BECKET -- The street-smart members of Brazil's vibrant Companhia Urbana de Dança skillfully blend the steps of hip-hop and break dancing with the more traditional balletic and modern movements infused in their work by their leader, Sonia Destri Lie, the company's artistic director, as we learned last summer during the group's Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival debut engagement.
The company is returning this week to the Ted Shawn Theatre for another of its adventures, with two works, "Na Pista," one of its popular dances performed elsewhere, and a world premiere titled "I. You. We ... All Black!"
The troupe's nine members -- eight men, one woman -- have emerged from the favelas, or hillside slums, of Rio de Janeiro, where dance is not regarded as a legitimate profession, and according to Ella Baff, the Pillow's artistic director, dancing has provided these young people with tickets of escape from that ghetto.
"There's no question that having discovered dance, working with Sonia Destri Lie, and performing with Urbana de Dança, is a lifeline for the dancers. Being in this company gives them purpose, safety, discipline, friendship, an opportunity to travel and see the world -- a way of making a living, and pride in being respected as artists," observed Baff.
Since Lie speaks only Portuguese, Baff helpfully offered to serve as a company spokesperson to fill in some of the details.
The 47-minute "Na Pista," like "Chapa Quente," presented by the company last summer, suggests a party scene, with a sexy woman and some fighting among the men. The dancers are attired in party clothes, and play a kind of musical chairs game. Like the choreography, the score of Rodrigo Marçal, the film composer, roams among samba, capoeira, line dances, even bits of Michael Jackson videos, to please those watching the piece.
"It's a clever, happy, social dance. The dancers are full of personality, and they become like friends to us in the audience," said Baff -- "yes, a party scene."
The premiere, "I. You. We ... All Black!" is said to explore, and invite audiences into, the conflict and struggle inherent in the daily lives of the performers.
Of the work, Lie has stated, "Companhia Urbana de Dança is presenting a show whose movements originate in the corporeal personality of each of the dancers -- bodies that talk about violence, about the fight for freedom, for the right to write a different history, different from the one that the narrow streets seem to be leading to."
Performed to an original score by Marçal, whose sound design juxtaposes electronic music with samba and bossa nova beats, dancers appear in solo and ensemble combinations that align with this socially conscious theme, delving into the personal lives of these performers.
Asked if the dancing has some give-and-take between Lie and the dancers, Baff affirmed this collaboration: "Sonia is definitely the choreographer and leader, but she collaborates with the dancers, experimenting with new moves and ideas they may offer, and ways of interacting on stage."
Both of the works presented at the Pillow beginning tonight week are based on hip-hop, according to Baff, "but ... mixed with many influences, references and styles of dance from Brazil and elsewhere. This is what makes it contemporary."
What: Companhia Urbana de Dança
Who: Jacob's Pillow
When: Tonight through Saturday. Eves.: 8 Wed.-Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat.
How: (413) 243-0745; jacobspillow.org