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Dance Review

Brazilian troupe kicks up the heat

Balé Folclórico da Bahia brought Brazilian dance and music to Boston Opera House Saturday. Balé Folclórico da Bahia brought Brazilian dance and music to Boston Opera House Saturday.
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / January 24, 2011

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With sensuous moves, percolating rhythms and a blaze of colorful costumes, Balé Folclórico da Bahia stormed into the Boston Opera House Saturday night, bringing a welcome blast of Brazilian heat. Co-presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston and World Music/CRASHarts, the show marked the first Boston visit in seven years by the renowned troupe, whose 38 dancers, musicians, and singers present folkloric dances and music reflecting the three major influences on Brazilian culture — indigenous Brazilians, African slaves, and Portuguese colonialists.

Saturday night’s show was part of a North American tour offering the US premiere of “Sacred Heritage,’’ which celebrates the nature-based religion of Candomblé through a series of dances that evoke the African gods that slaves in Brazil honored as a way of staying connected to their identity and culture. It evolves rather slowly, pageant-like, opening with a choral anthem processing down the aisles.

A dance of exuberant reverence seems to summon the gods, beginning with Ogum, the god of iron and war, who rouses the men into a vigorous dance of high back kicks and spins. With his costume of straw, Omolú, god of skin diseases, plague, and death, moves like a kind of ominous haystack. With her long red wig and streamers, Iansã, goddess of winds and storms, inflames the women in a dance of skittery footwork, arms feverishly moving in and out, as if casting away demons. The “Fishermen’s Dance’’ introduces Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea. Her enormous hoop skirt is covered with a green net, under which the women hop and quiver, like bounties of caught fish.

Some of the representational dances feel a little long and repetitive. But when the more familiar Brazilian moves hit the deck, the show really starts to sizzle. A voluptuous acrobatic duet melding the flirtatious sensuality of the samba with the poised balances of capoeira leads to a full-on celebration of the Brazilian martial arts form. As the large ensemble barrels onstage, quick passes of flips, cartwheels, and virtuosic mid-air turns set the tone of macho competition, culminating in duets of synchronized spin kicks that would break noses with any misjudgment of timing or placement.

“Afixirê’’ (Dance of Happiness) was a rowdy, bawdy romp. The brilliant costumes included fans and bare chests (men and women), and thundering percussion drove frenetic spins and low-weighted shuffle stomps — torsos loose, heads bobbing, arms pumping furiously. Throughout, the instrumentalists (including a superb berimbau player) invigorated the dance, though the singers occasionally veered seriously off pitch.

By the ending “Samba Reggae,’’ evoking the high-voltage energy of Carnaval, the company had most of the audience on its feet, swaying, waving arms, and dancing in the aisles.

Karen Campell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com

BALÉ FOLCLÓRICO DA BAHIA At: Boston Opera House, Saturday night