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Dance Brazil
The Beauty Is in The Mix
February 13, 2007


Written by William S. Gooch
Photographed by Mary Blanco

Behind every great dance company there is an artistic vision and force giving that company a distinctive voice. DanceBrazil’s artistic visionary is Jelon Vieira and the cultural landscape of Bahia is its force. For its 30th Anniversary season, celebrated at the Joyce Theater, DanceBrazil presented dance pieces that meld African traditions with Brazil’s indigenous cultures. Under the artistic direction of Vieira, the 12-member troupe performs a repertoire rich in those traditions.

On February 13, the company presented two pieces (Desafio and The Ritual) by Vieira and one work (Thank You: to all of the people we come from) by guest choreographer Ronald K. Brown. All three works celebrate the amalgam of cultures evidenced in Capoeira (a Brazilian martial-arts dance form), Samba music and Candomble (an African-based religion).

In Desafio, Vieira has constructed a subtly cerebral work that not only challenges the technique of the dancers but also their ability to evoke moods of struggle and isolation. In Desafio—which means challenge in Portuguese—Vieira attempts to show the human struggle for freedom and self-expression juxtaposed against society’s need for conformity. Dancers attired in lattice-like unitards connect, dance aggressively and then abruptly stop, walking somberly into the wings. Vieira’s choreography shows that his dancers have the lyrical fluidity necessary for the Horton-inspired movements and are equally adept at Graham-styled contractions.

Camila Santos Freitas and co-choreographer Guilherme Duarte are the standout dancers in Desafio. Duarte as the lone figure in red represents the true voice of dissent that will not be silenced by society’s overarching desire for assimilation. His sky-high extensions and breathtaking balances are a testimony to his need for liberation. Frietas incorporates Vieira’s melting pot of dance styles into one seamless, organic response to the driving rhythms of Brazilian composer Tote Gira. Desafio, at its best, is most successful when the live musicians and the dancers become one supernova of pounding rhythms and movements.

Thank You: to all of the people we come from is a homage ballet to cultural and spiritual ancestors. Like Vieira, Ronald K. Brown uses dance language from various dance styles. En dedans pirouettes and well-centered attitude and a la seconde turns are intermixed with Dunham technique and dance moves one might have seen at the famed Paradise Garage. Clad in army fatigues, guest artist Carlos de Santos jives and boogies in reverent gratitude to the canned mixed music of O’Rastaman, Arturo Sandoval and Winston Rodney. De Santos is a dancer who is comfortable in any dance idiom and this glorious solo work is just the piece to exploit all of his abilities.

Ritual was the piece de resistance of the evening. In Ritual, with music by Ramiro Musotto, Vieiro takes us on journey from the African Diaspora and indigenous encounters to liberation. Using the colors of Yoruban Orishas; white (Obatala); red (Shango); blue (Yemanja), Vieira demonstrates that the ritual of culture, though ever evolving, always maintains an essence or source. And in Bahia that essence is Candomble and the indigenous forces found there. Here lies the strength and the connecting thread of a culture that survives economic and political upheavals.

Ritual consists of seven sections, starting with “The Long Journey” and ending with “Freedom.” In the opening sections, the dancers move feverishly as though possessed by spiritual ancestors, buoyed by the driving rhythms of the Motherland.

Vieira incorporates Capoiera into the middle sections of the work. Swinging rhythmically from side to side—in a movement called ginga—dancers symbolically challenge each other with acrobatic, martial art-type dance. Capoiera is an equal opportunity employer were the women dance as aggressively as the men, performing the same acrobatic-styled moves.

In the “Passion” section, skimpily clad men and women seductively cavort to Samba music. DanceBrazil has perhaps some of the most physically attractive dancers currently seen on the world stage, and Vieira expertly uses their personality and beauty as attention grabbers while educating about all things Bahian.

Like George Balanchine, Vieira is a great master who understands that artistic genius is not in the creation, but in the assemblage of styles that yield a distinctive, synchronistic voice. For DanceBrazil the beauty is in the mix, and it is glorious to behold.

For more about Dance Brazil, read William S. Gooch's interview with the artistic director, Jelon Vieira, in this month's issue.




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