In the News

The Justice (October 23, 2007)

Brazil comes to Brandeis

Campus moves to the beat of the Ologunde performers

by Benjamin Terris
Staff writer

Ologunde Workshop
The Brazilian dance and music group gave a dance workshop to Brandeis students, professors and staff and Waltham residents last Thursday.

They handed out earplugs at the door; clearly this wasn't your typical Slosberg Auditorium event. Tonight, the organization MusicUnitesUS was presenting the New York-based Afro-Brazilian performance group Ologunde, as part of the MusicUnitesUS series. The series brings a world music performer or group each semester to give performances, workshops and lectures to the Brandeis community.

This semester, Ologunde gave a dance workshop and performance during the group's weeklong residency at Brandeis. Saturday's event began with a single dancer. Chanting in Brazilian Portuguese and wearing an ornate green dress, she tromped gracefully on stage, seamlessly combining motions typified by fieldwork with the grace of flamenco or ballet. She was followed by three men-one husky and dreadlocked with an ear-to-ear smile, one small and clean cut and one tall and muscular. Each man stationed himself in front of a percussion instrument-an Agogo (double-headed bell struck with a stick) and two Atabaque (drums made of wood and animal skin). Soon their hands were moving so quickly it was hard to tell which rhythm was coming from which drum. Slosberg was literally vibrating.

After two rousing songs, Ologunde introduced three dancers to the stage. Two men and one woman, all dressed as gods from the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, presented themselves one by one with individual dances. In costumes of dark blue, red and gold, they represented the God of Iron, the God of Thunder and the Goddess of Fresh Water, respectively.

This dance was followed by the Maculele dance, during which four men, clad in straw skirts, danced to the beat of the drums. The dance originated in sugar cane fields among slaves charged with cutting the cane, an influence that became clear in the dance movements. The men spun around, their straw skirts flying parallel to the ground as their sticks moved together in a motion reminiscent of sickles against sugar cane.

Students present at the event were highly appreciative of the show's unusual nature. "I found the performance to be highly energetic, thrilling and a nice break from the classical music that Slosberg is used to. I wish more undergraduates had attended, and I wish there had been a greater presence from the music department faculty and students, as they definitely missed out," Nicholas Brown '10 said.

After a brief intermission, Ologunde came back for a showcase of Capoeira, martial arts dancing that originated as a tool of empowerment among Brazilian slaves. Here, the men took turns flying across the stage in a series of backflips, handstands and cartwheels. The dancers demonstrated complete control over their bodies, whether they were slowly contorting themselves across the stage, flipping over other dancers or spinning around dozens of times while kicking above the shoulder of a partner millimeters away.

Although Ologunde showcased music and dance with a sacrosanct history, they did so with a sense of humor. Drummers competed with each other playfully for who could bang out the faster rhythm, they asked children in the audience to bang drums and tamborims (small, tambourine-like instruments), and in a final hurrah, called upon the audience to dance onstage.

This was an invitation that students, professors such as Prof. Shulamit Reinharz (SOC), and children were more than happy to accept.