Greetings! It's Nicki again. Today we left Salvador and headed to Brasilia. As I look back at our time in Salvador, it seems that the Balé Folclórico da Bahia performance we attended last night is a perfect reflection of our experiences on this portion of our trip. The program we received before entering the theater explains the show and its influences, "The folklore and the popular culture of Brazil were formed by the combination of three different influences: European, by the Portuguese colonization; African, by the slaves; and Indígena, the native from Brazil. Balé Folclórico da Bahia shows, in the purest state, some of the most important expressions of Bahian folklore and some dances of the Candomblé, an African religion in which music and dance are in if the main factors" (Balé Folclórico da Bahia Program). This summary reflects the main ideas we learned in Salvador.
The first act of the ballet depicted Candomblé followers going into a trance with the Orixás (African gods). This trance is similar to a possession, but due to the negative connotation associated with the word, members of Candomblé prefer trance. The performers were dressed in traditional Candomblé white cloths and the Orixás were dressed extravagantly in garments that fit their personality and showed their power. From the first stay in Salvador, we have learned about these gods and goddesses. Each performer showed the individual Orixá's attitude and temperament in their dance. They each have the ability to rule over certain areas of the material world. For example, Ogum is the God of Iron and War and Oxum is the Goddess of Rivers and Lakes. The worshippers on stage danced in their trance-like state and it reminded me of a lecture given to us by Lisa Castillo. She explained that the act of a person being taken over by an Orixá in Candomblé is misunderstood. In her article "Icons of Memory: Photography and its Uses in Bahian Candomblé", she explains that the religion does not allow photographs to be taken of their religion, especially during the possessions, because many people use these images in a way that harms the religion (13). The media will print these photos with headlines and articles proclaiming they are witches or even devil worshippers. Knowing that Candomblé is very secretive about their rituals made seeing this beautiful performance of a sacred event even more special.
The second act was solely focused on the Orixá of the sea, Iemanjá. As she performed, the crowed was silently admiring her grace and power. The dancer depicting Iemanjá was ornately dressed in traditional blue and white clothing with a crown of sea shells. Fisherman and their wives joined Iemanjá on stage as the stage light grew brighter symbolizing the sunrise. They performed a typical worship that is still done today on beaches all over Bahia. The fisherman and their wives do this dance and song to ask for protection and a good day's catch before heading out into the ocean. On our first tour with Simone, she took us to a fish market where we were able to see a shrine for Iemanjá. She told us that anywhere there were fishermen, there was a shrine to Iemanjá.
The next big act depicted was capoeira. This portion of the performance was very high energy and intense. We read about capoeira before we left the States which gave us a general concept of the art. Capoeira is a martial art that mixes fighting with dance. It was created by slaves in colonial Brazil. We also attended a capoeira class while in Salvador at which we learned more and were taught basic movements, but nothing could have prepared me from what we saw at the ballet. The performers were masters of capoeira. They would kick high in the air barely missing their opponent's head. The performers sparred very fast back and forth but never made contact. They used wooden sticks while attacking each other, but again, never making contact with skin. The drums beat on while they traded a wooden stick for a machete. They swung the machete at one another without batting an eye and they moved so quickly I was surprised no one was injured. Every time the machetes made contact with each other, sparks flew. It was exhilarating to witness such athletic and articulate movements performed along with rhythmic drums.
When the show ended, I was left wanting more. All of the aspects of the performance showed the mixed history of Brazil. The African influences throughout the performance was heavy.The capoeira and Candomblé are descendant from African traditions, though they have a European and indigenous twist. Balé Folclórico da Bahia emulated our time in Salvador and showed the large impact the African slaves continue to have on Brazilian culture.
Check back for more tomorrow!
Balé Folclórico da Bahia Program. Print.
Castillo, Lisa Earl. "Icons of Memory: Photography and Its Uses in Bahian Candomblé." Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies 4 (2009): 11-23. Print.