Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança Hits Race and Class in Explosive Movement

Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança returns to Miami this weekend with the troupe's critically acclaimed fusion of hip-hop, capoeira, and contemporary dance. Presented by FUNDarte and Miami-Dade County Auditorium, the performance will feature two of the company’s signature dance works, NÊGO (I. You. We. All Black) and Chapa Quente.

Particularly prescient for U.S. audiences, NÊGO is an exploration of race in a society where dark skin is considered inferior, even dangerous. The idea for the piece began with a conversation between artistic director and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie and one of her male dancers. One day, when the dancer was walking down the street in a wealthy Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, a white woman saw the dancer and ran away from him. 

“He said, ‘I thought it was because I was badly dressed, or maybe she thought I was ugly, but not because I’m black,’” Destri Lie recalls.

It was a situation that most of her dancers, mostly young men of color, could relate to. Hailing from some of Brazil’s more notorious favelas, the dancers regularly travel for hours at a time to get to and from rehearsals and performances. They are acutely aware of the derisive way some of their fellow countrymen look at them based on their skin color and economic status.

“I didn’t understand the fight they had to fight every day,” the choreographer says somberly. 

“We don’t need to travel to another country to see it,” she says of the prejudice she experiences with her company. “Even if we are a famous company, I feel it every time we perform. When audiences see us, they think we are more sophisticated than what is expected from a black dance company — they expect more folkloric or simple movement.”
Far from simple, the work of Companhia Urbana de Dança is tightly executed and explosive. With deliberately sparse sound, simple lighting, and earth-tone costumes, NÊGO places the focus on the performers. Long limbs articulate and bodies spin effortlessly in traditional break-dance windmills while others enter and exit in grand leaps and quick sprints. The work is a spectacle that uses postures and movements to provoke the dancers as well as the audience to be a little uncomfortable and more thoughtful.

A more upbeat piece, Chapa Quente, showcases the dancers' athleticism and b-boy skills with a more traditional, house-party vibe. “It’s a lot of Brazilian drums, velocity, and speed. We’re bringing in house dance and Brazilian social dance,” Destri Lie says.

For the artistic director, who holds degrees in psychology and ballet, the fusion of performance with an element of social commentary comes naturally and purposefully. She looks for that same spark of awareness and desire in her dancers as well.

“It is important to have a company that works hard, that puts everything into the work. It’s magic every day. This company is changing lives," she says emphatically.

“If you choose not be a thief or a killer, or you choose to be better, this company gives [the dancers] a chance to express their hearts and choose a different life. I tell them it is possible to be an artist in this country, that dance will make a difference.”

— Rebekah Lanae Lengel, artburstmiami.com

Companhia Urbana de Dança
Presented by FUNDarte. 9 p.m. Saturday at Mid-Stage Theater, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $30; group rates available via ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-745-3000. Visit www.fundarte.us.

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