Formed by choreographer Jelon Vieira in 1977, DanceBrazil incorporates elements of Afro-Brazilian culture, especially the martial art of Capoeira, into their modern dance works. On Wednesday evening, the company presented two pieces at the Joyce Theater: Banguela and Memórias.
Banguela is a well-crafted celebration of Brazil’s unique capoeira culture, expressed through a striking balance of sincerity and physicality. “Banguela,” as the program notes explain, is “a special rhythm played to calm down the capoeiristas when their play in the roda gets too heated.” In the dance Banguela, Vieira draws the audience into the capoeirista’s meditative state. The dancers move with such strength and control that at times they appear to defy gravity, as if time is slowed and blurred by the Banguela rhythm.
The piece begins with the company dressed in white and dancing through a series of luscious motions with satisfying clarity, their arms carving through space in round gestures as if drawing the air into a large embrace. When the music starts, the company forms a circle and dances inwards, referencing the capoeira “roda” formation.
The highlight of Banguela is a duet between Paulo Silva and Raphael Novaes. The two men move through a continuous series of cartwheels, low leg sweeps and backbends with grace and flair. For the most part they maintain eye contact, keeping with the original tradition of capoeira. At certain points, however, the capoeiristas shift their movement toward the audience, running their hands in the air facing an invisible partner. In capoeira, partners use these hand gestures as a means of familiarizing themselves with their partner and focusing on their partner’s movements. By splicing the capoeira pair and turning the dancers towards us, Vieira makes the audience the partner, and invites us into the sacred and historically significant space of the capoeira circle.
While I am delighted by the craftsmanship and execution of Banguela, I am unfortunately disappointed by the second piece, Memórias, which unfolds through as a muddled series of vignettes. In this topic-heavy work, a number of powerful ideas (such as Brazil’s modernization -referenced by honking car sound effects- and the country’s history of slavery and perseverance) are introduced but are not adequately developed. DanceBrazil’s usual focus, energy and clarity are lost amid the wide-range of topics and sentiments.
Although not as apparent in this program, Vieira is known for utilizing his dancers’ athleticism and virtuosity to create powerful modern dances that draw upon the strength of Brazil’s own movement and music traditions. The company’s past seasons are better examples of this, and I look forward to seeing the DanceBrazil’s next engagement at The Joyce.
Photography by Tom Pich
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