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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.