Credited with bringing capoeira stateside, Jelon Vieira, DanceBrazil’s founder and artistic director, maintains his mission to keep Afro-Brazilian culture “very much alive” with the company’s current road show, a 90-minute ballet inspired by photographer Pierre Verger’s 1960s book Retratos da Bahia. “Few photographers shot Bahia,” says Vieira, explaining his respect for Verger’s work. “His book gave me the inspiration to do a hundred ballets. Through it I saw a Bahia we no longer see.”
A capoeira master trained in Afro-Brazilian dance, modern, and ballet, Vieira, 52, stitches a choreographic quilt of capoeira, samba, and ballet to illustrate “how these African cultures became one culture in Bahia.” His visceral history lesson aims to connect contemporary audiences with the era of bygone flirts—the men of the ’50s who would “tip their hats to the ladies”—and with the fishing villages where “the whole community would . . . put a huge net into the water and sing as they pulled the net.” Tote Gira and Emilia Biancardi Ferreira’s hybrid score of capoeira call-and-response, fishing hymns, samba, and Brazilian pop provides the soundtrack to Vieira’s hometown homage.