Sunday, March 3, 2024

Dance Review: Grupo de Rua -Running Backward, Moving Forward

Bruno Beltrão, Grupo de Rua This week at Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), Brazilian dance company Grupo de Rua ties together hip-hop, breakdancing, Capoeira, and modern dance in a virtuosic, yet sincere investigation of street dance.

Choreographer Bruno Beltrão brings much more than his company of nine male dancers to New York City; he transports the less glamorous, but perhaps more impressive, side of Brazilian street dance to the DTW stage.

Highly energetic and physical, Beltrão’s evening-length work “H3” never loses its connection to sub-culture of street dance, the practice halls and pavement where movement is generated and mastered long before being presented in public. H3 offers a look into the personal side of a very extroverted dance form. Beltrão avoids the expected competitiveness of break dancing: the taunting, the raising of noses, and the self-congratulatory signal for applause. Instead, his dancers breathe heavily and drink from plastic water bottles as they sit and take breaks in clear view of the audience. He acknowledges the process of practice and revels in repetition.

Are You Fierce Throughout H3, Beltrão uses the reoccurring movement theme of running backwards to display the experience and skill of his dancers. With each running lap the dancers make of the stage, the audience watches in wonder at the sheer force of their curving patterns.

Just as ballet technique relies on a foundation of simple small steps, street dance has a similar reliance on core mechanics, but these mechanics are pedestrian movements most readily available- walking and running. Instead of focusing on flashy inverted freezes or head-spins, Beltrão looks at the root of the phenomenon of street dance- at the preparation before the trick; he isolates the running start.

Another clear distinction between Grupo de Rua’s H3 and a hip-hop show is the choice of music. Instead of using loud and pounding popular hip-hop or techno, Beltrão allows the movement to set the pace of the performance. The first fifteen minutes of the dance is performed to a soundtrack comprised of faint street sounds (cars, shoes on the pavement etc.). At times, these noises are so subtle and quiet they could be confused for the sounds outside the building of Chelsea, NYC leaking into the theater.

During this first section, flat frontal lights illuminate the downstage area of the stage, while the upstage is left in darkness. The dancers open the piece by dancing close to the audience, basking in the same light as the forefront theater seats as if not performing, but simply sharing. Later in the piece, the entire stage is lit by cold overhead lights and strips of florescent bulbs that resemble a basketball court or perhaps a community center where street dancers in Brazil might practice their skills. The Marley is clearly Grupo de Rua’s own floor, carried with them on tour. Countless scuff marks from the dancers’ hip kicks reminds the audience that the company is proud of what it has been through and not afraid to show the nitty gritty parts of what they do.

Grupo de Rua charges backwards with large strides and simultaneously pushes street dance forward with new possibilities of being seen as artistry, not just tricks. Stripped of flashing lights, competitive theatrics, and heart pumping music, street dance with Grupo de Rua has an even truer soul. With Bruno Beltrão’s direction, this company also has a future on the modern dance stage.

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Official Dance Review by Tze Chun
Performance: Grupo de Rua
Choreography: Bruno Beltrão
Venue: Dance Theater Workshop, New York City
Performance Date: February 21, 2010

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