The upcoming Xiré concert by Samba Fogo will offer a different facet of Utah’s Brazilian dance and music company, which many audiences have known for their exuberant celebrations especially of Carnaval culture.
The concert (with two performances Nov. 15 and Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Regent Street Black Box Theatre at the The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater) will comprise entirely original compositions by George Edgar Brown, also inspired by Afro-Brazilian rhythms and themes. “Some 75 percent of the music and dance material is new for this concert,” Lorin Hansen, artistic director, explains. While there will not be the traditional drum lines that have been a staple of many Samba Fogo public appearances, the live musical accompaniment will include the classic SATB vocal quartet and a string quintet.
There will be four drummers in various numbers. Dancers also are distinctly more modestly attired, with ornate traditional costumes representing the Orixá (o-ree-sha), which are nature spirits found in West African and African diasporic culture. Hansen adds, “and there will be a bit of fire in the performance,” emphasizing another element that has made so many Samba Fogo performances memorable.
In Brazil, Xiré (she-reh) signifies the dance circles associated with the Orixá, which were transplanted from its African roots and subsequently syncretized with the experiences of Catholicism. The Brazilian tradition of the Candomblé has preserved the Orixá. Many Brazilian scholars have studied the rise of the Candomblé version of the mythology. Reginaldo Prandi, a sociologist based in São Paulo, for example, emphasizes the unique function of Exu whose task was to connect all humans to deities as well as the Earth (ayé) to the supernatural realm (orun). So, Exu “traveled through the Yorùbá lands and collected all sorts of stories. These stories should tell the dramas experienced by all living creatures, Orixás, human beings and animals, their ventures and pains, glory and failure, the challenges concerning the maintenance of health and the fights against death,” Prandi wrote in 2001.
Hansen notes that the veneration and celebration of the Orixá have survived and thrived in Brazilian culture despite centuries of oppression and stigmatization. Pierre Edouard Leopold Verger (also known as Fátúmbí), a photographer-cum-ethnographer and babalawo who extensively researched the tradition, demonstrated that the Yorùbá body of myth followed its original African roots but there also was a unique phase of convergence and confluence that occurred during the time when slaves were brought to Bahia from West Africa. Families that practiced Candomblé were persecuted and public rituals of religious significance were banned for a time.
Hansen says the choreography is a fusion of different movement languages and vocabulary, balancing sensitively the folkloric authenticity of the dance meaning with classical, ballet and modern dance elements. The American choreographer Clyde Morgan, who has been known for decades in the history of Afro-Brazilian dance, traveled extensively to Africa, with the objective of exchanging knowledge on Western dance traditions for training in the traditional forms that celebrated the Orixá.
These dances, therefore, are to be construed as organic narratives of cultural and mythological traditions that have been intricately incorporated into the artistic legacy of Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian diaspora. Likewise, each of the 16 musical compositions represent an Orixá. The traditional sounds and textures of a string quintet and vocal quartet, therefore, are blended with the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé rhythms.
In recent years, Samba Fogo has expanded its repertoire to interact with different dimensions of Brazilian culture. Its efforts have paid off in awards and an international reputation. Most recently, it was honored at the Focus Brasil Foundation’s 2019 awards ceremony in Phoenix. In June, at the third annual International Samba Congress (ISC) in Los Angeles, Hansen won the Adriana Lima Female Malandro Samba Dance Competition for the second year in a row, earning the top prize and receiving two round-trip air tickets to Brazil through Copa Airlines. Following her victory in 2018, Hansen traveled to Brazil during Carnaval and spent five weeks studying in the country. She says this year’s prize will extend those efforts. At the ISC, Samba Fogo also won the inaugural Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro’s Group Samba Dance Competition in a unanimous decision from the judges.
Prior to each performance, Hansen and Brown will lead a ‘Talk Forward’ reception, beginning at 6:15 p.m. in the theater. They will speak about the process of creating Xiré and give insight into the show’s rhythms and dances, exploring their meaning and significance inside the traditions that inspire this concert.