Saturday, February 4, 2012

Contempo Physical Dance: Standing ovation, sold-out house greet newest Twin Cities dance company

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Half-way through the debut performance by Contempo Physical Dance, the new dance company founded by Marciano Silva dos Santos, I realized that tears were trickling down my face. My brain told me it was all about the refreshing innocence and conviction, and the promise of something good that was happening before my eyes.

Marciano Silva dos Santos
As an audience member, these are the moments to live for, not because the performance was flawless; it was not. Rather, it was impressive and inspiring. It engaged. It had raised the expectations of people who like dance that truly moves, and it had met – even exceeded – them.

The date was February 3, 2012. The setting was the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. The dancers were the five men and three women who, in addition to dos Santos, presented a fusion of Afro-Brazilian dance, capoeira, and contemporary dance. The audience of 240 allowed the proprietors to hang up the "sold-out" sign.

The 60-minute performance offered a strong, presentational opening with dos Santos seated on the floor at center stage, rotating himself with his feet as, from alternating wings, the dancers entered singly, first four men, then the three women, and a final man. 

From this point, dancers and choreographer led their audience on a journey through 14 seamless sections set to music by Gilberto Gil, the Mavambo Trio, Evelyn Glennie, Divan, Naná Vasconcelos, Dan Savell, and Virginia Rodrigues.

Members of Contempo Physical Dance, Minnesota's newest company
Both capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance were created by African slaves and their descendants during Brazil's colonial era. The primary characteristics of capoeira, a musical martial art, include speed, power, and complex, sweeping leg movements. In certain casual respects, it roughly resembles hip hop breakdancing.

Afro-Brazilian dance uses the feet to mark rhythm, while arms, chest, head, and hips move freely and independently. Classes in the form emphasize full-body expression, rhythm, and fine-tuned motor control.

The fusion danced by Contempo is both exceedingly rhythmic and musical. However, a dancer who cannot repeatedly crouch, stand, leap, and move while on demi pointe (the balls of the feet) will find the going near impossible in this company because s/he will lack the overall strength and stamina the work requires. Ditto for the dancer who cannot master discrete control over every part of one's body.

It seems to be a principle of this dance form that the dancers' bodies, and not their faces, do the expressing. Often, throughout, I wished the performers would let their faces do the talking, as they did so joyfully during the curtain call. It would have added so much more.

Contempo rehearsing capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance
At least eight dancers filled the stage for at least 80% of the program. Early on, the rivulets of sweat flowing from the faces of a few of them appeared to be choreographed. Later, I noticed no sweat at all. Even when the full company fills the stage, dos Santos tends to keep the men grouped and moving in patterns separate from those of the women.

The dance ended, as it had begun, with dos Santos seated on the floor at center stage, rotating himself with his feet as, from alternating wings, the dancers entered singly, first four men, then the three women, and a final man.

Mike Grogan's lighting design was probably the best I have ever seen him accomplish. The costumes, designed by dos Santos, were striking in their simplicity. Initially, all wore dark, multi-colored and patterned tights to mid-calf. These were replaced later by plain white trunks to which, still later, were added white, faux fishnet vests.

For the dancers, being present at the creation of a new company may be an infrequent feature of their careers. This group is both very strong and very young. All of them had control of most of the choreography most of the time, and it will be satisfying for us and for them as they become even more self-possessed and strong in their new technique.

Four of the men are still pursuing BFA degrees in the dance program of the University of Minnesota's Department of Theatre and Dance: Davente Gilreath, Timothy Herian, Orlando Hunter, and Justin Reiter, while Irving Amigon is a recent graduate. Both Gilreath and Hunter previously attended the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

The women are more experienced performers. Laura Klein grew up in south Minneapolis, and has studied dance with the Laura Balfour Dance Company, the University of Minnesota, and Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. Roxanne Wallace has danced with Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater for more than 10 years. Jenny Pennaz, Contempo's co-founder, holds degrees in biology and dance from the University of Minnesota, and has studied dance in Brazil.

Dos Santos is a native of Brazil where he studied and performed dance with a number of schools and companies before moving to the United States in 2006. In Minnesota, he danced for five years as a member of TU Dance, and also has performed with the Penumbra Theatre and Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre. Dos Santos also teaches for the dance programs at the University of Minnesota and Carleton College, and offers workshops and residencies at other educational institutions throughout the state.

The title of Contempo's debut, full-length work is "Motirô," an indigenous word in Brazil that means "a meeting of people to build something together, helping one another along the way." That is an apt description of the endeavor that dos Santos and his colleagues have undertaken.

Contempo Physical Dance performances continue at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, through February 5, 2012. For tickets: Photos by Dwayne Williams Photography.

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