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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Brazilian Capoeira Dances Into Town

For MTCapoeira was considered subversive for years and its practice was forbidden and harshly repressed in Brazil.

Capoeira is a martial art. Capoeira is a dance. Capoeira is a game.

Next Saturday, at the House of Music, capoeira will also be a theater play. Directed by the Brazilians Mestre Peixinho and Mestre Toni, the play “Brazilian Capoeira” shows the trajectory of this martial art developed by black slaves and disguised as a dance to fool the foremen of colonial Brazil. Nowadays, practitioners of this modality, aka “capoeiristas,” consider it not so much as a martial art or a dance, but a game.

The play is in two acts by 15 passionate capoeiristas from the group Senzala, none of whom is a professional actor. “The first time we performed abroad, in France, we went on our own,” said Marcelo Guimaraes, better known as Peixinho or “Little Fish.” “We asked the Brazilian government for assistance, but they wouldn’t help us. So we rented a theater stage, one of us sold a motorcycle, another sold a mobile, others borrowed money from their grandma, from their aunties.”

Capoeira soon spread to other countries. Mestre Itamar, coordinator of eight capoeira centers in France, will be the protagonist of the story on Saturday, which is full of references from Brazilian history. The show features free Africans, showing their lives and religious cults, and then their capture by Portuguese colonists and journey to Brazil, where they are sold as commodities and forced to work in sugar cane plantations. That’s when they are said to have invented capoeira, as a means of transmitting their culture and resistance to slavers. Most moves are made with the feet, it is said because they practiced in secret, at night, when the slaves were chained by the arms.

“We show all the black culture that eventually became Brazilian itself and composed our own culture,” Peixinho said.

The audience can also see how capoeira has changed over the years. Late nineteenth century capoeira compared with the contemporary style is different with its movements — more discrete, slower, and with fewer hops than nowadays. This is explained by the fact that capoeira was considered subversive for years and its practice was forbidden and harshly repressed in Brazil.

Today it is all over the world and has centers of some kind in 51 of 88 Russian regions.

“Capoeira has been the greatest popularizer of the Portuguese language all over the world,” said Mestre Cobra Mansa, who has been to Russia at least once a year since 2005. He does not speak Russian, but this is no problem at all.” Almost all the students know Portuguese. The real problem for him, he said, is the cold: “The academy is heated, all right, but when you go out in the street your body goes all stiff.”

Brazilian Capoeira shows Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at Dom Muzyki, 52 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, Bldg. 8. Metro Paveletskaya. Tel. 730-4350.