After battling through traffic, snow, bitter cold and, perhaps worst of all, Los Angeles Lakers fans outside the Target Center, it was a relief to settle into a seat at the Cowles Center on Friday night for the premiere of Contempo Physical Dance’s “Batuque.”
Things got even better when the sunny lights came up, a live ensemble of Brazilian and American musicians kicked into a buoyant groove and artistic director Marciano Silva dos Santos led his seven energetic dancers on stage. For a little while the trials and tribulations of Minnesota winter were a distant memory.
Contempo is a relatively new troupe, but Dos Santos is quickly gaining notice for bringing the movement and sounds of his native Brazil to the local scene. One of the most radiant performers in the Twin Cities, Dos Santos is now honing his choreographic perspective, and while still developing, it shows true promise.
“Batuque” is inspired by the fun-loving samba but also draws upon Afro-Brazilian and contemporary dance as well as the rhythmic-based martial art form of capoeira. Every part of the body is engaged in fast-paced, fiercely athletic, hip-swiveling, counterpoint-driven propulsive movement, fueled by percussive beats courtesy of the outstanding Timothy Berry, Eliezer Freitas Santos, Samuel de Moraes and Brian Van Tassel.
The hour-long work is a journey, beginning and ending with carnival-like celebrations, but also delving into history, actively seeking out its roots on both sides of the south Atlantic Ocean, enhanced by visual artist Ta-coumba Tyrone Aiken’s evocative scenic panels and costume design.
The performers, many of whom are students at the University of Minnesota, brought high spirits to the work. Mette Towley, Davente Gilreath and company co-founder Jenny Pennaz were standouts for their smooth execution and exceptionally joyful commitment to mastering the complexities of the steps.
Dos Santos appeared minimally, settling into the choreographer’s role, and his dynamic presence was missed. There is room for growth in his dance-making — he could seek out more variation in the movement as well as challenge his performers to interact with one another more intently by tightening up the ensemble dancing (while continuing to strike a balance with individuality). Such synchronicity comes over time, and as the electrifying Contempo evolves, so too will the depth of its relationships onstage.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.