DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition
Brazil: Martialing the Arts
After watching an evening of Dance Brazil, I can certainly certify that not only do the company members not have any bones in their bodies, but also that their joints have elastic bands in them that snap back into place with no effort whatsoever.
Dance Brazil presented its area premiere Mameluco (a term that is use to describe people of mixed race in Brazil). Choreographer Matias Santiago draws inspiration from Darcy Ribeiro’s book O Povo Brasileiro which “discusses the gradual shaping of the face and soul of the racially mixed nation”. In this dance Matias Santiago is said to explore the racial diversity and separate identities that combine to create Brazil’s contemporary culture.
The dancers were superbly up to the athletic nature of the choreography as would befit anyone professionally trained in the very exacting and demanding form of Capoeira, a mixture of martial arts and dance that were practiced by the indigenous enslaved population of Brazil. However, it was the soul of the dance that I was looking for. The eleven dancers started in a line on stage and came and went in groupings that become predictable. Though their virtuosity was undeniable, I could not fathom if they were capable of any depth, as the choreography gave them no chance and no need to explore that aspect of dance.
The lighting, designed by Fabio Espirito Santo, was very well set, creating a change in atmosphere in this thirty-minute long piece. The costumes by Rino Carvalho were wonderful! Off-white on bodies of color with boy shorts, skirts, and cut off leggings, with strings, ties and slashed every which way (and considering how little material it was it was amazing how much variety and how many slashes could be accommodated!). While giving the look of a whole group each individual costume was different and uffles and tops gave a touch of the Brazilian.
However, the dance suffered from a lack of variety. The beat of the music kept going, but with changes that did not make any great impact; the whole of the dance was unrelenting in its fast pace. There was no difference in the movements of groups that formed and broke up to signify different races in the community. At one point the dancers come out variously wearing helmets and backpacks, phone links, umbrellas. I felt that this showed more of a class and economic divide than a racial one.
At the end of this first piece one felt dazed, but not quite comprehending.
The second presentation of the evening, Missao, talked, on paper, of the reflections on the all-encompassing effort behind a personal mission. I could not discern the plot, but this choreography was closer to the heart of traditional Capoeira. The breaks in the pace of the dance gave the audience a chance to focus. For the one-on-one sections with amazing martial art split-second coordination and fighting combinations, it was noticeable that it was all done by just men. I have seen other groups here in Washington DC where the women are as strong and professional as the men, and considering the abilities of the dancers in this group, I wonder why the choreographer choose to present those sections with men only.
The music, played live for Missao by various drummers and with Brazilian traditional instruments, was smooth to the ears, but again I felt that for such a long piece, a little more variety in both instruments and style would not be unwelcome. Continuous, quick and very simple costume changes through out the dance were effective and brought color and diversion.
There are quite a few parts of both dances where the choreographers seem to see photo images, and this is conveyed in stills co-coordinated with the lighting design, yet they seem awkward and not necessarily well timed.
Together the dancers are an undeniably technically proficient force on stage. Their depth needs yet to be explored. The idea, and then the progression in the choreography, needs to be clarified; perhaps it should be left as an abstract dance for the audience to decode. But for an evening of stunning pure movement that leaves your mind swimming, this is the mix.
©2004 by by DanceView