Review: Viver Brasil

Stomping feet, swinging arms, piercing vocals, all accompanied by drumbeats so powerful they could knock you out of your seat.

The raw energy from the Viver Brasil performers radiated from the stage like spotlights. Viver Brasil brought their performance, Feet on the Ground, to the American Theatre in Hampton last week. The dance company, based in Los Angeles, “is rooted in the traditional and contemporary forms and techniques of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and embodies the beautiful and complex stories of the orixá, African sacred energies of Afro-Brazilian culture.” The show’s program also gave a tremendous amount of information about the company members. Many of the dancers are from Brazil, and all of them have studied and performed extensively there.

The dancers, musicians, and vocalists of Feet on the Groundperformed six “Biographies,” (the majority of which were choreographed by Rosangela Silvestre) each telling a tale and representing an element of Brazilian culture. The costumes were of brilliant colors: there were feather headdresses; regal silk hooped gowns with beaded headpieces; bright green tops and floral skirts. Color simply floated around the stage. The movements throughout ranged from earthy and grounded, to wild and frenzied.

In the intense and ceremonious piece “Avanhia,” the dancers beat the floor with their hands, swung their bodies, and moved through formations as they paid homage to Obaluaiyê and Ossain, the god of health and sickness and the orixá of herbal medicine (respectively). “In Motion” began with a display of capoeira, which is Afro-Brazilian martial art. The dancers slowly moved through the steps, in an unhurried non-contact battle. The intricate poses required extensive strength, but after a few minutes, the slow pace began to feel somewhat tedious. However, the piece soon transformed into a vivacious, fast-paced dance overflowing with jumps, sweeping arms, and joyous yells from the dancers. It was like watching a party.

Everything about the dances felt very organic. The show moved in and out of solo and group choreography. When the dancers performed steps together, they were in definite synchrony musically and choreographically, but each dancer maintained his or her own distinct style and unique way of presenting the steps. There was simultaneous unity and individuality.

As strange as this may sound, the most heartening part of this performance was when it was over. The dancers took their final bows, but the music continued. The audience was in a standing ovation, clapping along to the beat. The house lights brightened, and the dancers came down off the stage. They began dancing in the aisles, and with audience members, encouraging everyone to stay on their feet. The musicians were dancing around their platform as they played their instruments, and before long, the entire audience was moving.

I looked at the scene around me, and realized with immense delight that every single person in the theatre was dancing.

And not just bopping their heads; shoulders were moving, hips were shaking, and feet were stepping to the pulsing percussion. After several minutes, the dancers then returned to the stage, and performed a short excerpt of the last piece. But the audience didn’t stop moving; the entire room was bursting with dance and music until the curtain went down.

When I teach my dance students, I always tell them that they should infuse the movements with so much energy that I can see it coming out of their hands and feet. Viver Brasil undoubtedly achieved this; I not only saw their energy, I could feel it. And I know that everyone else in the theatre could too.

This article was originally published on AltDaily in April of 2011.

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