AISLE SAY Berkshires


Artistic Director and Choreographer: Sonia Destri Lie
Music: Rodrigo Marcal

Jacob’s Pillow/Ted Shawn Theatre until July 14

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg


Sonia Destri Lie, the artistic director and choreographer of Companhia Urbana de Danca, describes her company: “Our legs are in Rio, our head is in Los Angeles and our long arms extend from New York to Tokyo.” And the work onstage at Jacob’s Pillow reflects an eclectic mix of contemporary dance styles – almost all of them taken directly from the streets of the city – that have come to define this company since its inception in 2004.


The programme for this evening of two dances, ID: Entidades and Chapa Quente, contains artists’ bios unlike any you are likely to have read at previous Pillow events. The eight dancers do not include their training institutions or schools or their record of dance companies and other professional accomplishments. Instead, each dancer recounts how dance has become the foundation piece of a career and a life, for Destri Lie has found these young men and woman not by auditioning and observing, but by them finding her and demonstrating their need to dance. And to dance as they live, which is to say by applying aspects of movement that are organic and not part of an established and traditional process.


The ensemble come together to work with Destri both because of their love of the work itself and, before that degree of engagement took hold, because it was a way out of the ruinous life lived by so many in Rio de Janeiro, a city overwhelmed by poverty, drugs, gang violence and spiritual hopelessness. Having found an identity apart from the squalor has given the dancers the opportunity to develop themselves as they had never imagined possible. And for her part, Destri is drawn to the limitless possibilities that these young artists bring to her studio. As she said in a post-performance conversation, she knows that her work inspires, and is inspired by, people who were raised to have no reason to dream big. She also added, smirk and heart together, that she can imagine becoming her country’s Pina Bausch.


“ID: Entidades”, the first of the two dances, is a showcase for the technique of this company. Breakdance and hip-hop collide with occasional passages of purer dance forms. Dancers take the spotlight and then take it from each other in displays of aggressive mastery of form. Balance is a concept with this dance piece, and the ensemble demonstrates that gravity can, in fact, be defied, whether in a standing, sitting or leaning position. Whether upright or sliding along the floor, Companhia Urbana is not intimidated by space. The playful attitude of their dance further enhances the level of accomplishment.


“Chapa Quente”, the second dance in the programme, is derived from the Portuguese, meaning “hot plate”. It is also a slang phrase for confrontation. And in their bright and loose-fitting clothing, beautifully designed by Paula Stroher, the dancers celebrate sensuality, individuality and the sheer power of self. The repeated image of dancers running backward, heads thrown back as if to dare the laws of physics (back to defying gravity?), is both startling and liberating. The body, freed from inhibition or repression and, therefore, permitted to explode and thrust limbs and torsos at will - and all of this with control firmly at its centre – emerges as distinctive and proud.


The curtain calls for each section of the evening revealed the company at its heart: the modesty of the dancers’ reactions to the cheering audience reinforced that these eight people are onstage to share their lives with us. At the second curtain call, at the programme’s close, some of the dancers were jumping in time to the applause they received. This is not how we’ve seen trained dancers respond to such enthusiasm, though we have seen dancers react to the overwhelming embrace of an audience.


Companhia Urbana de Danca is different because they are dancing for their lives and they are also dancing because dance has given them back their lives. In this, they own a sector of the professional dance world that Jacob’s Pillow has brought to our attention. And we can only hope that as they travel and develop, that other sponsors and supporters will do the same for them as the Pillow has done for us.


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