Choreography: Marco Antonio Garcia
Director: Fernando Narduchi
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
All eyes will be on Brazil a year from now as the 2016 Olympics opens in Rio, a town famous for carnivals and parties. In preparation for what is sure to be a riotous opening ceremony, the Royal Festival Hall is playing host to Baila Brazil an eclectic dance show from the Bale of Rua company famous for emerging from the Uberlandian streets and still providing free dance training to local teenagers.
Baila Brazil tells the history of the country by merging different types of dance and songs together to form an eclectic mix of rhythms and styles. Drawing from all kinds of inspirations including religion, the influence of spirits, the experience of slavery, 40s slow jazz and urban dance styles, what emerges is both a visually fascinating and, at times, disorientating array of quickly varying sections that can leave the non-expert viewer as confused as they are dazzled.
It opens on a fairly low key note, one man in silhouette on a scaffold which remains the backdrop throughout as a symbol of Bale of Rua’s urban origins. But soon that recognisably clattering beat appears, signalling the troupe of 15 men and 1 woman whose frenetic dance style is so unlike the polished ballroom Latin we’re so used to. The looseness of their movement allows them to propel body, arms and legs simultaneously and at a considerable speed, which would be impossible in more formal dance forms.
This also allows them to blur the boundaries of different types of dance, at one point mixing what appear to be Charleston moves with hip hop, as well as introducing elements of salsa and African tribal styles that even begin to resemble the New Zealand Haka. Threaded through this are some impressive acrobatic moves as the men fly around the stage in flips, tumbles and rolls before landing precisely in time with the music. What looks like effortless free flowing movement is carefully controlled and the section where five dancers initially ‘compete’ with one another for the best break dance moves which soon turns into a routine they all perform is particularly noteworthy.
There is so much that is visually stunning about Baila Brazil not least the beautiful final number where giant flowers burst out from the scaffolding signalling Brazil’s new place in the world, and the sections dealing with the bonds of slavery are very potent. Yet there are some elements that feel rather repetitive and a few of the props are a little ridiculous; for the slavery section each man stands in giant bowls which makes them look like Subbuteo players, and are quite cumbersome to dance with.
Some of the section transitions are a little sticky and while every movement is loaded with meaning it’s not always clear what they are, unless you buy the programme which demystifies some of the background. Perhaps it’s not a pre-requisite to enjoying the talented performance but it does detract from proper understanding to some degree. Nonetheless the physical stamina of the dancers is impressive who for 90 minutes pulse across the stage, endlessly moving to a feast of sounds and beats. Baila Brazil’s leading lady, singer Alexia Falcao Lopes’s incredible vocals tie the whole thing together supported by the musicians who help to build the “story” to its eventual party atmosphere. For those eagerly anticipating the next Olympics this should serve as a welcome introduction to the dance culture of Brazil.
Runs until: 15 August