The 24 performers of Balé Folclórico da Bahia entered the Rinker Playhouse — as we did — from the outside and stood right next to us as they sang. Bathed in a warm, reddish light and dressed in the traditional white clothes and head wraps of the Northeast of Brazil, they sang with a gentle fervor and we felt their presence intimately.
Presenting Bahia Of All Colors, which featured dancers, singers and musicians in a variety of works that were representative of “the culture, the traditions, the beliefs, the history, the colors, the music and movement of the people of Bahia,” the tiny theater pulsed with the exuberance and vibrancy of Brazil.
The first work was Dança De Origem (Origin Dance), which drew upon the legend of the universe according to Candomblé, the African religion that was brought to Bahia by slaves. Music and dance are important in Candomblé ceremonies as dancing enables worshippers to become possessed by the orishas — spirits of the Supreme Divinity. Dancers shook and rolled their eyes up into their head as they danced. One man was disrobed and painted with white dots and circles by two women.
In Puxada De Rede (Fishermen’s Dance), there is a lengthy solo for stately Aloma Silva as Iemanjá, the Goddess of the Sea. She wore an enormous, glittering blue-green hooped skirt that later opened up to look like a fishing net that the fishermen and their women manipulated.
All the performers seemed to be having a genuinely wonderful time onstage, reminding us that origins of all of dance come from the basic need of humans to express themselves through movement in their celebrations and rituals. For thousands of years, human beings have coming together to do this because it just feels good.
In a single downward light, musician Fabio Santos played the berimbau, a peculiar instrument made of a bow that is curved by a tight metal wire and has a hollow-out gourd attached to bottom that acts as a resonator. A strange and tinny sound was created as the metal “string” was hit by a small stick. Later in the program, the versatile Santos played a marvelous conga solo.
If you know anything about Brazilian martial art, then it would have been natural to have eagerly anticipated seeing the section called Capoeira. One would assume that the only professional folk dance company in Brazil would take the centerpiece of the program and make a dynamite showing of one of Brazil’s biggest cultural exports. However, this did not happen, and Capoeira was a disappointment.
The Balé Folclórico version of capoiera was just a nod to the complex and quick moves that date back to the 16th century in Brazil. Usually full of a wide variety of spins, kicks and cartwheels that are linked together with the rhythmic connecting step called the ginga, this presentation of the popular martial art form was more individual acrobatics than interactive martial arts. There was little of the amazing close contact and simulated fighting that stops an inch from lethal harm that the slaves perfected during the years of bondage to the Portuguese plantation owners.
The various male dancers did some nice, fully extended flips high in the air and there were some not-so-impressive turning sidekicks that got out of sync but, all in all, it fell short of expectation.
In fact, the capoeiristas that I have seen at a Brazilian dinner show in Pompano Beach were far more exciting and advanced in their presentations, which also included some spectacular knife demonstrations.
The closing number is often the best part of the show and this is done on purpose so that the audience will leave with the best possible reaction to the evening’s performance. On the night of Feb. 4, there was kind of a double finale.
There was the last rousing dance presented onstage with the performers flashing and sassing in vividly colored costumes. The work was called Samba Reggae after the most recent popular Bahian carnival samba rhythm, which is comprised of a mixture of Afro-Bahian rhythms (including the afoxê, ijexá and samba duro) mixed with Caribbean reggae sounds.
Then right after the performers took their bows, the musicians started playing again the infectious samba rhythm and like the Pied Piper, they led us — dancing and singing — from the theater out into the open to do our own version of Brazilian folk dance.
As the music and movement spread out and filled the usually somber breezeway of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, a mini-reincarnation of Brazilian Carnival was immediately in full swing. Performers, audience members and even passers-by were caught up in the sheer pleasure of moving their bodies to the beat of the music.
I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will be smiling when they remember that lively and joyous moment as they walk down that breezeway to attend future events at the Kravis.