DanceBrazil (Andrea Mohin)
The country of Brazil is recognized around the world as one of the powerhouses of music and dance with the most recognizable ones being the Samba and Bossa Nova which derive their rhythms to a large extent from the sounds and rituals of the African slaves who were shipped to the country in the 16th century (1500’s).
A lesser known heritage from the slave trade is the creation of the martial art known as “capoeira” – which combines elements of dance, acrobatics fused with music from the berimbau, a single-string creole percussion instrument played with a bow. The faster the berimbau is played, the faster the capoeiristas move.
On Friday, Feb. 6 night at the beautiful Bram Goldsmith Theater located at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, the exciting New York City based company DanceBrazil made its debut with three dance pieces, including two West Coast premieres to a sold-out audience. The company was founded in NYC by Brazilian-born choreographer and teacher Jelon Vieria in 1977 with the support and tutelage of iconic African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey.
The evening began with the piece “Fé do Sertão (The Faith of Sertão) set in the Sertão region of Brazil with music by Brazilian composer Marcos Carvalho. A crouching group of dancers in stark lighting begins to rise as the sounds of thunder and the berimbau sets the tone for a story of drought, desperation and death under a scorching sun but ending in community solidarity and a refreshing, welcomed rain.
Veieria’s choreography borrows heavily from capoeira and African dance traditions while fusing it with some modern dance elements as he creates a series of energetic, fast paced and at times repetitive sequences for his mostly male and two female dancers to execute. The athletic and well rehearsed dancers give a passionate and seamless performance that at the end was rewarded with applause and cheer from the audience.
A more interesting, arresting piece was the West Coast premiere of “Búzios (cowrie-shells)” choreographed by Guilherme Durarte (one of the dancers) which derives its name from the practice of divination (fortune telling) using sea shells, a practice found in Afro religions like Santeria and Candomblé.
With dramatic lighting by Gerard Lafustte, the dancers gather and move around a projected white circle on the floor as they partake on this ritual using a more spiritual, slower series of dance movements that enhances the work’s concept. Brazilian composer Leo Jesus music fuses Afro-religious percussion, jazz and sound samples to create a context that is traditional but yet modern while the all white costumes by Luciano Santana convey the divine aspect of the theme.
After intermission came the urban inspired piece “Gueto (guetto),” the second West Coast premiere about the daily lives, trials and tribulations of marginal communities in inner cities around the world. Using this as context, choreographer and artistic director Jelon Vieria adds hip-hop elements to his previous dance language creating a more accessible, satisfying work. Showing an obvious connection to the story, the dancers put in full display their versatility strengths and energy as they performed a series of passionate scenes ranging from violence, love to youthful joy showcasing more of the capoeira repertoire than the previous works.
Even though the Atlantic slave trade was a horrific period in the history of the world, it has left some invaluable lessons and remnants in the Americas such as more diversified cultures. Without the African influence in Latin America we would never have had the kind of food, dance, music and culture that resonates so much in other parts of the world, much like DanceBrazil resonated in the eyes, ears and hearts of those who on Friday enjoyed their performance.