March 15, 2014
DanceBrazil closed the Joyce Theater's Brazil Festival. Under Jelon Vieira’s direction, the festival has been instrumental in giving Brazilian dance American exposure not only since its 1997 formation, but since Vieira’s beginnings two decades prior. The program was a panorama: three contexts of the troupe’s blend of Capoeira with Afro-Brazilian infused movement. The performers were spellbinding in their execution of acrobatic puzzles at breakneck speed, and although little meat was left to chew once their bag of tricks had been unraveled, each piece had a continual sense of pulsation.
Fé do Sertão’s heartbeat is rooted in movement. Vieira’s portrait of his native Bahia begins with spines crouched away from us stage left. Recorded text simmers; crouches become individuated expressions, organically sealing the cast into an intimate community. Michael Korsch’s lighting is authoritative – wherever light shines, the company flows, like an eager fluid within a container constantly changing volumes.
After a captivating beginning, the piece quickly loses interest. Scenes that feel unfinished flash by like a talent show with transitions dictated by abrupt musical shifts. Live percussion is tragically tame as it attempts to keep time with the pre-recorded score. Crafted gestures surrender to stale mime, and exhilarating Capoeira sequences are spoiled by dancers turning to us, as if to ask, “How did we do?” In the post-performance talk, Vieira explained how the piece speaks to the Sertão region’s endurance of devastating droughts, but flourish overpowers poignancy.
Dancer Guilherme Durarte’s Búzios was the strongest work of the night. Its pulse is more spatial than physical – investigating divination’s role in modern Brazilian life, action always resolving in a circle. Gerard Lafustte’s lighting had a potent point of view, spotlighting only the full ensemble, never a soloist. Jamildo Alencar and Jorlan Gama share a tense relationship juxtaposing curiosity with the fear of knowing. Between episodes of Gama’s earthbound neurosis veering from Alencar’s calm incitement, Willians Ferreira delivers a solo of trembling hands - at once hesitant, accusatory, and exultant.
If it weren’t for different theatrical scenarios, Vieira’s Gueto might as well have been the same piece as the first. Nonetheless, its rhythmic base was the most fascinating. Dancers enter and exit from far upstage, shrouded in shadows – the motor propelling the piece is nothing onstage, but that which brews subsequent actions elsewhere.
The piece concerns the ubiquity of ghettos, butit didn’t communicate much of this at all through the now predictable, dazzling tricks.
Vieira’s dancers ignite their viewers, regardless of the depth behind the
surface, inspiring collective excitement that may not accomplish what political expression aims
for, but feels just as cathartic.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews