DanceBrazil explodes in color

March 24, 2012

Nancy G. Heller

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Because of passport problems and a missed flight, the members of DanceBrazil didn't get to Philadelphia until 4 a.m. Thursday. But you would never have guessed it from the explosive, high-energy performance they gave that same night at the Annenberg Center.

The much-traveled troupe celebrated its 35th anniversary by presenting a pair of short pieces choreographed by their founder and artistic director, Jelon Vieira. Like him, the dozen dancers come from Brazil - mainly Bahia, the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. They obviously have studied ballet and modern dance, and presumably grew up with samba.

But the signature elements in DanceBrazil's work are derived from capoeira, the dance/martial arts form probably created by African slaves in colonial Brazil. This highly athletic technique involves powerful circular kicks, impossibly high backflips, and handstands that could probably go on for a week. Costumes (also by Vieira) feature hot, tropical colors and show off the women's superbly defined arm muscles, while the men's micromini shorts leave little to the imagination.

The Philadelphia premiere of Batuke included several notable sequences, among them a sultry, languorous group-walk by the female dancers, featuring liquid hips and expressive shoulders. But too many inventive steps were lost amid the crowds of bodies onstage. Vieira doesn't seem to trust audiences to sit through extended duets or trios, and as a result overemphasizes group numbers and unison movement. The music (by Daniel Santos) evokes the passion of traditional Brazilian percussion, but eventually becomes a distraction. And Batuke uses too much stage smoke. Way too much.

Making its world premiere, Imfazwe (with music by Eduardo Santos) explores the two sides of capoeira. The dance parts seem very similar to those in Batuke, with lots of rocking back onto the heel, undulating torsos, swinging arms, and quick, low jumps. But the excitement comes from the stylized fights, especially the sequence in which one male dancer weaves among the rest while creating beautiful shapes in the air with a very shiny knife; the kick-fight between two men in the center of a ceremonial circle; and a paradoxically exquisite segment in which a line of men assume a series of stylized boxing poses.

Additional performances:

2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-$60; 215-898-3900 or

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