This past week, I had two friends call up at the last minute and whisk me away to the theatre – their treat. The first show, Shen Yun, happened earlier in the week; the second show, Chama by Samba Fogo, was last night.
The first production was focused on bringing a message about Falun Dafa- a meditative religion in China – and their oppression from the Chinese Communist Party. It was focused on pulling down energy from the heavens and earning favor with the gods. Shen Yun, “The beauty of heavenly beings dancing,” was a performance of ancient Chinese dance, punctuated with flips and an animated digital back screen that became an interactive part of the show, and was accompanied by a full orchestra and traditional Chinese instruments. The costumes were a feast for the eyes – vibrant, springtime colors put together in ways that shouldn’t have worked, but did. An entire troupe of dancers whose bodies were the exact same form, height, and coloring in costumes that were exactly the same, as well. A collection of individual stories that did not actually flow together to create one long narration just from the dances themselves, but was, instead, explained in between each number by a young man speaking English and a young woman speaking Chinese. Each of the two acts ended with a violent display of dancers in black oppressing dancers dressed in sunny yellows and blues, along with blatant plea for the world to help the Falun Dafa followers inside Communist China.
The second production, Chama (“Flame”), was a journey through Brazilian culture and mythology, filled with gods and goddesses, and infused with the energy of jungles and earth. A performance of traditional and contemporary dances that wove a story that continued on without pause between numbers – one 90-minute tale in each act – and was presented with the accompaniment of a full horn line, string quartet, vocal quartet, and a gigantic drum line. And, oh! Those drums! It was focused on honoring earth and drawing up energy from deep within it while joyfully honoring and working with the gods and goddesses. With traditional dances, rhythms, and sounds from Brazil, Cuba, and Africa, the production was a glorious display of earthy, low-to-the ground movements, fire spinning, and simple costumes that were unified in color but individualized to each dancer, as well as the dazzling glamour, glitz, and sensuality of Carnival with the last number being a full-blown Carnival performance replete with dancers in stilettos, tiny outfits that sparkled with sequins and mirrors, and head dresses, some of which stood nearly three feet high. A troupe of over 40 performers whose heights, coloring, and body shapes were as varied as their costumes were individualized, their unification came through their energy, their movements, and their passionate display of exuberance. There was no talking in this performance, allowing the dances, rhythms, and songs to tell the tale and carry us through to the culmination when the stage burst into a cacophony of pounding rhythms, shimmying hips, and feet moving so quickly that they nearly became a blur.
I was fascinated when the curtain raised on the first performance, allowing the fog that had been trapped behind it to roll down over the orchestra pit and reveal the myriad of dancers dressed in greens and pinks. The production held my attention for approximately three numbers, then I began to fidget and yawn. In the first three dances, they revealed all their tricks and from there on out, the remaining 2 hours of performing was the same.
When the curtain raised on the second performance with a stage full of dancers dancing in silence, moving at their own accord, I was captivated. With the first resounding thump of drums in one of my most favorite rhythms that I associate with Samba Fogo, I got chivels and tears filled my eyes. I literally smiled for three hours straight and could not sit still, as my feet tapped and my butt had to do a seat dance. There was not one number that was like the one before it or the next to come, however the entire thing melded together, flowing from one number to the next, one dance to the next, and it was an extravaganza unlike anything I’ve experienced.
The entire scene last night called to me, from the first slam of the drums to the breathtaking fire dances to the numbers that moved me to tears or discomfort because the dancers’ bodies told their story so clearly to the full on Carnival performance at the end to the after show party where the drum line and horn line filled the lobby with breathtaking rhythm and sound while the dancers danced through the crowd up close and personal without an ounce of discomfort, even though most of them were clad in nothing other than bikinis, sparkles, and giant head dresses.
The gift of these two shows this week couldn’t have been better timed. It got me out among the humans, a break in my hibernation. But, it also was a visceral awareness of what I align with and what I do not. So much of the second performance culled from within me an ancient knowing, a sense of home. It was a reminder that I DO know who I am, where I am from, and why I am here, even if I try to forget that for a bit…