Monday, April 18, 2011

DanceBrazil: Gateway drug to the Northeast

The Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave, New York
I've been to Brazil a few times, but I haven't yet made it to Bahia or any other state in the Brazilian Northeast, for that matter. I've heard and read enough about this part of the country, though, to know I am missing out. BIG TIME. And every time I see an Afro-Brazilian dance troop perform in New York, I swear to myself I will put Salvador on my next Brazil itinerary. 

DanceBrazil, now at the Joyce Theater through April 24th, is no exception. This New York-based company brings to the stage a fusion of traditional Afro-Brazilian movement, contemporary dance, Capoeira, and even a little bit of Samba. Jelon Vieira, DanceBrazil’s artistic director, and almost all of the dancers were born and/or studied in Bahia, the country’s center of Afro-Brazilian culture and a hotspot of general artistic and creative genius. (Many of Brazil’s most critically acclaimed authors, composers, and cuisines have come out of Bahia.)

Watching the show was an emotional roller coaster. Certain movements graphically portray scenes of slavery and other pieces the light heartedness of samba. Once of the dances seemed to me a country ho-down of sorts. (I LOVED that one.) I particularly enjoyed the promonant role capoeria played in the show. The Playbill actually distinguishes between dancers and capoeiristas.

While I have summoned up the courage to take samba classes, I haven’t gotten that far with Capoeira. Mainly because it looks so difficult. Capoeiristas can dedicate lifetimes to studying this musical martial art whose origins could date as far back as the 16th century when the Portuguese brought the first West Africans slaves to Brazil. I’ve seen many a Capoeira demonstration, but, for me, watching it performed on stage was a different, more enjoyable experience. Capoeira is generally done inside the roda de capoeira, a circle of capoeiristas and muiscians. At demonstrations, I’m on the outside looking in, and, having a sense of the seriousness with which this art is practiced, I often feel like I’m intruding on some sacred tradition in whose teachings I’m not learned. It was refreshing to watch Capoeira on stage as a member of an audience. I was able to sit back, enjoy the show and let go of my insecurities, as silly as they maybe. 

All an all, I couldn’t have been happier having spent my Sunday afternoon, even on a beautiful day, watching this performance. So whether you end up taking advantage of the Joyce’s $10 tickets (a true bargain), or you wait for the next Afro-Brazilian dance troop to come through New York, I’m confident you won’t be disappointed. As for me, I'm already thinking about how to fit a tour of Salvador and maybe even a Capoeira workshop into my next trip to Brazil. 

Just to wet your palette, here is a video of another group, Balé Folclórico da Bahia, which I saw at NYU's Skirball Center back in January.

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