Baila Brazil at Southbank Centre

Part of its ‘Festivals for the World’ the Southbank Centre has invited dance spectacle Baila Brazil to take over its Royal Festival Hall, sure to keep our temperatures rising through these enduring summer nights.

However, we’re treated here to a different take on traditional Brazilian dance, a more modernistic and youthful view, without forgetting its tormented past. This is urban dance but with a Brazilian identity.

Created in 1992 in Uberlandia, a small city in the middle of Brazil, dance group Balé de Rua was spawn from the urban dance movement in Brazil which now consists of a cast of 15 dancers; 14 men and one woman. This male dominated show (a kind of male swan lake, Brazilian style if you will), where the female is neither ignored, nor is she the constant centre of attention, is already a break from the norm. She is treated as an equal to them in the group numbers and dresses like them (topped with white trouser suit, waistcoat and Panama hat) in contrast to the usual samba queen half-naked parade. Though she does treat us to a beautifully lit and simple solo number at one point.

Adding to the inversion, the mostly muscular men here, are often dressed like women, in floaty dresses, flowery headgear, though this does nothing to deter from their strength and masculinity

Balé de Rua translates as street ballet and that is what they are essentially, street dancers. For this is Brazil stripped back. No feathers or sequins and no labels. Simple red and black costumes and a minimal set (almost like the set of rent) made of steel scaffolding, though we are given some magical flourishes of colour towards the end.

We are taken deeply through the country’s Afro-Brazilian culture as the dancers capture the spirit of their ancestral slaves harking back to its dark history. The troupe mimics crossing the ocean from Africa towards Brazil showing an innate resilience and strength to survive as they give out roars of anger and frustration here and throughout the show.

‘Our feet have pounded the pavements, our skin has endured the harshness of the concrete,’ says the groups motto. Which is exactly what they are trying to convey as well as break with the stereotype of samba and smiles (although there is plenty of that too) and highlight that their tool for survival is naturally celebration.

The show really reflects the true, modern and youthful Brazil. The uber talented performers are allrounders; breakdancers, musicians, capoeiristas, sambistas, singers (as well as accompanied by fantastic vocalist Alexia Lopes Falcao throughout) and even rappers where we get musical influences of hip-hop, rap, African, funk as well as traditional Brazilian bossa nova. Yes, they perform well known crowd pleasers such as Aquarela do Brasil (‘Brazil’) and Mas que nada, but not in obvious ways; they are played with acknowledgement and respect, yet with a modern twist.

The quintessential Brazilian smiles are of course there, the contagious energy and joie do vivre, but these dancers have something more to say, as in, we’re not just about the carnival spirit, but a melting pot of our past and future.

Audience participation at the end was another great addition and there to highlight that you can have a party atmosphere without the frills.

Baila Brazil is showing until Saturday 15 August at:

Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road

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