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Cool Cleveland, Victor & Elsa Lucas  |  January 19, 2018

Brazilian Troupe Grupo Corp Dances into PlayhouseSquare

Did your parents support your career choice? In a highly unscientific survey, we've asked dancers and choreographers how much their parents supported them. Many of the men described parental indifference or outright hostility to a career in dance.

A very few experienced enthusiastic support from their parents, but none more so than the parents of Rodrigo Pederneiras, choreographer of Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian modern dance company performing this weekend at the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.

According to a Chicago Tribune article, the Pederneiras siblings convinced their parents to move out of their house so that the kids could start a modern dance company. Fake news? We reached Pederneiras in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and asked him. He laughed.

Rodrigo Pederneiras: It's true! We are four brothers and two sisters, and we started to study dance. But there was no professional dance company in Belo Horizonte so we decided to start our own. We had no money and no name but we convinced our parents to move out of their only house and rent an apartment so we could start Grupo Corpo in the house where I was born. So, in our first work, Maria Maria, we were 12 dancers including three Pederneiras brothers and two Pederneiras sisters. The fourth brother, Paulo, was the artistic director, the mind, the captain of the troupe.

CC: We understand that you weren't the choreographer at first, that Maria Maria was choreographed by someone else.

RP: Correct. Maria Maria was choreographed by an Argentine choreographer, Oscar Araiz, who was my teacher. I used to dance in his company in Buenos Aires. The piece he created for us with Milton Nascimento and Fernando Brandt became a huge success. We visited 14 different countries over six years. We traveled a lot with Maria Maria. Then in 1980 Araiz created O Ultimo Trem (The Last Train) for Grupo Corpo and after this I started choreographing for Grupo Corpo and I'm still here. (Laughs.)

CC: So you've been the principal choreographer for Grupo Corpo for all these years.

RP: Yes, I created 26 pieces for Grupo Corpo. We also have the two pieces by Araiz. In 1988 we invited Susanne Linke, a German choreographer. And three years ago we invited a new choreographer.

CC: Are you referring to the former company member, Cassi Abranches, choreographer of Sute Branca, which opens Grupo Corpo's Cleveland concert?

RP: Yes, in Sute Branca, White Suite, we wanted a white paper. We want to write a new history. We want to renovate our company. Renovate? There is this word? Cassi worked with us as a dancer for 12 years, and when she started creating choreography, we began following her and we love her work and now we want her beside me. The idea was to start over because (laughs) I'm getting old. We think we need to renovate. Something new.

CC: You're not the only ones who like her work. CriticalDance.com, an online publication by and for dance professionals, described Sute Branca as "a contemporary dance of epic proportions." They went on and on about how much they liked the piece. Let's try to give our readers an idea what to expect in Sute Branca. Please talk about the instrumental score by Samuel Rosa.

RP: Yes, Samuel Rosa is a composer from Belo Horizonte. We have been looking for an opportunity to work with him for many years. With his group Skank he plays a kind of rock and roll and we thought it would be good music for Cassi to work with. For the other dance on the program, Dana Sinfnica, we invited a composer we're working with for the fifth time, Marco Antnio Guimares. For me, he's one of the best composers in Brazil. He created a piece for orchestra and had it recorded by Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais, a very, very good orchestra which is also based here in Belo Horizonte.

Marco Antnio is a kind of genius. In addition to his work with orchestras, he was leader of a small group called Uakte. Unfortunately, Uakte doesn't exist anymore. I don't know what the problem was between them. But Uakte played instruments designed and built by Marco Antnio. Not traditional instruments. Instruments unique to Uakte. And he used these instruments in the links between the 12 orchestral passages of Dana Sinfnica.

CC: Yes, I've read about the instruments of Uakte. Some of them are made of PVC pipe. Some use water rather than air to produce sound.

RP: All designed by Marco Antnio. The idea of both the music and the choreography for Dana Sinfnica is to look back and create a kind of tribute to the people who have worked with us, to technicians, artists, friends and everybody who helped us to become a 43-year-old dance company, which is not normal in Brazil. We have a set, a big backdrop, with 1,080 photographs. It was a lot of work to find photographs of everyone.

CC: We notice that you and all your collaborators in this concert are from Belo Horizonte.

RP: Yes, we wanted it that way because both these pieces were created for our 40th anniversary and we wanted to do it with people that we know and trust, both artistically and personally.

CC: Please describe Belo Horizonte for our readers.

RP: When we started in 1975, Belo Horizonte was a small city, very quiet, and it was good for us because it was easier to focus on our work. Now, Belo Horizonte is no longer a small city. It has two and a half million people. It is Brazil's third most populous metropolitan area. Many people from Belo Horizonte used to go to Rio and So Paulo to work. It used to be easier. But today Belo Horizonte has many, many people creating in dance, in music, in theater. Now I feel that it's as if the soup is very, very hot. Boiling. Now I feel that Belo Horizonte is a city boiling.

CC: Cleveland dance audiences haven't seen much of your work lately. In 2015 Ballet Jazz de Montreal performed a piece you choreographed for them, ROUGE. Has Grupo Corpo performed in Cleveland before?

RP: Yes, maybe 10 years ago.

CC: So let's give our Cleveland dance audiences an introduction to Grupo Corpo. What kind of dancing do they do?

RP: I love to think that we bring a kind of dance that could only come from Brazil. At the same time, we are a very good contemporary company. Sometimes we create dances with more Brazilian colors and sometimes not. And I love to think that we do the very best we can in our performances, that the choreography, lights, costumes, everything, must be perfect.

Presented by DanceCleveland, Grupo Corpo performs at the Ohio Theatre Sat 1/20 and Sun 1/21. Tickets are $25-$60. Go to playhousesquare/grupo-corpo or call 216-241-6000.

There will also be a free contemporary dance master class for advanced dancers led by Grupo Corpo Fri 1/19 @ 4-5:30pm at the Cleveland State University Theatre and Dance Department's Middough Building . Register here.
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