When Balé Folclórico Da Bahia was formed in 1988, it became the first and only professional folk dance company in Brazil. For the past twenty-five years, the 38 member company has been performing a style of “Bahian” folk dances, borne of African origins and exemplifying one of the richest and most diverse cultures in the world in their native Brazilian state of Bahia. Dances include a martial arts-style dance called capoeira, which includes fast and dynamic movements, many involving high leg kicks and careful coordination between dancers. The ensemble’s expression of Afro-Brazilian culture through dance and music is unlike any other company in the world due to the area’s remarkable history and cultural landscape. By expressing that history in a combination of dances like samba, capoeira, dances celebrating Carnival, and slave dances, Balé Folclórico Da Bahia solidifies its identity in the global dance community.
Now on their 25th Anniversary Tour, Balé Folclórico Da Bahia arrives in East Lansing for the second time amidst Brazil’s increasing presence in the international spotlight. Between the highly-publicized visit of Pope Francis, the coming Summer Olympics of 2016 in Rio, and the 2013 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, South America’s largest country is seeing its fair share of global fame, and why Balé Folclórico Da Bahia’s visit to the Wharton Center is so relevant; this 25th Anniversary performance gives us the chance to experience a cross-section of Brazil and its unique cultural landscape live.
We had the great opportunity of talking with Walson Botelho, the founder of Balé Folclórico Da Bahia, who gave us some insight about who the company is, their goals as a dance group, and why their vibrant culture is so vital to express.
1. How do the dancers get into the mindset to perform such a culturally diverse show?
Walson Botelho: I would say they already are mentally and spiritually prepared when they join the company. When we do auditions to incorporate new members what we observe in the candidates is exactly what they bring in their way of being, their Bahian soul, because the technique to dance we teach in the classroom. That´s why, maybe, we have never had dancers who were not originally from Bahia.
2. Which element of Bahian culture would audiences here in Michigan find most interesting?
WB: The show will be presented in this historical tour in the United States, because we are starting our celebrations of 25 years of the company, will be the “Bahia of All the Colors”, a mix of all the choreographies that marked our path all these years. It will be a panel with the most popular cultural expressions and folklore of Bahia, such as the Capoeira, Maculelê, Fishermen´s Dance and Samba de Roda. I think the audience will like everything, especially the energy that the dancers have to do everything they do on stage.
3. How can this show teach audiences more about Bahian culture?
WB: I would say that our show is a kind opera, as we dance, we have live music, theatricality, and all other artistic expressions that make up a grid epic spectacle. In a 90 minute presentation, without intermission, the audience will be transported to the Bahian colonial time of slaves and finalized with a great carnival where the audience can interact with the dancers and be part of the show literally.
4. What inspired you to found Balé Folclórico da Bahia?
WB: I started my professional career as a dancer at 12 years of age and always dreamed of being able to have my own company where I could work with popular culture in a professional manner. At 18 I joined the group Viva Bahia where I started my life in the field of folklore and from there matured the idea of being able to continue my dream.
5. This is the group’s 25th anniversary season. As co-founder and Executive Director of the ensemble, what are you most proud of?
WB: A mixture of accomplishment and desire of wanting even more so in the future. Always ones say that we changed the more than 700 dancer’s lives who passed through the company I mend and say: no, we did not change their destinies, we gave a destiny to them. It´s different.