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DanceBrazil's Engaging "Ritmos"

by Tonya Plank
April 1, 2008
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
(212) 864-1414

Featured Dance Company:

DanceBrazil
DanceBrazil (office)
246 West 38th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10018
212-382-0555
www.dancebrazil.org

On March 31 and April 1, 2008, for two nights only, DanceBrazil, based in the Bahian region of Brazil, treated New York audiences to an engaging evening of capoeira, sometimes danced on its own, sometimes mixed with modern dance, and at times interspersed with Samba.

"Ritmos," choreographer Jelon Vieira's latest work, was divided into two Acts, the first named "The Dance," the second, "The Capoeira." Each Act opened with a man, Tote Gira, playing guitar and singing a Brazilian song, whose repeating chorus the audience was encouraged to sing along to. Though the song was in Portuguese, the repetitions of the sounds, taught to us by the musician, made it easy to do that. After a few minutes of this sing-along, Gira would put up his guitar, pick up his stool, a few drummers would emerge from the wings and take bows with him, and the dancers would then take the stage. It was curious why the drummers were not onstage with Gira since there seemed to be plenty of room for them and their instruments were an essential, and fun, part of the music.

Overall, Act II was much more powerful and exciting than Act I. In the first Act, much of the movement was modern-based, with various Afro-Brazilian forms of movement – arms swinging through the air with an outward motion, gyrating hips and undulating body rolls, playful, bouncing hops – mixed in. Toward the end, those Afro-Brazilian movements began to take the shape of martial-arts-based Capoeira, with sharp-footed kicks and hands slicing the air, though, as of yet, each dancer moved on his own, without an opponent. Capoeira, by the way, grew out of slavery, and originated as a slave's means of out-tricking his master, to escape his potential beating through athletic, martial-arts-type feats. Eventually, these "fighting moves" became stylized into an art form.

In this first "Dance" section, though the combination of modern dance with Brazilian, African, and a bit of capoeira was interesting, there did not seem to be much synchronicity of movement between the dancers, or any real thematic or structural development.

However, it was in the next section, "The Capoeira", where the choreography grew much tighter and the dance actually took shape. The Capeoira itself actually resembled a balletic form of martial arts. Dancers would pretend-kick, lash out at, and jump over each other, in a thrillingly gymnastic, but very artistic way. And because the athleticism – the amazing jumps and sharp, high kicks were so functional, so meaningful as a form of fight, of outsmarting the other, the virtuosity of these soaring leaps and wondrous jumps did not overwhelm or negate the artistry of the dance. For example, barrel turns (with African-styled flexed feet and bent legs rather than balletic pointed toes and straightened knees) were predominant, as a dancer would jump right over his opponent, just as the latter darted toward and was on the verge of attacking the former. But unlike in ballet, where such awe-inspiring mid-air-turning leaps would serve only to wow audiences, here they were a clever means of escape, while breathtaking in their artistry.

The dancers – eleven men and one woman – took a couple of short breaks from their difficult martial arts stunts, to perform some sexy Samba struts. As their bodies snaked across the stage seductively to the contagious beats of the drums, you really wanted to get up there and join them.
DanceBrazil in Ritmos Choreography by Mestre Jelon

DanceBrazil in Ritmos
Choreography by Mestre Jelon

Photo © & courtesy of Tom Pich

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