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Dança! At the Hollywood Bowl

With the spate of great dance in Los Angeles this summer—from Oguri’s “dance comes out of time,” to Dutch National Ballet’s “Frida,” choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and with a sumptuous commissioned score by Peter Salem (performed live, no less)—it was a family affair when the Brazilian dance troupe, Grupo Corpo, rocked the Hollywood Bowl last week, the heat coming from more than climate change.

Performance

Grupo Corpo: Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia,” choreography by Rodrigo Pederneiras 

Place

The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, California, July 18, 2023

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Singer Gustavo Castillo and conductor Gustavo Dudamel with Grupo Corpo in “Estancia” and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Photograph by Farah Sosa

Indeed, founded in 1975 in the interior city of Belo Horizonte by Paulo Pederneiras and siblings, the jubilant choreography was left to brother Rodrigo Pederneiras, with Paulo and son Gabriel Pederneiras credited with lighting design. Dancing to the 33-minute ballet, “Estancia,” composed by Alberto Ginastera in 1941, the troupe, making use of its Brazilian roots filtered through a well-honed classical technique, was accompanied by the world-class Los Angeles Philharmonic, with music director Gustavo Dudamel on the podium. (Boohoo, the maestro, who recently departed Paris Opera after a brief stint, sadly leaves L.A. for the New York Philharmonic at the end of his 2025-26 season.) 

Commissioned by the LA Phil for the 2020-2021 season, but cancelled because of the pandemic, “Estancia” features a plot, scenes and texture derived from the poem “Martín Fierro,” written by José Hernández in 1872. But all good things come to those who wait, and the five-section work, essentially a day in the life of a gaucho, though not literalized in the dance, proved an infectious and thrillingly rhythmic romp.  

The primary storyline, sung by baritone/narrator Gustavo Castillo, concerns the romance of a city boy who falls in love with a country girl, and overcomes her suspicions by showing his skills as both horseman and dancer, with the entire troupe demonstrating their prowess on the iconic Bowl stage. Filled with numerous duets, trios, unisons, jetés, unusual lifts, undulating torsos, and canonic interpretations, the work had the silver-toned Castillo recounting the scenes—“Dawn,” “Morning,” Afternoon,” “Night,” and “Dawn.”

Agatha Faro and Lucas Saraiva in “Estancia” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Photograph by Farah Sosa

However, Grupo Corpo, like its name, is decidedly an ensemble troupe, meaning there are no stars, and, unfortunately, nary a one of the 21 dancers was individually highlighted in the program book. And while this practice is surely a democratic one, a number of the hard-working terpsichores should, in this reviewer’s opinion, have been singled out and named. It’s a pity, as well, that no photographs of the entire troupe were approved for publication.

That said, this writer was able to secure a few names, including a trio holding an arabesque, with Vitória Lopes situated between Luan Barcelos and Jonathan de Paula, all proving irrepressible in their commitment to balance, the percussion and trumpets accentuating the stasis of the moment: an oxymoronic notion in theory, but in the flesh, a lively evocation of an earthy Brazil.  

Also creating a lovely tableau were Lucas Saraiva, who was cradling precious cargo, Agatha Faro, in his heavily tattooed arms. Generating another snapshot-worthy pose—one where monikers would have been welcomed - was a couple engaged in a conga-like move with a male soaring behind them in half-twist mode. 

Clad in Freusa Zechmeister’s simple costumes—flared, multi-layered rose-colored skirts and simple cream-colored sleeveless tops for the women, and ruched brown pants and shirts for the men, all added to the “one is all, all for one” quality of the dance—with the performers seeming, at times, as if they were serving a higher power: The power of art.

Unusual lifts, backbends and hyper-articulated feet were peppered throughout the piece, which, at times, could have come out of a 60s movie musical, if, that is, the Bowl were the setting for a sock hop, dance-a-thon or hip-shaking parade of peeps set on having, well, fun, fun, fun.

Yes, there was sexy strutting and shaking, and accentuated dipping with the occasional erotic undertone (a female/female duet), but the dominant factor was more of a Judy (Garland) and Micky (Rooney) “Let’s Put on a Show” feeling, naïve, but with a hyper-knowing, wink-wink quality. 

Of course, the band sounded exceptional, as this is the Latin American music of Venezuelan-born Dudamel, polyrhythmic and brassy stuff that’s in his DNA, as it is, too, with Grupo Corpo, especially in their pliant, syncopated swaggerings, with their interpretation of “Estancia” ending on a life-affirming unison.    

Grupo Corpo in “Estancia” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Photograph by Farah Sosa

The concert, part of Dudamel’s five-year Pan-American Music Initiative, began with “La Serpiente de Colores” (The Multi-Colored Serpent”), by Francisco Cortés-Álvarez. Another LA Phil commission, the music, first performed in 2022, is based on a traditional Mexican legend that can be found compiled in the “Third Grade Spanish Reading Book,” from the Mexican public elementary school system.

Slithery sounding and akin to film music (think John Williams meets “Anaconda”), the eight-minute curtain raiser set the mood with its programmatic music of tubular bells, tom-toms and seed rattle, and could easily have given this ophidiophobe a slight case of the jitters. Followed by Arturo Márquez’ “Concierto de Otoño (Autumn Concerto),” written expressly for the terrific Venezuelan trumpeter Pacho Flores, the 2018 piece was a delicious showcase for the ebullient player. 

In Flores’ resplendent hands, the three-movements proved raucous yet soulful, melodic yet moody, and, in a nutshell, a rollicking ride. The trumpeter, with his phenomenal phrasing and dazzling delivery, was a study in yogic breath control, while the LA Phil proved that they, too, can swing with the best of them. 

In other words, the evening was another memorable one at the Hollywood Bowl, the award-winning venue that seats nearly 18,000, and where a ticket can still be had for a buck. Having celebrated its centennial last year, the Bowl has, over the decades, hosted artists of all stripes: From Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett to the Beatles, Stravinsky and the Martha Graham Dance Company—and now, Grupo Corpo—the summer home of the LA Phil, located in the Cahuenga Pass, is the best place to get your summertime fix of music, dance and picnicking under the stars. 

To quote Bob Dylan, who’s also played the storied amphitheater, “It’s all good!”

 

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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