When you see Christiane Callil cavorting on stage with her troupe of dancers known as the Girls from Ipanema, when you admire them dancing to the beat of the samba and experience their celebration of the Brazilian carnival in all its carnal splendor, one question automatically springs to mind.
How do they stay in shape?
"The recipe," she says in her delightfully raspy voice with a lilting Portuguese accent, "involves a lot of samba, of course. But to be honest with you, I've been doing this for so long, I'll be really happy the day I won't have to worry about [staying in shape] anymore."
As much as the show, which opens tonight at Old World Village in Huntington Beach, relishes the frothy sensuality of the Brazilian carnival, there's also a certain innocence about the whole affair, with its baroque imagery of beads and masks, playful sense of humor, and sweet sounds of samba and bossa nova.
"I've never had any complaints about the show being too sexual," says Callil, who occasionally is requested to tailor the 21-and-over production to a general audience. "In fact, we do a lot of bar mitzvahs. Thirteen-year-olds just love us. They seem to be in another world when they see us on stage."
Callil's carnival is a complex, carefully rehearsed spectacle that involves a dizzying number of costume changes, a five-piece band, eight dancers and a trio of batucada, or Brazilian percussionists.
A resourceful entrepreneur, Callil created the show from scratch 15 years ago. Besides singing and dancing in it, she also selects the music, designs the dance routines and acts as her own booking agent. She has taken her show to Hong Kong, Japan and Croatia, and is planning a trip to India and Pakistan this year.
"Not too many entertainers do that--hiring the sound and lighting personnel, buying the costumes," she says proudly. "I've been dancing since the age of 3 but still think that my biggest talent as far as this show is concerned is putting it all together."
Callil's arrival in the United States 15 years ago had nothing to do with career strategy. While working for Club Med in Mexico, she fell in love, married the guy and followed him to Los Angeles.
But according to the dancer, her new husband wanted her to be a quietly submissive wife, expected to stay at home at all times, taking care of the cooking and cleaning. The marriage lasted two years, and by then Callil had no desire to go back to Brazil.
"I was already bit by the show business bug," she says with a laugh. 'Taking classes, being repped by an agent, performing at the Academy Awards ceremony. My parents kept urging me to come back, but I told them I would give it a try."
She doesn't even like to visit, she says. "Brazil used to be such a rich country, and now it's ridden with poverty. If I lived there, I'd have to do something about it. It's like looking at someone you love dying of drug abuse."
Besides, Callil insists, the American dream is just too tempting.
"I love it here," she says. "Women in Brazil think of their bodies as the most important thing. . . . Here, you grow more as a person."
Christiane Callil and the Girls from Ipanema appear Friday and Saturday at Old World Festival Hall, 7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach. 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. 21 and over only. $10. Also Feb. 23 and 24. (714) 667-2848.