The curtain rose, revealing a young woman in white. She and the other dancers seemed oblivious to one another, each performing her own movements separately against the silence. With the first martial drumbeats, the members of Samba Fogo showed themselves to be a powerful force combining ritualistic dance and dynamic energy for a spectacular display of Brazilian culture.
The first piece, “Avaninha,” is the first of several pieces inspired by the Orixa dances of Brazil. These dances draw on the rites and legends surrounding traditional Afro-Brazilian elemental deities. The women of Samba Fogo took us on a riveting whirlwind tour of these spirits, gorgeously expressing a wide range of style and symbolism. From the vigor of hunters and warriors to the sensuality of snakes and rivers, one got the sense that the dançarinas were not so much performing steps as channeling the raw strength of the Orixas. The most sensational of these was “Lightning and Fire,” featuring impressive fire spinning and a moving solo by choreographer and artistic director Lorin Hansen.
Also on display was the formidable Brazilian martial art, capoeira. Equal parts dance, acrobatics and deadly force, Samba Fogo capoeristas gave an impressive, gravity-defying demonstration of both the well-known slow style of capoeira and a faster regional version. New for this reviewer was the Maculelê, a dance-like combat game using sticks, machetes and again, fire. The spirit and joy with which the capoeristas perform Maculelê are an intriguing counterpoint to the game’s, and capoeira’s dark origins in the slave plantations of colonial Brazil.
Any review of Fogo Na Cabeça would be remiss were it not to mention Samba Fogo’s impressive band. Capoeira, the Maculelê and Orixa dancing are all intensely rhythmic and require excellent and energetic musicians to provide the backbone of the performance. The musicianship of Samba Fogo’s band is unparalleled. In addition to skilled percussionists, the band also featured soothing Brazilian guitar, lovely female vocalists and the eerie tones of the berimbau, a traditional Brazilian string instrument. The band really came to the forefront during the second act: during the seductive dance piece “Oxum” and the musical interlude in the coco style of Northern Brazil. In the finale, the drummers and dancers joined forces to back up Samba Rio, the Rio de Janeiro-based form of samba. When you think of the sparkly and spunky Brazilian beauties in all those pictures of Carnival, you’re thinking of Samba Rio. The glitz and impossibly high-heeled footwork made for a dazzling end to a dramatic show. For those uneasy with the dance world, this is not a demure show requiring polite applause and snooty dance-talk. Samba Fogo brings passion, fire and pure joy to their performance. I would not miss the next one.