britto, André Feijão, Miguel Fernandes, Jessica Nascimento, Julio Rocha, Tiago Sousa, Allan Wagner, Thiago Williams (dancers)
Sonia Destri Lie (artistic director and choreographer), Rodrigo Marçal (original music)
Renato Machado (lighting designer), Urban Rio Outfit, Paula Stroher (*) (costumes)

(© Christopher Jones)

Companhia Urbana de Dança, from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, is a dance troupe which almost defies description. The company and point of view of its director Sonia Destri Lie are, above all, populist. However, there is nothing casual in their performing, no matter how free-wheeling their choreographed tales may be. In technical terms, the clear roots are such American icons as Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins, though the work is never derivative. There also are links to Hollywood two or three decades ago – more than once the elaborate arm and shoulder work recalled the extended underground club scene in Bad Influence (1990) set in the high summer heat of a murderous Los Angeles demimonde.

The company is currently touring Canada and the United States, apparently in tandem with São Paulo Companhia de Dança which performs here next week. The program offers two large works (about 45 minutes each) separated by intermission. The first, ID: Entidades (“Entities”), opens in silence with the company’s eight dancers (seven men and one woman) seated at the back of the stage, and the lower parts of the stage still unlit. Initially they are dressed in black (later, for a while in purple) and there’s no set, just standard black top and side draping. Rodrigo Marçal’s music is electronic and far ranging, invoking everything from a Mediterranean guitar to a ship’s whistle (with the latter held, however, much longer than we’d expect from any ship) and a variant on Louis Armstrong’s classic, What a Wonderful World. Program notes state the work concerns possibilities of dialogue between hip-hop, urban traffic and contemporary dance. There are silences and confrontations among various groupings of the dancers, evoking the worst slums of Rio, though this may seem like an updated Sharks and Jets for less sophisticated viewers. The dancing encompasses everything from capoeira and somersaults to a Russian Kamarinskaya, and still more. The performers, all of them virtuosi brimming with charisma, relish these challenges and the audience further relished their work, giving a standing ovation at the end of the performance before intermission.

The second work, Na Pista (“On the Dance Floor”), is ideologically parallel to ID: Entidades though much more extroverted, starting with house lights on and several dancers emerging from the back of the theatre. There’s amicable joshing with them, mainly speaking Portuguese, but it’s clear we don’t need to comprehend every word to realise what’s happening. The mise-en-scène is a kind of quantum physics combo of slums, the school yard and the rehearsal hall, and the various scenes are based on stories from the dancers’ own lives. There are strong parallels with the late Pina Bausch whose spectacular was seen here in November, 2014. The hip-hop vibe also is stronger in Na Pista and, again, composer Marçal (who also writes film scores) has provided a score which balances substance and ingenuity.

The inevitable standing ovation morphed into an encore for which the company joined the audience in reciprocal applause then left the stage and mixed with people (some, by then, also dancing), all ending with a kind of 1960s-retro ‘love in’ with the everyone being asked by director Sonia Destri Lie to jump on cue for photos taken from the stage.

For limitless energy and innovation, Companhia Urbana de Dança is a dance group perhaps without rival.

Companhia Urbana de Dança’s Website

Charles Pope Jr.



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