Companhia Urbana de Dança, Joyce Theater, New York – review

The Brazilian troupe’s dancers oozed invention and individuality in two very different works
'Na Pista'. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

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Companhia Urbana de Dança introduced itself at the Joyce’s three-week Brazil Festival (until March 16) as it did at its 2010 US debut – with ID: Entidades. But this time there was a second act.

In the radical turn it gives the confessional solo that Pina Bausch resuscitated, ID: Entidades sets the bar high for these dancers from the Rio favelas, who are directed by self-declared “Pina maniac” Sonia Destri Lie. In Bausch’s works, idiosyncratic performers come forward one at a time and declare their ingenuous selves with slippery steps. By contrast, these seven men and one woman identified themselves through indirection and camouflage – waiting and watching, slipping in and out of the shadows. They made the hip-hop steps ruminative, as if working out a puzzle; when a floor manoeuvre came to a dead stop with the dancer splatted out on his back, it was clear that there was no figuring it out. The 50-minute piece had no set or story, and instead of a dramatic arc it rose and fell in intensity. But the dancers’ uneasy presence suggested a more enduring drama: the tenuous terms by which they lived.

After working such a broad canvas so intently, what could Destri Lie and her dancer-collaborators do next? Bausch did not mind repeating herself. She might have changed cast and music, but for her last two decades the basic, gloomy message and the mix of confession and nonsense did not budge. Destri Lie probably felt she did not have that liberty. The second work took a different approach.

As its title implies, Na Pista (On the [Dance] Floor) evokes a setting. The dancers vied for the floor, then the girl. The piece did not stick to these clichés, however, which both saved it and lent it an erratic air as it bumped episodically along.

But there was enough to admire: the men’s clatter of steps and taunts, the sweetly comical accommodations to a chair that they made in their routines, and especially how incorruptibly individual everyone was – from the sharp, streetwise Tiago Sousa to the lyrical innocent Johnny Britto to the alternately goofy and majestic André Feijão. Given what Destri Lie keeps finding in them, these eight dancers are Companhia Urbana de Dança’s best hope of more great works to come.

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