It’s been a long time coming but the São Paulo Dance Company has finally made its London debut at Sadlers Wells – earlier plans for the Brazilian company to come to the UK were scuppered by the pandemic. It has been worth the wait.
This is a truly exciting company, its dancers sizzle with energy, strength and sheer fearlessness. The night’s most unforgettable moment comes close to the end in Agora when the girls repeatedly leap feet first into the arms of the boys at breakneck speed. There are, though, many such moments and the combination of ballet with Brazilian influences (from Capoeira to Samba) is explosive.
The evening starts with Anthem created for the company by Goyo Montero, resident choreographer with Cuba’s Acosta Danza. Owen Belton’s score starts with the simple sound of breath and as voices join, the dancers’ hands flicker into life and a series of different anthems – in the sense of music that bonds people – ensue. There’s a love duet, stirring martial music, a nursery tune from a musical box. The lighting is magical and, in one sequence, the dancers hold their own lights and then writhe beneath low lamps hovering just a couple of feet above them. They are by turns martial artists, puppets, at times they limp across the stage, in a style reminiscent of Ghost Dances.
In Gnawa, Nacho Duato, artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet has used the work of seven different composers to create a North African landscape and this piece shimmers with a sense of heat, the dancers tightly grouped together in a patch of light on a dark and smoky stage. The choreography was inspired by the story of the Gnawa people who were brought to North Africa as slaves by the Berbers and, while this may not be immediately apparent, the mesmerising rhythms and patterns of village dance and the physical closeness of the dancers reflects the bond of an oppressed fellowship. There is, too, a quite exquisite duet that brings the piece to a close.
So back to the finale, Agora. Cassi Abranches’ choreography somehow manages to combine the sensual fluidity of these dancers with kamikaze Capoeira, dazzling speed and astonishing strength. The night is an impressive showcase for the company’s talents though, if I had one quibble, I would have liked to see something stylistically quite different, because these are clearly performers capable of just about any dance style. Artistic director Ines Bogea has built a truly exciting, classically trained company at the top of its game with core strength – and nerves – of steel.
The São Paolo Dance Company is at Sadlers Wells on 10th Feb and then on tour to across the UK. For more information about tour destinations, and for tickets, please visit www.sadlerswells.com.
Header photo: Nacho Duato’s Gnawa (photo by Iari Davies)