Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Street Life

January 22, 2010

Members of Grupo de Rua

The REDCAT downtown has kicked of their Spring season with a slate of impressive shows to come including a return engagement from The Wooster Group in February and a celebration of the life and work of Betty Freeman in May. But perhaps the most exciting events on their schedule are a large group of dance performances from a number of important contemporary artists and companies including Lionel Popkin, John Jasperse, and Rosanna Gamson to name a few. But before we get into that, this weekend brings us Bruno Beltrão’s Brazilian Grupo de Rua with his latest work H3. It’s a remarkable, athletic and energetic piece featuring nine male dancers going full bore for over and hour.

Beltrão has made his name by adapting Brazilian “street” hip hop dance styles into a more traditional Western high art dance context. Yes, people do occasionally spin on their heads. And there is that whole hot Brazilian guy thing. But the similarity to what you might see in an average music video pretty much ends there. In H3, the dancers appear often in small groups interacting through a series of small, almost introspective gestures that may suggest confrontation as readily as tenderness. All of this is punctuated by much larger ensemble moments where the dancers charge and fly at each other in a sort of dance equivalent of a chest bump. I know this makes it sound like the work is weighted down by a certain machismo, and that is partially true. Beltrão acknowledges this himself in program notes for the performance. But he has also explores other aspects of male relationships in his work that should not be foolishly dismissed as nothing more than male bravado.

In H3, the men dart around one another in large circles often running backwards or exiting the stage bent over backward as if being dragged by the hair. The movement and visual sense of the work draws you in. Their immediacy to it as well best represented by the frequent sound of sneakers squeaking against the glossy floor like a basketball game without all the stops and starts. The rather minimal and stark lighting creates the sudden surprising effect of men simply hovering and spinning in mid-air at times. Now I know nothing about Brazilian street culture, hip hop or otherwise. So I can’t really vouch for how authentic or not any of purported cultural aspects of the troupe's performance are. But I can tell you that it’s a great show watch and worth seeing especially now that the rain has stopped. Grupo de Rua’s H3 continues at REDCAT through Saturday this weekend.


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