Companhia Urbana de Dança knows how to throw one heck of a dance party.
The Brazilian dance ensemble, directed by classically trained choreographer Sonia Destri Lie and composed of street dancers from Rio de Janerio’s favelas, made its Los Angeles debut Wednesday night at REDCAT.
The dancers freestyled, flipped, tumbled and vogued with such exuberance that they roused three standing ovations from the audience: one at intermission, one at the finale and one following their encore, a semi-choreographed bit to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” that spread neck-bobbing, toe-tapping, hand-clapping joy through the crowd.
Yet the piece titled “ID: Entidades” began on a somber note in ominous shadows and silences, before an undulating André “Feijão” Virgilio ushered the dancers into intense break dancing competitions with one another. Danger and fear formed the heartbeat of this dance, which pulsed with paranoia. A harsh brush against the shoulder, a hard push or strong pull evoked the perils of urban living on the edge — back corners and dark alleys, where turning your back, picking a fight or giving a shifty glance could turn deadly. Like repelling magnets, the dancers fiercely moved away from one another whenever coming into contact.
“Entidades” lost some momentum when its electronic score faded into gaps of silence. But the dancers kept a nonstop pace, creating hypnotic rhythms with their bodies even when there was no music to guide them. It’s a wonder they didn’t collapse at the end of “Entidades,” the whole thing being so marvelously visceral and adrenaline-driven.
Though “Entidades’” is relentless, the dancers showed no signs of flagging in “Na Pista,” a dance party for the ages. Dressed in their “Saturday Night Fever” best, they grooved to Rodrigo Marçal’s fusion of hip-hop, disco, jazz, Latin and pop, touching upon almost every social dance craze with verve and virtuosity. Excelling at the breakneck extremes of dance, Companhia Urbana de Dança transformed into an electric ensemble.
To quote the Mars song, “Don’t believe me? Just watch.”