Photo - Eric Deniset
And you thought you had to go to Mardi Gras (Rio, not Sydney) to get the full monty, 'wake up and smell the coffee' carnivale! Uh-uh. A tight-as-a-drum 75 minutes in the concert hall of our bathroom-tiled opera house will do it.
An authentic, spectacular, explosively exuberant, entirely exhilarating slice of Brazilian life, not from a troupe of effete, classically-educated and trained artists, but, as the name attests, sharpened street performers talent-spotted on and recruited from favelas across that vast, bloodstained South American country.
Opening (and closing) with haunting adaptations of Ary Barroso's ubiquitous 'Brazil' (more properly, Aquarela Do Brasil, or Watercolour of Brazil), written one productive, rainy night, in 1939, Balé de Rua brought us all the flavours & colours of its native land, with the utmost vigour, passion, intensity, sensuality and energy.
While much, or all, of the narrative was lost to thick Portuguese accents, volume and excessive, RSL-style reverberation, nonetheless, this was a veritable lesson in the turbulent historical narrative of the land; not least its African heritage. Add to that festive funk, the sass of samba, the hard edge of hip-hop, the lyrical athleticism of capoeira and live percussion, and you've all the potential for a knock-your-socks-off night; fully realised. Barely pausing for breath, it wheels, tumbles and pulsates across the stage, set with a Celebrity Squares, tiered structure, upon which the performers strike poses and various objects. Cacophonous, festive and joyful, it culminated in the audience springing to its feet, swooning, gasping and begging for more.
A conscientious exposition of 'life, love and the Brazilian way', it bears the scars of authenticity; the determination to triumph over adversity and oppression through celebration. It does so with dynamism, breathtaking movement, daring choreography (which seems to leave room for spontaneity) and is, at once, invigorated, transporting and genuinely moving.
This fantastical feat is brought together by self-taught dancer Marco Antonio Garcia, in collaboration with French director, Paul Desveaux. Human sculptures defy gravity and challenge physiological limits, to melodic accompaniment ranging from original compositions (composed by Vincent Artaud and Nana Vasconcelos) to the traditional; as well as ballistic breaks and beats.
The work is informed both by the daily experiences of the ensemble, while odd jobbing in the slums from which they were drawn, as well as by the bigger, broader canvas of Brazilian history, swathed in the blood of slaves, torn asunder by grief, but liberated by the transcendent, transformative power of dreams, aspirations and, of course, dance.
There could be no more fitting Australian debut, to match the incomparable reputation carved and records smashed in Paris, London, Edinburgh, and elsewhere. Rave reviews have followed the company, it seems, wherever they've toured and Sydney isn't likely to prove any exception.
Notwithstanding this ego enhancement, the Balé De Rua has stayed true to its roots, sponsoring tuition to the working-class youth of Minas Gerais, Uberlandia, Brazil's literal heartland where, in 1992, Garcia, Fernando Narduchi, and Jose Marciel Silva, met and founded what amounts to a street ballet and distinctive urban style, synthesised and distilled from their work with various groups.
Balé de Rua proves 300 years of nationhood can be crammed into well under an hour-and-a-half and yet be done justice. The current work premiered around 8 years ago, at the Biennale de la Dance, in Lyon. The programme proclaims, almost as eloquently as the dance itself, 'we want our shows to sweat Brazil'. They do. And how! Also, behold the following.
'Certain people consider us to be Malandros,
Young scoundrels with a suspicious elegance.
Others, who could no longer dream, qualified our practices as Macumba.
But the street was the symbol of freedom, our freedom.
Our feet have pounded the pavements.
Our skin has endured the harshness of concrete.
The shine of the traffic light was our projector.
The asphalt was our playground.
The asphalt was our dance territory.
Our country is a land of religions which celebrate the joy of being alive.
Our country is a fistful of multicolored earth from all continents and all nations.
But we, the black skinned workers,
Have left our Africa.
We have crossed the oceans,
And endured the storms,
At the bottom of the holds of ships.
We have known Ouro Preto and its mines of black gold,
And laid the slabs of stone on the roads that took us to the favelas,
In the depths of a night that was 350 years long.
But these interminable centuries
Have not managed to extinguish
The powerful fire in our hearts.'
It's more than enough to make you a Brazil nut. It's poetry in motion. But the quill holds blood, sweat and tears, not mere ink.
A technical note: the lighting was possibly the most inventive I've witnessed, in any context, at any time. Every state enhanced the moves, the set, the props. And the handheld, coloured spot was pure genius.
Balé de Rua
Venue: Concert Hall | Sydney Opera House
Dates: 8 – 17 January 2010
Times: 8, 10 11, 13, 14, 15 Jan 8pm, 9 Jan 2pm,16 & 17 Jan 2pm & 8pm
Tickets: Premium $99, A Reserve $79/$69,B Reserve $69/$59, C Reserve $59/$49
Duration: 70 minutes
Bookings: 9250 7777 or sydneyoperahouse.com