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Robert Abrams
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Symphony Space
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New York, NY

DanceBrazil – Ritmos (The Dance, The Capoeira)

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

Featured Dance Company:

DanceBrazil (office)
246 West 38th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10018

DanceBrazil presented a full evening of pure, driven dance at Symphony Space. They were every bit as good as I remembered them to be. DanceBrazil has in the past presented both works that have a story or theme, and works that are mostly pure dance. Tonight's two act evening length work, Ritmos, was mostly abstract dance that drew upon Capoeira and Brazilian Samba, two of the dance styles at the core of DanceBrazil's repertory.

Each act started with Tote Gira on stage singing and playing a guitar. In addition to playing beautiful music and proving himself to be an engaging personality, the music served to set the mood and ease the audience into what was to come. Plus, this device let the audience know that the dancers were dancing to live music, which they might not have realized otherwise since the four musicians were positioned off stage during the dancing. I am not sure if this positioning was by design or necessity. It might or might not have worked to keep the musicians on the stage with the dancers, although it certainly would be welcome if it could be made to work. Mr. Gira even got the audience singing along with him. To me, the music felt like an invocation, with parallels to a similar tradition used in Odissi.

Before I go any further, I should mention that Capoeira is a form of dance that is not primarily intended for performance. It was originally developed as a martial art that didn't look like a martial art. Slaves in Brazil practiced Capoeira to stay in shape and learn moves that potentially could be used if defense were needed. As it is practiced today, Capoeira can also be thought of as a kind of partner dance in which two dancers improvise with each other, with the objective of not quite kicking each other in the head (I know I am not doing the art justice, but I think this is a fairly accurate, if rough, description.) Capoeira in its native, improvised form certainly has impressive moves and its own kind of beauty. DanceBrazil takes this tradition and elevates it both in terms of skill in Capoeira itself, and in building performance choreography that sustains a dance over longer periods of time, while also remaining true to the roots of the tradition.

Act I started with the dancers lying on the ground in a radial circle. They bobbed their heads. They twisted into awakeness. An arm outstretched. They rolled up to standing. The dancers formed an advancing wave, with two distinct vertical levels of movement enmeshed together.

The choreography varied the speed of the dance, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. The variation, from the circular form in the beginning to lines, to solos or pairs, returning to the circle at times and at the end of Act II, made the dancing more than one impressive leap after another. Not that anyone could have complained about the leaps. DanceBrazil's throw away moves could have been the highlight of many an above-average dance company.

If DanceBrazil does have a problem, it is that they are so good that they make the nearly impossible look easy and natural. Especially in the first act, which is less about bravura solo moments than the second act (which included a leap by one dancer over three other dancers that brought Evel Knievel to mind), one runs the risk of thinking, "Of course they can hold themselves half suspended in air for an endless moment and seem completely at peace, and then land with the ease of a cat."

When the dancers get going, their talent is obvious. Often they made me think "How did they do that?", whether it was a leap with great air, or an impressive comic hop like a frog. And then there was this move where a dancer approaches another's front, and somehow leaps over the second dancer to bounce off the second dancer's back. Don't try that at home, unless you are a really, really accomplished Lindy Hop dancer. Regardless of whether they were being obvious or not, the dancers performed with precise positioning, even when in mid-air. DanceBrazil's dancers had presence throughout the arc. They were equal parts laid back cool with a smile and unstoppable advancing intensity. They were so smooth at any speed and elevation, and they never showed any sign of tiring from start to finish.

The patterns in the choreography, while discernable, were often not obvious, which is part of why I liked them. The final image in Act I was of dancers walking backwards while those in the back ran to the front, as the lights faded. The final image in Act II echoed the circular form used in the beginning of Act I.

There is another element in DanceBrazil's Capoeira derived choreography that I think is worth noting. In much of dance, and especially in partner dance, the point is to have dancers work in parallel together. DanceBrazil creates choreography where dancers work both in parallel and in opposition to each other. In martial arts (I practiced Aikido for a year and passed the exam for the first belt), one both needs and needs to respect one's partner, but the goal is also to defeat your partner, with the proportions of these elements varying somewhat depending on which martial art is being considered. Capoeira and DanceBrazil's Capoeira-based modern dance takes these ideas and makes them into art.

Some of the postures and partnering used in Capoeira are somewhat unusual compared to other dance styles. If you can get used to stepping with your toe without moving your hips in Argentine Tango after being used to Ballroom and Latin, where you either step with your heel with no hip action or step with your toe with hip action, you will be able to appreciate Capoeira as well. Instead of thinking "bent over", think "coiled". You have to come from somewhere to slide past each other with grace and inches to spare, which these dancers do repeatedly. More exceptional moments: many kicks seemed to have a second kick on top of the first (not just moving but striking), and there was one leap circle that moved around the stage using leaps that were each vertical. Some of the partnering had an ease that felt like two ocean currents. The transitions from state to state were both marked and fluid, including transitions from Samba to Capoeira that seemed to suggest that opposition is inherent in togetherness.

Dance companies inevitably borrow from and are borrowed from by many others. Some of the arm movements reminded me of Grupo Corpo, another talented, although very different, Brazilian dance company.

The costumes used in the show were relatively simple, and as such were entirely appropriate. The white base color suggested a certain purity. Colored accents, such as a shirt or a stripe on a pair of pants, enlivened the look, while also giving the choreographer ways to let the audience see groupings on stage. The fabric was relatively form fitting, showing off the dancers' bodies, while also having some slack that served to extend the dancers' motions.

How could the show be improved? I might add supertitles in English when the singer is singing in Portuguese. Other than that, I can't think of anything that would make the show better, and even that isn't strictly necessary. I have been happily dancing Samba and Forró for years without knowing much Portuguese. If I could learn some Portuguese in a way that enhanced my dancing in the process, that is a kind of language instruction I could be enthusiastic about.

I think I have provided sufficient evidence that DanceBrazil should be on your do-not-miss list, but you don't have to just take my word for it. Working with Ilana Eberson of Real Live People Party, ExploreDance.com attended the show with a group of 15 people (Ilana did the largest portion of the actual work to organize the event; I mostly suggested which show to see). Here are a few comments from some of the people who joined our group: John Louis Bryant, the Director of Marketing and Events for Jennifer Muller | The Works, a top level modern dance company, wrote "What a wonderful performance! It's been a few years since I saw [DanceBrazil] last, but I felt as captivated as the first time by the agility and strength. It was indeed [my friend's] first sight and he was floored! THANKS!" Gary Negbaur, the composer of Wine Lovers: The Musical, thought that DanceBrazil was "a real treat." Wes Carrajat, a well-regarded West Coast Swing DJ, was so moved that he emailed his list: "Mary and I went to a FANTASTIC show in NYC this past Tuesday night, thanks to Robert Abrams. The name of it was DanceBrazil. It was the best by far of any dance company we've ever seen. It makes River Dance, Burning the Floor, Stomp, etc. look pale compared to the action and dancing in DanceBrazil. They consist of 10 men and one woman and you won't believe what they do. They will be in Connecticut, I believe next week. If you get a chance to see it, don't miss it. I know that they will be leaving for a World tour after the Connecticut show and will be back some time later this year."

Tonight's outing would not have been possible without Ilana and Real Live People Party. She took care of the thousand details that go into organizing a group with such ease that it might be fair to compare her organizing ability to DanceBrazil's dancing ability. In addition to organizing some dance events, such as evenings at the ballet, Ilana also organizes speed dating, cultural events and much more. If you need something fun to do, even on short notice, or need help organizing an event, check out the Real Live People Party website. Thanks are also due to Margaret Wood-Hemnes, DanceBrazil's Executive Director, and Fran Kirmser, DanceBrazil's publicist, who provided invaluable assistance in making this group event possible.

The only thing better than a DanceBrazil show would be a DanceBrazil show immediately followed by a Samba & Forró party, with a little West Coast Swing mixed in. Maybe next time.

Choreography: Jelon Vieira
Music: Tote Gira
Lighting: Espirito Santos
Costumes: Jelon Vieira & Rangel Oliveira
Rehearsal Director: Claudia Guedes
Stage and Company Manager: Marcelo Moacyr
Dancers: Camila Santos Freitas, Janildo Alencar, Marcelo Bomfim, Elias Bouza, Jamildo Goçalves, Slim Mello, Francisco Silvino
Capoeiristas: Paulo E. Da Silva, Raphael Novaes, Erlon Braga, Alisson Augusto Silveira
Musicians: Edmilson Pereira Santos, Eduardo Pereira Santos, Daniel Souza Santos, Tote Gira
DanceBrazil in Ritmos Choreography by Mestre Jelon

DanceBrazil in Ritmos
Choreography by Mestre Jelon

Photo © & courtesy of Tom Pich

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