A dance company whose creation came from Brazilian capoeira master Jelon Vieira and nurturing from American dance god Alvin Ailey, can only have one outcome: contemporary-samba-juiced-up-capoeira power. DanceBrazil, currently on tour in the US, took a two-week residency at the Joyce Theater in New York and kept every audience member hoping not to blink. A super-team of dancers versed in the Brazilian rhythms of samba, forró, and extreme capoeira seamlessly went from one genre to the next, connecting phrases with contemporary dance grace while accompanied by live musicians. Jelon Vieira, the Artistic Director and choreographer of DanceBrazil, is THE man who brought capoeira to the United States back in 1977, along with the late Loremil Machado. The two used the martial arts dance form to help not only promote Afro-Brazilian culture and popularize the dance, but to also help underprivileged children gain self-esteem, discipline, and move from the streets to these positively reinforcing groups. Originally named The Capoeiras of Bahia, the newly formed dance company quickly changed name to DanceBrazil under suggestion of Ailey.
DanceBrazil's program at The Joyce Theater was two parts: Imfazwe, which means "war", "fighting" and "dance" in the South African dialect of Xhosa, was figuratively and literally a powerful piece with composed and purposeful dancers, mixing a lot of dark shadows and capoeira playing. The dancers would grow in numbers, slowly and methodically, and then switch teams in their own little war. The capoeira playing, left to the male dancers, was beyond impressive; high-speed acrobatic moves that were yet so controlled and soft, the absolute essence of capoeira. But like the multi-faceted definition of this piece's name, Imfazwe incorporated open dance, free from combative style and air.
Batuke, meaning creating sounds and music from any noise (hitting bottles, banging plates, etc.), was the show-stopper. Influences from the Maculelé style (the Brazilian stick dance) along with samba were the driving force in this piece. The colorful and jovial piece brought on wave after wave of joy from the audience as well as the dancers - brightly colored clothe-fringed skirts worn by the men, long white and blue skirts by the women, and at one point, the men wore the white capoeira pants with patches of every color belt in the capoeira practice.
I was lucky enough to hear the reaction from six-year-old Rosa, daughter of some newly acquainted friends who were over from London - "I can't say which was my favorite part!" she howled in her accent. "I want to dance them all!" Rosa was moving along with the company in her seat the entire show, and with a samba free-style from the performers at the bows, audience members could no longer sit and watch alone either; their standing ovation included joining in on the hip shaking.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. DanceBrazil Tour: The DanceBrazil tour of this show heads west to Texas, Arizona and New Mexico and will continue until April 28, 2012. If you are in the area, get your tickets now! 2. I want to play! Capoeira classes and groups meet all over the US - to find a school near you, go to CapoeiraUniverse.com. Some great schools in New York City include The NY Capoeira Center, Arte Capoeira Center, and Grupo Capoeira Brasil NYC. 3. Music: Capoeira, samba, forró and maculelé all have different style of music that go along with the dance. Check out these titles and groups for a taste of each - Samba, The Pulse of Brazil and contemporary forró band Forro in the Dark. 4. Brazilian entertaining: One of my favorite restaurants in NYC that features live Brazilian music nightly is Esperanto (145 Ave C @ 9th Street, New York, NY) - samba on Saturdays, and the ceviche is fantastic! 5. More at Joyce Theater: The Joyce is known for presenting riveting dance performances, and some upcoming shows include Ballet Hispanico (April 17-29, 2012) and Alonzo King LINES Ballet (May 8-13, 2012).