Working together as a family is just as important as the sheer joy of movement for the passionate Grupo Corpo, Brazil’s original contemporary dance troupe.
When you’re hard at work every day, fitting in family visits can be a challenge. Unless you’re a member of the Pederneiras clan, that is, in which case it’s all rather handily under one roof. Based in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte district, Grupo Corpo is one of South America’s most exciting dance companies – and a real family affair.
Formed in 1975 by brothers Paulo and Rodrigo Pederneiras, they’ve since been joined by sister Miriam who runs their education project and assists with choreography, and brothers Pedro and José as technical director and company photographer respectively. More recently, a younger generation has swelled the Grupo Corpo pack, with Rodrigo’s son Gabriel taking on the role of technical co-ordinator.
So, what is it like working in such close proximity with your family? “It can be hard sometimes,” says artistic director Paulo. “But the positions within the company are very well defined and each of us has our specific function – just like a ‘body’ (Grupo Corpo literally meaning ‘Body Group’ in English). And the good thing is that we know we can trust each other.”
Today, the company is a regular feature on the international touring circuit, taking its unique mix of classical ballet, contemporary dance and Brazilian flavour to a wide audience. Back in the 1970s, however, things looked very different. “Professional contemporary dance companies didn’t exist in Brazil in 1975,” explains Paulo. “There was popular dance in the streets and classical dance in the theatres, but dance performances were restricted to a select, rich audience. So my idea was to create a professional company where we could work hard to earn enough money to survive and make dance a profession, and then bring that dance closer to the audience.”
As audiences at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival will discover, the Grupo Corpo style is highly accessible and crowd-pleasing, yet steeped in artistic collaboration. Both Paulo, who is responsible for set and lighting, and choreographer Rodrigo interact with visual artists, musicians, architects and new media designers when creating work. The result is joyful to watch and, according to Paulo, equally fun to make. “We enjoy our work,” he says. “The joy you can feel on stage is the joy of those who are lucky enough to do what they like.”
Since 2000, that joy has been passed on to some of Brazil’s most underprivileged children, thanks to Grupo Corpo’s education project. Run by Miriam Pederneiras, it offers dance, visual art and music classes to 6-25-year-olds, many of whom go on to work in the arts professionally or use their new-found skills in other ways. “Here in Brazil there is big social inequality, and many, many children can’t grow up with dignity,” explains Miriam. “So we felt we must contribute something to change this sad reality. Any experience with art is very valuable, and we work to rescue the self-esteem of children and young people, making them realise the enormous potential they have.”
Grupo Corpo, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 14-17 (not 15), August, 7.15pm, From £10, Tel: 0131 473 2000