DanceBrazil comes to Beaver Creek for the first time Friday | VailDaily.com

DanceBrazil comes to Beaver Creek for the first time Friday

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com

DanceBrazil was founded by Jelon Vieira in 1977 after evolving from grass-roots workshops at the Clark Center for the Arts in New York City.

BEAVER CREEK — Inspired by the cultural artistry of Brazil, DanceBrazil has been entertaining audiences for 30 years. The troupe fuses Afro-Brazilian movement, contemporary dance and capoeira (the traditional dance/martial arts form that originated in Africa and evolved in colonial Brazil as a means of fighting enslavement). The company performs in Beaver Creek on Friday for the first time.

"DanceBrazil brings the phenomenal technique of capoeira and the spirit of the Brazilian culture to vivid life on the stage," said Damian Woetzel, artistic director of the summer Vail International Dance Festival and former New York City Ballet principal dancer.

After evolving from grass-roots workshops at the Clark Center for the Arts in New York City, DanceBrazil was founded by Jelon Vieira in 1977. Within a few years, DanceBrazil premiered at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. Since 1993, the dance company has been based in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

In September 2008, Vieira was awarded one of 11 National Heritage Fellowships, the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. As founder and artistic director of The Capoeira Foundation and DanceBrazil, he, and the late Loremil Machado, were the first artists to bring traditional Afro-Brazilian dance and capoeira to the United States.

"We were simply doing what we loved doing best," Vieira said. "Our passion for both capoeira and dance drove everything we did. From our small beginnings in New York, capoeira has grown worldwide. I guess you could say we were the beginning of the movement and, of course, I am still a part of it."

One of Vieira's longterm goals is to open a center for underprivileged children, using capoeira to build self-esteem and self-discipline and to begin moving these children off the streets and into the educational system and mainstream society.

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Vieira has taught capoeira to people of all ages and from all walks of life, including soccer great Pele, as well as Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy. He took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.

Vail Daily: You've been at this for over 30 years; how do you keep the performances new and exciting?

Jelon Vieira: My inspiration comes from everyday life and my Bahian roots. Within those two, social issues often come to the forefront in my choreography. The collaborations with composers and other designers on my projects excite me and I think bring excitement to my work. For most of my projects, I also try to spend time with individuals in my community who are older than I am and have a larger perspective on some of the social issues I explore.

VD: What should the audience keep an eye out for during the show?

JV: I can't really say what they should expect or keep an eye out for, but they should just be willing to let the dance and music envelope them. If they do that, I think they will be in for truly Brazilian experience.

VD: How does martial arts play a role in your choreography?

JV: Martial arts, specifically capoeira, was my first art and I started learning it when I was 10 years old. My interest in dance came later when I was 16. I was raised in a dance culture. Dance is part of what Brazil is. But capoeira has always been the foundation for my work and through the years, the use of capoeira in my work has expanded, including its fusion with contemporary dance.

VD: What sort of training do your dancers do to get in shape for such high-intensity performances?

JV: The performers for DanceBrazil come from both dance and capoeira backgrounds. They have to be able to do both. The dancers also have a variety of dance training, including ballet, modern and Afro-Brazilian dance. The work is of high intensity but their training and dedication makes much of the very difficult things they do on stage seem effortless.

If you go …

What: DanceBrazil.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Cost: $58 for adults, $20 for students.

More information: Call 970-845-8497/www.vilarpac.org.