The 30th edition of the International Hispanic Theater Festival kicked off Thursday with a performance by the Los Angeles-based Viver Brasil Dance company, in a show brimming with energy and earnest good will, accompanied by vibrant live music.
Unfortunately, that could not make up for the limited capacity of Viver Brasil’s dancers, or for choreography that ranged from amateurish to mediocre.
This year’s festival is, for the first time, dedicated to Brazil, bringing a new linguistic and cultural element to the festival, as it recognizes a country whose people and influence have become a significant part of South Florida. Which makes it unfortunate that the first troupe to represent Brazil is not of better quality. Viver Brasil continues at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center through Sunday afternoon.
The centerpiece of the show is Peace Transcends, which pays homage to elderly teacher and spiritual leader Nancy de Souza e Silva, or Dona Cici; and to the violent deaths of 14 black youths in her community in Salvador, Bahia, the center of Afro-Brazilian culture and the syncretic Candomblé religion. The program notes say Peace celebrates the triumph of safety and peace over pain and chaos, hinting at an explicit moral narrative.
A projection of Dona Cici watches over the work, and choreographer Vera Passos, a longtime Afro-Brazilian dancer, incorporates dances of the orixa, or saints. In one segment, two women stomp and raise their fists threateningly in the movements of the warlike Ogum; in another, four undulating women wrap and unwrap themselves in long golden bands of fabric, for Oxum, the goddess of sensual love.
Alternating sections seem to represent innocence and violence. Three women and a man play a rambunctious game of musical chairs, somersaulting and sticking their tongues out in an exaggerated imitation of children. There’s a frantic, aggressive ensemble dance to pounding percussion, which ends as a woman throws a white cloth over the other four, followed by a spiritually tinged solo for a woman in a white dress.
The musical ensemble, with two singers, two percussionists, a trombone and bass player, provides a richly energetic accompaniment in a score by music director Simon D. Carroll.
But Passos’ episodic, literal structure never builds any dramatic or kinetic momentum. Her vocabulary of movement is repetitive, limited and inexpressive: waving arms, bending torsos, shimmying shoulders, bluntly kicking legs. This may be partly due to the limitations of Viver Brasil’s lone male and six female dancers, who, despite their earnestness and intensity, simply don’t have a high level of technique or physical ability. Peace has neither the conceptual and compositional depth of good contemporary dance, nor the natural energy of folk dance.
Similar issues plague the rest of the program. Orixas, choreographed by Rosangela Silvestre, with music by Jose Ricardo Sousa, represents a Candomblé myth centered on Ogum, the god of iron. The structure seems even more random, with pounding group sections interspersed with a solo figure solemnly lofting white and blue gourds.
Shelby Williams-Gonzalez and dancer Rachel Hernandez’s Ajê (Prosperity) opens with a singer reciting a poem about peace as Hernandez spins in a solo, giving way, rather confusingly, to a party atmosphere as the ensemble shimmies to funky New Orleans second line music. Here, at least, the dancers’ enthusiasm carried the dance.
The same was true of the final Samba No Pé, with robust sambas very different from the familiar high-heeled nightclub variety. Instead, the ensemble swirled giant flowered skirts over their rhythmically skittering feet and rapidly undulating hips, with an engaging exuberance that was enough.
If you go
What: XXX International Hispanic Theatre Festival.
When: Through July 26.
Cost: $30-$34, depending on venue ($5 per ticket discount for seniors, students, theatergoers with disabilities).
Information: 305-445-8877 or www.teatroavante.com; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.; 305-237-3262 or www.prometeotheatre.com; 305-547-5414 or www.miamidadecountyauditorium.org; 305-436-2916 or www.abactingstudio.com.
Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (Carnival).
Teatro Prometeo, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami (Prometeo).
On.Stage Black Box Theatre, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami (On.Stage).
Miami Dade College Koubek Theater, 2705 SW Third St., Miami (Koubek).
Adriana Barraza Black Box, 3100 NW 72nd Ave., Suite 127, Miami (AB Black Box).
Miami Dade College InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Ave., Miami (InterAmerican).
Key Biscayne Community Center, 10 Village Green Way, Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne).
‘Peace Transcends/Ajê’ by Viver Brasil of Los Angeles; 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Carnival (dance theater).
‘Cena para seis’ (‘Dinner for Six’) by Teatro Prometeo of Miami; 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Teatro Prometeo (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Los mas sólos’ (‘The Loneliest’) by Teatro del Azoro of San Salvador, El Salvador; 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, On.Stage (Spanish).
‘BR-TRANS’ by Colectivo Artistico as Trasvestidas of Fortaleza and Porto Alegre, Brazil; 8:30 p.m. July 10-11, 5 p.m. July 12, Koubek (Portuguese with Spanish supertitles).
‘Simulacro de idilio’ (‘A Simulated Romance’) by Teatro de Babel and Dramafest of Mexico City, Mexico; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, Carnival (Spanish).
‘Swallows’ (‘Golandrinas’) by Sinteatros Intimus of New York; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, On.Stage (English with Spanish supertitles).
‘Apple of My Eye’ (‘Meninas dos meus Olhos’) by Nettles Artist Collective of New York; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, Koubek (Portuguese with English supertitles).
‘Zarguiñol’ by Zarguiñol of Madrid, Spain; 5:45 p.m. July 18 at Key Biscayne, 6 p.m. July 19 at InterAmerican (Spanish).
‘Alguna cosita que alivie el sufrir’ (‘A Little Something to Ease the Pain’) by Teatro Avante of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 23-25, 5 p.m. July 26, Carnival (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Príncipe Azul’ (‘Prince Charming’) by Adriana Barraza Black Box and Nobarte of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 23-24, AB Black Box (Spanish).
‘Escriba su nombre aquí’ (‘Write Your Name Here’) by Curartoymitad Teatro of Madrid, Spain; 8:30 p.m. July 24-25, 5 p.m. July 26, On.Stage (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Ex — que revienten los actores’ (‘Ex — To Hell With the Actors’) by Complot of Montevideo, Uruguay; 8:30 p.m. July 24-25, 5 p.m. July 26, Koubek (Spanish with English supertitles).