Monday, March 20, 2023
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Grupo De Rua

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Imagine yourself examining a Picasso painting. Your first reaction may be, “What on earth is this? I’m confused. Everything is so random. Nothing makes any sense!” It is not until after taking the time to evaluate the artwork that you begin to appreciate every component of the piece: the texture, the strokes and the amount of skill, time and effort that must have been put into the piece. You will realize that the meaning is open to so many different interpretations. But you will also realize that although everyone is going to have a different individualized response to the piece, everyone will at least have a common idea and appreciation of it.

Now, you may be wondering what does a Picasso painting have to do with Grupo de Rua: “H3?” Well, just as a painting of Picasso’s may seem random, chaotic, strange, or to put it nicely, just plain “different,” in many ways so does this show.

On Saturday night, young Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrao and his all-male dance troupe, Grupo de Rua, made their local debut at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Attracting a very diverse crowd, this international dance company wowed the audience with Beltrao’s most recent work “H3,” a demonstration of male attitude and street life.

For those uninitiated in the world of contemporary dance, this show might have been confusing. Fortunately, since I am familiar with this world, “H3” seemed like pure genius. This innovative dance show encompassed all aspects and styles, including but not limited to hip-hop, popping, crumping, twitching, break dancing, avant-garde, acrobatics, gymnastics, basic athleticism and even some signs of ballet.

The show begins with a simple pool of light shining on two dancers walking down stage toward the audience. Suddenly, one of them starts dancing in a fusion of both hip-hop and contemporary dance. The audience becomes immersed in the rhythmic motions. His movements intensify. He begins to crump, which is a form of hip-hop that includes lots of heavy breathing and intensity, supposedly to symbolize fighting and violence. He starts to initiate rapid and continuous movements while the other man just sits and stares.

What is most interesting about the piece is that the movements seem so organic that it almost seems as if the dancers are improvizing. Only once they are synchronized in movement do you realize that it must have been choreographed. Throughout the show, the dancers take turns showing off their skills. Some of the choreography is small and intricate, while at other times they grow bold, even colossal. Each movement is only a tiny piece of the different individualized stories they are trying to portray. The dancers maintain serious focus throughout the entire hour-long piece, proving their devotion to Beltrao’s overall vision.

With “H3,” Beltrao creates a new approach to modern hip-hop.  He fuses hip-hop with a contemporary dance spin, grasping at every dimension of dance and human attitude. Through his choreography, he tries to show that contrary to the infamous words of Nas, hip-hop is not dead. There is more than one dimension to the art of hip-hop, and all we need is someone with the creative and innovative genius like that of Bruno Beltrao’s to discover and create something new and exciting. Beltrao has not only constructed an innovative piece, but has more importantly revolutionized the worlds of contemporary and hip-hop dance using a vast array of heavy beats, trance-like music, lighting and sometimes even complete silence.

“H3” is set on a black stage with bare walls. Everything on stage is very simple: a traditional white pool of light; an empty stage; dancers in casual street clothes. The complexities lie in the movements themselves and the dancers who create these movements.  The attitudes of the dancers resemble those of warriors, as they repeatedly inflate their chests, breathe rapidly, and posture in a way that establish themselves as dominant males. With their various styles of hip-hop, the men continuously mock, collide, tackle, pull and generally try to initiate a reaction from one another.

This is nothing like an ordinary dance show. It is an out-of-self experience, a new and exciting approach to dance. The choreography, the technique and especially the execution of these movements are undoubtedly out of this world. To witness such strength, athleticism, talent and perfection is just incredible. Yes, this show was strange, random and “different,” but it was also mind-blowing, complex and utterly phenomenal.

The young troupe demonstrated their bold and unique moves throughout the performance. They jumped like Olympic gymnasts, turned like professional ice skaters and danced with the heart of natural-born fighters. They executed every movement with such ease, but it was obvious that every movement, whether big or small, required the same intensity of skill and technique. They were almost always constantly and rapidly moving, and their timing was always on point. These men are warriors, never stopping, always competing and rapidly moving.

As the piece continues, they run back and forth – leaping from one side of the stage to another without taking a breath for air.

The show was immersed in a sort of a repetitive cycle: one dancer would go down and another dancer would walk in. Then gradually more dancers would come in. One of them starts to crump; he gets “violent,” starts doing handstands and freezes, and even a little break-dancing. He does a movement simulating an attack and the other dancer collapses with no physical contact at all. Then he starts into some intense acrobatics.

Through the distinctly different groups, the choreography represents the atmosphere on the urban streets, which isn’t just about enemies and violence. It’s also about watching and learning, teaching and following – even friendship and brotherhood.

It does not matter whether or not you are familiar with the dance world. Either way, when you watch Grupo de Rua at work, you are going to have an amazing experience.  As an audience member, David Stoll, put it, this show is“very interesting” because you “never know what to anticipate.” Just like any other innovative creation – like a Picasso painting – this piece was unequivocally “different.” The only explanation for such a masterpiece is that Beltrao is a genius and the performers are superhuman. It is something so perfect, so genius and so incredible that you would surely be out of your mind to miss it.

Although “H3” has finished its run at the Irvine Barclay, it will play January 19 – 23 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CALARTS Theatre in Los Angeles. Tickets range from $20 – $30.