Founded by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century, Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and is to this day one of the oldest colonial cities in South America. A city full of spirit and color, Salvador shines through its dancing, music, and delicious food. The city is split into two levels, easily accessible by the Elevador Lacerda, a 70-meter (230-feet) elevator built in 1873 that continues to be used today. The upper part hosts the old town of Pelourinho, a neighborhood filled with decorated churches, pastel colors and beautiful narrow roads. The lower part is the modern one, a world of high rises and residential dwellings that line up the coast along with beautiful beaches and restaurants serving a mix of European and Bahian food.
Salvador de Bahia is one of the major points of convergence of European, African and American Indian cultures of the 16th to 18th centuries. The blending of African and local Bahian influences has brought to life one of the most culturally rich places in South America and has allowed for the creativity, customs, and art from both cultures to create a beautiful expression of color, music, and dance that is unique to the region.
Balé Folclórico da Bahia is the only professional folk dance company in all Brazil and part of its success is due to the guidance of its artistic director, José Carlos Arandiba. Rather than shunning the old slave culture and embracing the new, Balé Folclórico da Bahia actually embraces the song and dance that came out of the struggles of the past. The 38-member troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers performs a repertory based on a “Bahian” folkloric dances of African origin and includes slave dances, capoeira (a form of martial arts), samba, and those that celebrate Carnival. The company presents the region’s most important cultural manifestations under a contemporary theatrical vision that reflects its popular origins.
Different from other dance companies across Brazil, the Balé Folclórico da Bahia was born with a focus on the idea of professionalization as a way to survive through art, that soon evolved into a project that also had a social aspect. From the beginning, the dance company was made up of bricklayers, mechanics, painters, and workers who did heavy labor during the day and transformed into stars at night. It wasn’t a simple task to sustain a ballet of around 60 people, including musicians, dancers, costume designers, and technical crew. Overcoming this barrier was a great leap for Balé Folclórico da Bahia, but it was also incredibly important and necessary.
The critical perception of the reality led Vavá Botelho and his Artistic Director, José Carlos Santos (Zebrinha) to incorporate into the company a school for training future dancers. In the black neighborhood of the Pelourinho, full of street kids, many of whom have nothing to do all day, Vavá and Zebrinha decided to bet on this sociocultural work: “the street kids wouldn’t allow us to work normally. They’d yell, throw rocks, do anything to disrupt the course of activity in our rehearsals. So we thought: why not bring these kids in to see our work?”
The show is divided into five sections, each representing an important part of the culture.
Pantheon of Orixás – A choreography based the creation of the world according to African mythology, which portrays the personality of each orixá: Ogun (The God of iron and war), Oxum (The Goddess of rivers, lakes, and running water), Omolu (The God of skin diseases and death), Iansã (The Goddess of winds and storms), and Oxossi (The God of forests, hunting, and hunters)
The Fishermen’s Dance – A very popular dance that is often seen in a simplified way on the beaches of Brazil. It represents Iemanjá (The Goddess of the sea), which is greeted by the fishermen and their wives, who are asking for protection and good fortune when fishing.
Maculelê – A very dramatic dance that used to be performed by slaves in the Brazilian colonial times when celebrating the end of the sugar-cane harvest. The dance features violent aspects that were used by slaves to defend against their owners.
Capoeira – known as a martial art dance, it has its origins in the African culture, thought to have been created by the slaves that were brought over from Angola.
Samba de Roda – Probably the most popular type of dance from Brazil and the most authentic type of samba, it was danced by the slaves in their home during their rare moments of leisure.
The shows run every night at 8 pm from January to December at the Teatro Miguel Santana in Pelourinho, Salvador Bahia.