Denver’s dance aficionados have come to rely on the Newman Center Presents performing arts series for periodic infusions of thought-provoking fare.
They’ll get their summer fix with a July 19 performance by Brazil’s upstart, street-smart Companhia Urbana de Dança (CUD). The CUD show — to be staged at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts — is part of Denver’s Biennial of the Americas, a festival of arts and ideas from two continents.
The company specializes in a marriage of art and ideas. In town for several Biennial engagements, including a collaboration with Denver’s celebrated Wonderbound dance company, Companhia Urbana de Dança is known for its fusion of hip-hop, contemporary choreography and Brazilian social dance with a smattering of sociopolitical commentary.
Based out of Rio de Janeiro, the troupe was formed in 2005 by dancer and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie, who pursued her artistic studies in her native Brazil before turning professional and moving to Europe. On her occasional visits home, says Stephen Seifert, executive director of the Newman Center, Lie accepted various choreography assignments for public events. One such gig tasked her with providing a dance presentation to complement a fashion show.
“They wanted an urban street vibe, and they opened up auditions to street dancers from Rio. These were street kids from the favelas [or slums] of Rio,” Seifert explains.
The collaboration between the conservatory-trained professional artist and the self-taught street dancers provided opportunity for everyone to stretch artistically. It also planted the seeds for a lasting creative partnership: “One of [the dancers] challenged her: ‘Instead of parachuting in here and just providing us this one occasion and event, why don’t you come back here and create a company?’” Seifert explains.
Other Biennial of the Americas Appearances
Under the sponsorship of Newman Center Presents, the Companhia Urbana de Dança will participate in a number of Biennial of the Americas events, including:
• An evening performance on Friday, July 17, with Denver’s Wonderbound dance company, for Biennial Night at Civic Center
• A master class for Front Range dancers at Wonderbound
• Classes at the Cleo Parker Robinson Summer Dance Intensive
• A number of public dance workshops, including one at Youth on Record, a nonprofit music education organization founded by Flobots, a Denver hip-hop and rock band
• A free dance workshop starting at 4:30 p.m. July 13 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts — no previous dance experience necessary
In addition, on Thursday, July 16, Lie will participate in a panel discussion on the performing arts in community contexts at the Biennial Pavilion.
Intrigued, Lie did exactly that, and since its inception, the company has earned enthusiastic reviews all over the hemisphere. CUD made its U.S. debut in 2010 at the Fall for Dance Festival in New York, which was followed by critically acclaimed appearances in 2013 and 2014 at Massachusetts-based Jacob’s Pillow, home to a world-renowned international dance festival. In recent years, the group has ventured to North America several times, making new fans everywhere from California to North Carolina.
The company’s Biennial of the Americas and Newman Center performances mark CUD’s first appearance in the Rocky Mountain region. The Newman Center performance will showcase two works, including the much-hailed “I. You. We… All Black,” a piece that reflects Rio’s complicated race and class issues and that may, Seifert points out, resonate with U.S. audiences grappling with similar tensions. The second piece, “Chapa Quente,” which translates as “Hot Plate,” promises to be more light-hearted but just as athletic and exciting.
“What makes this different from either a contemporary dance company or a street performance is that it has taken elements from both worlds to make something new and different,” Seifert says.
Tickets for the event are available from the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.