Afro-Brazilian Moves the Denver Dance Floor

Afro-Brazilian Moves the Denver Dance Floor
July 29, 2015 W. Celeste Davis Stragand
Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança.  Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

The only things I know about Brazil, I learned from capoeira. In the roda each capoeirista takes turns dancing, playing the instruments, singing, leading and following. The production isn’t about a leader; rather, it is the band in its entirety that accomplishes the feat of performance. Companhia Urbana de Dança hailing from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, palpitates as a company. The dancers are synchronized in their individuality and display extreme reaches of athleticism and enthusiasm, yet, there is no leader. There is only a group – leading together.

Opening with I. YOU. WE…ALL BLACK! (NÊGO), the dark auditorium alerts to a cacophony of voices singing, chanting and speaking. The dancers embark upon the stage and physically begin to narrate the oppression, restriction, and desperation of black lives in the favela. The stage perimeter is lined with portable spotlights that shine white light in varying intensity towards the audience and onto the dancers. At one point, all is silent except for the breath, sneaker squeak and stomp upon the stage. The raw intensity coupled with the unfiltered spotlight shining into the audiences view is disturbing, unrestful and iterative of the struggle. Without being overt, the dance of many conveys the dance of one and the push to pull turns to LEAP as the company uses all parts of the stage growing and shrinking to a tempo that has movements with urgency and sections in slow motion. The visceral intensity of the speed of movement to the genuine urge behind it creates an energy that upon Act 1 closing left many feeling exhausted, when all we did was watch.

Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança.  Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

With all of this in just one hour, one can only image what will occur in Act 2. This scene opens to a game of musical chairs with jovial, good natured jests and playful vigor. NA PISTA (Dance Floor) entangles bodies and chairs in synchronized movements with individual showcases. Dancers partner and split each using a chair as prop. The height when leaping and the effortless movement from ground to standing are truly outstanding. The urban, hip-hop, street dance combines with what reminded me of Fosse jazz inspiration. All of the dancers donned in dance party gear are seemingly “showing their stuff” throughout the piece as to display their unique dance talents all while still interworking as a fluid company.

Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança.  Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

Photo of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Image courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

Sonia Destri Lie has choreographed and conceived a living testament to dance and revolution. The dancers don’t just dance, they live on the stage. The energy and urgency are real. Their lives matter, their talent matters and Denver is a better place for having hosted them.

The company came to Denver due to the generosity of a number of parties including the Biennial of the Americas, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, University of Denver’s Office of the Provost, the Grynberg Family Endowment for Dance Programming, The Porter Adventists Hospital Endowment for the Performing Arts and others.

Today’s performance took place at the University of Denver’s Newman Center on Sunday, July 19 as part of Denver’s Biennial of the Americas celebrations. If you missed this event, don’t worry, you can see Companhia Urbana de Dança in April of 2016 in Ottowa, Canada: http://nac-cna.ca/en/event/11764. It’ll be worth the trip!


W. Celeste Davis Stragand: Published author, showcased artist and local Denverite, W. Celeste Davis Stragand is not new to the art world. Her passion for delving into the root of existence and movement will challenge and praise both choreographers and the audience. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Celeste holds two bachelor of arts degrees, one in Chemistry and the other in English. She is also a graduate of Naropa University holding a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A former national slam team poet, Celeste is a graduate of the Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program and sits on the American Institute of Architects Colorado board. Her passion and enthusiasm for the kinetic arts will frolic and frenzy through the upcoming season of performances with many hopes for an encore!

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