DanceBrazil uses martial art capoeira as choreographic tool
Jalon Vieira, artistic director and choreographer for DanceBrazil, is on a mission to bring a taste of his culture to audiences all around the world.
He takes traditional Brazilian martial arts moves known as capoeira and adjusts them to fit into contemporary dance works.
Vieira also uses traditional Brazilian to tell stories about his country.
When DanceBrazil comes to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 30, the audience will be treated to an energetic evening of two selections that will focus on the art of capoeira and the ongoing draught in Brazil’s northeast region, Vieira said during a phone call to The Park Record from a stop in Austin, Texas.
"I’m excited to return to Utah and perform in Park City," Vieira said. "It is exciting for us to be able to bring these works to the mountains."
The two pieces will be 2010’s "Banguela" and a new work, "Fé."
"’Banguela’ is a based on the capoeira rhythm, but not really about the martial art itself," Vieira explained. "In capoeira there are several rhythms. All of them are different and show various expressions. ‘Banguela’ is about the control, the fun and dancing elements of capoeira."
The piece, which is an ensemble work for 10 people, will also display the strength and the ritualism of the art, which was created by descendents of African slaves that lived in Brazil in the 16th century, Vieira said.
The style is comprised of sweeping legs and leaps that rely on leverage and speed to execute.
"Today, capoeira continues to feed my work," Vieira said. "It’s a fountain of identity that flows forever."
The new work ‘Fé,’ which mean faith, tells the story of the remote desert in Brazil, located in the country’s northeast area.
For years, the region has been decimated by draught and the situation is dire for the inhabitants, Vieira said.
"’Fé’ is about the lifestyles of the people in that area," Vieira said. "I was inspired to do something about them while I was reading an article one day.
"I read that a drought occurred in that area in 1890, and that most of the population, about 90 percent of the people, was wiped out," he said. "As I read more about this area, I found the people have a unique culture, especially when it comes to music."
Vieira’s research led him to interviews with members of the region’s population.
"I found how water in that area has been a major cause of conflict throughout history," he said. "As recent as the 1950s, there was a caravan that passed through the area. The people started killing each other to survive, because there was not enough water in tanks for everyone."
Of course, the children and women were the first ones to be killed, and the men started killing each other afterwards, Vieira said.
"These days we have another crisis," he said. "There is another draught and many people have lost their animals, especially the livestock, due to lack of water."
Regardless of the tragedies that the people have experienced, they have managed to stay fairly positive, Vieira said.
"That’s why I chose to title the piece ‘Fé,’" he said. "I did it because everyone I’ve talked to who lives in the region told me they all have faith that the place will change and become a better place to live some day.
"They continue to trust that there will eventually be enough water for everyone to live prosperously," he said.
The score for the work was taken from the region’s traditional music, but also from the people themselves.
"Many of the quotes that are used in the soundtrack of the dance were taken from live interviews that I did," Vieira said. "The more I interviewed, the more I discovered that these people find joy in bleakness. The joy increases when the rain falls, and they always put on a big celebration."
Vieira choregraphed "Fé" in just three weeks.
"When most choreographers create a piece, if they feel it in their hearts, the process goes much faster," he said. "While we will perform ‘Fé’ as if it’s complete, I still feel it’s a work-in-progress. I could easily extend the piece and examine other truths in this area."
Reflecting on his mission to bring Brazilian culture to his audiences, Vieira said his philosophy hasn’t changed since he formed DanceBrazil in 1977.
Throughout the company’s history, Vieira has created works such as "Pivete," a piece about Brazil’s thousands of homeless children, and "Pelada," which addressed the damage gold prospectors did to the mountain Pelada that now exists as a 600-foot crater.
"I have always felt a responsibility as a Brazilian native to bring and present these ideas to our audiences," Vieira said. "I feel there should not be a line that comes between art and real life and what is really happening in the world, and I want to educate people about my country through what some people view as entertainment. I feel I can bring awareness to people through the choreography and the music."
Like "Banguela," "Fé" contains elements of capoeira.
"In one of the solos, I use the movements to express death," Vieira explained. "The reason is because that’s what the people talk about all the time. It’s their way of life."
Still, Vieira doesn’t want the movements to misrepresent what the piece is about.
"I always look very carefully at how the dancers are interpreting the choreography and how it pertains to the culture of the northeastern area," he said.
Vieira said an audience’s reaction tell him if he’s accomplished his mission.
"I really don’t look for rewards, but what makes me feel like we are doing something right is seeing how people accept what I’m doing, and if my message got through or not," he said. "One of those times was when we performed in Arkansas. We enjoyed a standing ovation, and during an after-performance reception, people told us how the piece touched them.
"They told us they would not have learned these things if they had not seen DanceBrazil perform," Vieira said.
The choreographer hopes he will be able to artistically touch the Eccles Center audience on Saturday.
"I look forward to be able to come back to Utah and to be exposed to another community such as Park City," he said. "We hope to see many people in the audience."
The Park City Performing Arts Foundation will present DanceBrazil at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and are available at http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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