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Division in Days of Lore

How Much Artistic Tinkering is Acceptable When Bringing Folk Dancing to the Stage?

November 21, 2000|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Putting folklore on stage is always a risky, compromising business. It's usually a lot more fun to do a folk dance, for instance, than to see one. It doesn't take a lot of technique--there's a reason it's a folk dance after all--and it often goes on and on until musicians grow weary or people give out.

Still, there's a line that can be crossed in trimming and dressing up folklore for theater presentation. Critics argued whether that line was crossed made its first U.S. visit when Bale Folclorico da Bahia in 1996.

What will they say about its second, this weekend at the Irvine Barclay Theatre?

Times Dance Critic Lewis Segal, for instance, said the choreography seen on the first tour "cheapens and misrepresents native folkloric resources for the purpose of lowbrow diversion."

"We can't bring pure folklore to the stage," countered the company's general director, Walson Botelho, by phone recently during a break in performances in Albuquerque before the Irvine dates.

"We're a professional company. We work out eight hours a day, taking classes in ballet, modern, African Brazilian dance. Of course the dancers and the musicians [have] professional technique. So it's impossible to have the dancers in the pure state. They are not people of the original place or the original manifestation."

Botelho insisted that what the company presents on stage can be seen anywhere in the eastern Brazilian state of Bahia.

"If you go to the natural habitat, you'd see the same thing, same movements, same inspirations, same songs as you see on stage," he said.

"The people don't know how to do that in terms of technique. They just do it. They don't care about carriage, direction, about perfectionism of the movement. They just have the soul, the spirit of the cultural manifestation. They just know how to execute the movement."

Further, putting a dance on stage means altering it, he said.

"A circle is considered the original style of the Brazilian samba during the colonial period. It was danced by the slaves in a circle. When I am on stage, I cannot make a circle. If I did, the audience could not see it. So I have to make a semicircle.

"If you want to see pure folkloric, you have to go to the natural habitat."

Botelho earned a degree in cultural anthropology from the Federal University of Bahia and co-founded the company--the country's only professional folk music and dance troupe--in 1988 with Ninho Reis. Jose Carlos Arandiba, a former solo performer with the Contemporary Dance Group at the Federal University, is the company's artistic director.

Its tour of 63 cities in the United States and Canada began in Atlanta in September and will end Dec. 10 in Seattle. The Irvine appearance is presented jointly by the Irvine theater and the Philharmonic Society as part of the World Stages Series and the Eclectic Orange Festival.

The program includes Amazon ceremonies, folk tales and evocations of the days of the Portuguese colonial aristocracy, as well as plantation stick dances, various sambas and examples of capoeira, originally a martial-arts form.

The name "capoeira" comes from the Portuguese word for an empty space in the forest.

"That's where the plantation slaves used to practice," Botelho said. "When the Portuguese colonials asked the Africans what they were doing, they said, 'We were dancing in capoeira.' So the Portuguese took the word as the name of the dance. It has a different name in African: 'Ngombo.' "

Officially, he explained, there are two styles, an older one in which the movements, imitative of animals, are confined to the ground and a later one in which more gymnastic and acrobatic movements were introduced. This second style is still evolving.

"They're adding jujitsu elements now to capoeira," Botelho said.

Because Brazil is celebrating its birthday--the 500th anniversary of its founding--the company has added some new works that show "more of the Portuguese and indigenous influences, along with the African influences," Botelho said.

"The combination of the three made Brazilian culture, especially the Bahian. Even when the show consists of African Brazil, we don't show the pure African folklore. We show the result of the mix. The same with the Portuguese. We show the mix."

SHOW TIMES

Bale Folclorico da Bahia will dance Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive. $32 to $36. (949) 854-4646.

*

Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at chris.pasles@latimes.com.

* HAPPY FEET: Bale Folclorico da Bahia served up genial chaos in Glendora. F10

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