The African drums create a rhythmic pulse. “Berimbeaus,” made from gourds, create a swishing “shhh-shhh-shhh” sound that helps the performers keep time.
Muscular dancers wearing tiny tanks and flowing fringed pants fly across the stage doing cartwheels, flips, handstands and leaps. At times, they appear to be fighting; at others, worshipping, harvesting, fishing or courting.
You're watching DanceBrazil, the first dance troupe to bring the art of “capoeira,” a blend of Brazilian martial arts and dance, to the United States, and the first to mix it with modern dance, samba and African movement and music and take it on tour.
Founded by Brazilian capoeira master Jelon Vieira in the late 1970s, DanceBrazil performs “Pictures of Bahia” this weekend as part of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts' “Ignite!” series aimed at attracting twenty- and thirtysomethings to the performing arts.
The show tells the story of the Brazilian state of Bahia, one of the first areas of Brazil to be conquered and exploited by Portugal from the mid-1500s through the late 1800s, says DanceBrazil Executive Director Margaret Wood.
Bahia's complex history includes the import of more than a million slaves from Africa to work the area's sugar plantations. “It was out of this slavery that capoeira came,” she says.
“It's something that the slaves did to protect themselves and gain their freedom, but they practiced it in more of a ritualistic, dancelike way,” so the slave owners were not aware the slaves were training in martial arts, Wood says.
The show's name was based on a book of the same name by French photojournalist and anthropologist Pierre Verger. Published in the 1960s, it shows scenes of daily life in Bahia, including the carnivale festival, samba dancing and worship rituals in Afro-Brazilian culture.
>>DanceBrazil performs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St. $42. (480) 994-2787 or dancebrazil.org
If you're between the ages of 20 and 39, network with other arts-minded adults at the Ignite lounge post-performance party at Orange Table Café, 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall. It features free hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar, entertainment by DJ Brazilia and giveaways. Sign up at ignitearts.org.
• See capoeira master Jelon Vieira's work with disadvantaged youth at mestrejelon.com/photos.html
• Try local capoeira classes at axecapoeira-az.com