I am always interested in Brazilian dance companies. Having studied, trained, taught, choreographed and watched various forms of the technique commonly referred to in the United States as Afro-Caribbean, I have come to the conclusion that Brazil and Haiti are my two favorite cultural representations of this dance style indigenous of the Diaspora. After some reflection, I've reasoned that this is probably in part due to the fact that both cultures still have very deep roots connecting them to the Motherland, Africa. Many other nations like Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Dominican Republic are a bit more removed from the strong African influences and have incorporated their indigenous peoples' (Teano) and European colonists' cultures (British, Spanish, Dutch, and Indian).
Another factor to keep in mind is how large of a country Brazil is, hence its population is that much more vastly diverse in culture, community, style, artistic tendencies and so forth. That being said, I can never expect one preconceived notion at an Afro-Brazilian dance concert. This evening's production told me new stories and dances but embraced the familiar and more common ones which introduced me to this captivating technique.
What happens at a Brazilian dance concert is the sweet, sensual and syncopated synchronization of Capoeira (both regional and angola), Orixa dances (reflective of the Candomble religion), and social dances such as the Afroxe and Samba (Americans often think of glittered girls in feathers, heels and a thong during Mardi Gras). Alas, Viver Brazil provided all that and more in their choreography incorporating contemporary modern dance techniques with the culturally unique and special stories of their spiritual saints like Osain the medicine man, Oxumare the fertility spirit of the rainbow, and Ellegba the gatekeeper and trickster supreme.
The piece I enjoyed the most told the stories of the African King Chango, who is also the keeper of thunder, political success, and overall machismo. Dancing with a big attention grabbing skirt of white and red with red pants, vest and hat he drums the seductive sexy rhythms swooning all the ladies in the room; a real playboy is he. I digress. We see the story of Chango and his three wives Oxum, Oba, and Iyansa unfold before us through layers of taffeta, beads, shimmies, polyrhythmic conversations and percussive drumming more expressive than Wendy Williams on a Monday morning dirt dish.
Oxum represents pure beauty, sensuality, and the epitome of femininity. She dances in the rivers and with a mirror. Oba covers her right ear, as the stories go she cut off her own ear for Chango to cook him a soup. Needless to say, she represents the relentless giving and devotion of a true housewife. Iyansa is a feisty warrior who fights off the other two wives to prove she is the one truly worthy of Chango's love alone. This story is familiar to me but I had yet to witness its visualization performance on stage. More popular and traditional dances are usually performed at dance concerts in the states (especially at venues of a higher socio-economic status), which may include the solos of Iyemoja, Oggun, Exu, and Babalu-Aye (a particularily popular character in the Brazilian dance culture).
I highly recommend this concert, and subsequent performances by Viver Brazil, to anyone interested in dance, cultural dance, Latin dance, Afro-Caribbean dance, non-European dance, or to anyone who wants to feel the call and response indicative of African based art forms. Live singers, musicians, story tellers and performers became the essence of Afro-Brazilian stories and musicality. We were dancing in our seats by the end of the show!
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Location:Swathmore, Bethesda, MD