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Jean Abreu - 'Raizes'

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

July 15, 2006 -- Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London

Saturday 15 July 2006 at the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, Jean Abreu presented “Raizes”, a compilation of Brazilian dance and music. Abreu was joined by four musicians, Anselmo Netto, percussion and bandolin; Adriano Silva Pinto, percussion; Josue Ferreira, guitar and voice; Maximillian Baillie, violin; by Ponciano Almelda, Capoeira master and dancer; and by dancer Leticia Pereira.

Maximillian Baillie began with a serenade on the violin. Abreu, dressed in a white suit, hat and shoes,and in a black and white striped shirt, performed several poses, some of his gazes directed toward the audience. His dancing contained quick sweeping leg movements with intricate footwork and struts accompanied by several stylized hand gestures. Ponciano Almelda entered doing Capoeira movements very close to the ground. Abreu, in his suit, juxtaposed Almelda who, in cotton trousers and tunic, glided along the floor in a circle around Abreu. This interaction occurred with both dancers using the rhythm in their own particular way. The juxtaposition portrayed two cultures--the traditional or rural coexisting with the urban. A dual vision that alludes to cultural proximity, Abreu’s opening set the stage for an intriguing exposé on four of Brazil’s most popular social dance practices: Samba, Forró, Lambada and Capoeira.

These four dances were the result of the importation and migration of African and European peoples who brought their music and dance to Brazil during slavery. The impact of political and social developments in government, industrialization and urbanization, coupled with cultural cross fertilization, resulted in the traditional forms evolving to produce new amalgamations in dance practice. From a form of resistance found in Capoeira to social practices of Samba created for recreation, the encounter, sharing and evolution of these forms provide Brazil with its own distinct practices of these dances. With embodied knowledge of these traditional forms, Abreu actively sought to make something original.

At the beginning of “Raizes”, Abreu performed Samba variations that accelerate along with the music and slow with dramatic inferences as Leticia Pereira entered wearing spiked, sling shot heels and a black dress covered with black shimmy fringe. The musicians walked upstage playing variations that set the ambiance for this meeting. Pereira and Abreu walked in opposition from stage left to right, their body language a measuring, tantalizing encounter that intensified gradually. Pereira sat in a chair and Abreu knelt as several subtle but titillating tableaus followed: Abreu’s hand arriving in a tacit clutch on Pereira’s arm or a brief pause in the movement for Abreu to hold Pereira’s leg. All were elegant moves, subtle, simple touches that hinted at a sensual intention. Pereira’s hip shimmies were as exquisite as they were arousing and climaxed as Abreu lifted and placed Pereira gracefully in his lap or stood on her feet. With this opening the rest of “Raizes” was a graceful presentation of varied Samba, Forró, and Lambada couple dances

This playful flirtation between couples is a Kongo-Angolan (Bantu) attribute and is seen in Brazilian Samba, Forró, and Lambada. None of these forms exists without the music that accompanies them. The music supplies the rhythm and ambiance for their performance, making dance and music interdependent. The profusion of Samba dance styles is immense with Samba music, Brazil’s national music, encompassing forms for drum orchestras to carnival trucks.

Traditional Forró is played with three instruments: accordion, zabumba (typical Brazilian percussion instrument resembling a rudimentary bass drum but is played with the hands), and a metal triangle. The dance Forró has many styles but basically it is danced in couples close at the pelvis, the man's right leg staying in between the woman's legs. Salsa and other Caribbean dance forms have influenced Forró adding numerous gestures from spins accompanied by fancy heel flourishes to lifts for the woman to sit on the man’s knee. More sensual than Salsa, couples dancing Forró twist, turn, grind and gyrate attached at the hips.

Lambada with its distinctive music and dance became internationally popular in the 1980s. It is thought to have originated in Brazil as a derivative of Carimbo, a dance with a history dating back to the 1500s incorporating many spins with the woman trying to cover the man with a rounded skirt. Practiced in the north, the Carimbo changed with influences from other Caribbean metallic and electronic music practices with accompanying dance forms. By the 1980s the Carimbo, with its two beat rhythm and multiple spins, became known as the Lambada. Traveling to Bahia, the Lambada received influences from Forró and incorporated a four beat rhythm. Lambada as a “forbidden” dance was propagated by the 1990s movie of the same name but most practitioners prefer to think of the Lambada as more a romantic than erotic dance. As popularity diminished and the music most associated with Lambada faded, practitioners found other music forms, including Flamenco Rumba and Zouk music.

Capoeira also is a Kong-Angloan (Bantu) relative with many cousins--ladja in Martinique and kalinda in Trinidad to name two. Capoeira is a couples dance where participants spar in a movement language that resembles martial art practices. Incorporating slow, slippery full-body balanced and inverted moves with ballistic full body or single leg moves and choreographed near misses, Capoeira is an implication to fight. Practiced in Roda (at times spelled Hoda) the strategy is to predict your opponent’s next move before he makes it by performing well timed and clever maneuvers. Two players use gymnastic and martial art-like movements performed in a circle dictated by a mixture of African and Brazilian rhythms.

Abreu arranged the positioning and movement of his accompanists to accentuate intimacy and the importance of the relationship between music and dancers. With the lights dimming, the musicians played while simultaneously changing their place on stage. Excerpts from “Morte e vida Severina / The Death and Life of a Severino” by Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto were recited. Josue Ferreira sang while accompanied by guitar, violin, triangle and percussion. As the beat got faster, Abreu and Pereira Lambada crossed the stage and exited. They re-entered, moving in slow, sensual, encircling motions with rhythmical twists and curves accompanied by arrested caresses that were accentuated by Pereira’s flowing hair. Done in bare feet with both dancers dressed in white cotton trousers--Abreu a tunic top and Pereira a white halter--the dance continued with subtle grinding and slow dragging motions that progressed around the stage. Soon Pereira exited and Abreu performed a solo that continued the motion and disposition set in the couple dance, his controlled sensual abandonment ending in stillness.

After a brief interlude during which Abreu thanked the audience and named the musicians and their instruments, Almeida entered playing a berimbau, an instrument having a bow-like body, which he struck with a stick. The berimbau made a familiar resonance that was controlled by the movement of the cabaça against his body while he controlled the tones of the string with a smaller implement and caxixi shaker. Abreu took in sequence several low poses with turns and shoulder stands, carefully placing his hand on the earth. With the berimbau secured off to the side, Almeida and Abreu began roda. Slow and deliberate, both performed several different leg lifts, turns, slips and rebounds from the floor and head stands all carefully placed and gracefully countering each other’s prowess.  

It can only benefit a young choreographer to explore the richness and profusion of expressions found within his heritage. It also benefits the audience to experience visually and viscerally these Brazilian expressions executed with such clarity and nuance.

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