It was 2 outside. 2.
Inside, it was packed. Word of mouth had apparently gotten out about Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian dance troupe that infuses modern with the alternately slinky and explosive vocabulary of salsa. Eel spines, lightning feet, and check out the height on both the leaps and extensions. Framed by Paulo Pedernairas’s sets, at times exuberant and at others poetic and spare, and with some of the most gorgeous lighting I’ve seen in any dance concert I can remember – and it’s a touring show – Rodrigo Pedernairas’s choreography is tough; tour en l’airs are executed with flexed feet and at high velocity, moves are complex, polyrhythmic. Yet the dancers smile, not in a forced, American pageant way but genuinely. Smiles and hips: not often you get to see those on either a modern or ballet stage.
Bob Fosse would have killed to execute this. In fact, he tried his hand at Afro-Cuban inspired numbers more than once, notably in Dancin‘ (one of the many problems with the revue Fosse was the decision to include so many numbers from that crappy show). This clip is a great example of the limits of Fosse’s repertoire. There’s some fierce dancing, but it’s wasted.
Because Fosse had long ago proven he could pull off a Carnivalesque number brilliantly. The number “Who’s Got the Pain When They Do the Mambo” is not just a rare chance to see Fosse himself dance, which provides a unique understanding of his choreography; his almost farcically long limbs and extreme turn-in are the keys to his signature style. Even better is the extraordinary Gwen Verdon, who would have been right at home in Grupo Corpo. It’s from Damn Yankees, a great show and a lackluster movie perfect for DVD chapters, where you can skip directly to Verdon’s stunning dancing; she seems to be able to isolate individual vertebrae. “S2, Gwen, not S3!” “No problem.” Get it and watch “Mambo” and “Two Lost Souls” (neither is currently available on either YouTube, nor is Yankees on Netflix instant queue). They’re inspired. Fosse featured neither of these numbers and instead restaged the pretentious and strained Airotica Ballet from All That Jazz. What were they thinking?
Grupo Corpo dovetailed nicely (and unexpectedly) with Ned Sublette’s exhaustively researched yet still engaging study, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. Sublette traces the city through French, then Spanish, then French, then American occupation, making fascinating links to Cuba, Haiti, the respective regnant empires, the sugar industry, and the music and movement through all of it. I have long wanted to visit Nola on my birthday, which tends to falls a week or so before Mardi Gras: I get the festive preparations without the crowd chaos, and I’m hoping fewer tourists, because after all, who, besides me, wants to miss Mardi Gras? The book’s giving me a thrilling context for my long-desired, soon-to-be-realized jaunt with the Youngest.
Let it snow.