DanceBrazil was formed in 1977 by Jelon Vieira, who came to the United States from Brazil’s state of Bahia. Since then, it has served as a cultural ambassador of Brazil in the United States and worldwide. This is a select list of works by DanceBrazil that specifically deal with – or are inspired by – Afro-Brazilian culture. All photos courtesy of DanceBrazil.
Pivete (“Street Kids,” 1993; choreography by Marcelo Marcyr)
This work portrays the life of homeless young kids on the streets of Brazil. Marcyr was deeply shaken by the Candelaria massacre – an event that took place on July 23, 1993 in Rio, during which a group of men killed eight young people in the streets. The men were tried for the killings, but only two of them were convicted. In Pivete, Marcyr shows the difficulty and the joy shared by these homeless young men, who represented a large population of homeless youth in Brazil.
Anastacia (2001; choreography by Carlos dos Santos, Jr.)
This work tells the story of Anastacia, an African princess brought to Brazil as a slave in the 16th Century. Also a high priestess in the Yoruba tradition (African religion brought to Brazil by the enslaved Africans in the 16th Century), Anastacia helped her fellow countrymen keep their traditions and culture. She was also a healer. For her outspokenness, she was condemned to wear an iron mask permanently attached to her face, and she eventually died of gangrene. She is now considered a saint in Brazil and referred to as Santa Anastacia.
Divinities (2003, choreography by Carlos dos Santos, Jr.)
This piece is about the orixas – the deities in the religion of Candomble, which developed in Brazil based on the Yoruba tradition, brought to Brazil by the enslaved Africans in the 16th Century. The piece portrays the Yoruba lore version of the story of the creation of the world and explores the complex relationships and hierarchy between the deities in the religion. It also shows the intricate connections and points of intersection between the world of the divine and the world of humans.
Angeos de Rua (“Street Angels,” 2008; choreography by Jelon Vieira and Carlos dos Santos, Jr.)
This work is based on street dance and ballroom dances (Lambada, Arrosha, Swing, Gafieira) that are especially popular in Brazil. The piece was created with the purpose of drawing attention to the widespread phenomenon of male and female prostitution in Brazil and illustrates the reality of sex workers’ lives. It aims to defy generalization and show the humanity in each person, regardless of their occupation or the circumstances in which life has put them.
A Jornada (“The Journey,” 2010; choreography by Jelon Vieira)
In this piece, Vieira tells the story of the journey of the African people from their homeland to the shores of Brazil. The piece uses capoeira, the traditional Afro-Brazilian martial art, as a unifying thread in telling the story of both a physical journey from Africa to Brazil and a spiritual journey through time taken by the African people in Brazil as their new identity and culture evolved.
All pieces performed by DanceBrazil feature Capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian martial art developed in the 16th Century by the enslaved Africans brought to Bahia, one of the largest states in Brazil. Not allowed to practice self-defense, they disguised practicing their fighting technique as dance – and so Capoeira was born. For a long time, Capoeira was actually banned in Brazil as a lethal martial art. It is now legal again in Brazil and is widely practiced all over the world.