Let's face it: The United States is premised on thievery. The overriding shapes and textures of America are borrowed or stolen from other cultures, and everything from hamburgers to rock 'n' roll belongs in its original form to another country. The land is not ours by origin, either. Even we, the people, are mostly foreigners -- whether first generation immigrants or distant relations to those that came to this continent. Various segments of American art and entertainment, in particular music and dance, also follow roots across other lands and oceans.
The South American country of Brazil, too, has come to define itself relative to an international hodgepodge heritage. The base of Brazilian music and dance, for example, owes a great debt to the influence of African rhythms. A celebration of this cultural kaleidoscope will come to the Inland Northwest in the form of Roots of Brazil, a New York-based music and dance ensemble. The group is set to perform at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint on Saturday and then at Washington State University on Sunday.
"I think people will enjoy it," says Robert Gewald, marketing agent for the group. "Brazilian music has a dominant rhythm and beat to it. Really, it's not that alien to us, as most American pop and rock music comes out of the black experience, and Brazilian music was basically influenced by the African slaves (brought over by the Portuguese), who were a major part of the Brazilian music life."
The upcoming Roots of Brazil performance is part of a seasonal series of Great Performances presented by Festival Dance and Performing Arts.
"The season usually consists of six performances by national and international touring companies," says Micki Panttaja, executive director of FDPA. "We do ballet and modern dance, and we always do an ethnic dance. This year, Roots of Brazil fit the ethnic cultural dance component of our season."
The dance group, founded in 1984, was brought to life by Lygya Barreto, a native-born Brazilian living in New York. Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro and in 1980 took a scholarship to study at Alvin Ailey, a world-renowned New York dance company.
"When I was studying at Alvin Ailey, people expressed a need for Brazilian culture being promoted and developed and exchanged," says Barreto. "So there was a big curiosity as well as an educational need. At the time, I was a choreographer for a company, and a cultural center in New York encouraged me to start Roots of Brazil."
Their first performance took place in New York City at a United Nations gathering. For the 17 years following this debut, the group has spent time doing public school presentations in New York, as well as touring the country with their various performances. Barreto now acts as artistic director for the ensemble.
"If you like Mardi Gras, you're going to love this," says Panttaja of the group's upcoming performance. "They combine Brazilian music and traditional folkloric dance with a bit of Mardi Gras. It's great for families -- really colorful and energetic."
The dance group is comprised of about 10 Brazilian dancers who reside currently in New York and also includes individuals from Japan and Israel. To keep the beat for this feat of feet, the ensemble moves on stage to the rhythms of live percussion instruments accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Both the dance and the music pull from international influence. The Capoeira began as an Angolan game that, during the slave trade between Africa and South America, developed into a martial art in Brazil.
"The Capoeira combines martial arts with dance," says Panttaja. "It's very daredevil: Several men swing their feet up over their head, up close to the person they're dancing with. The group will also do other traditional dances like the Samba. They'll dance on their hands, on their heads -- it's a real rich mix of things they're going to be doing, as they want to share the heritage of Brazil."
In sync with the fundamental beat of a collective human heritage, the performance itself promises to bring the audience together in a unified celebration of a diversified world of music and dance.
"We must have audience participation wherever we go," says Barreto. "That is our trademark -- everyone will sing, they will dance, they will clap and stomp their feet -- guaranteed."
& & & lt;i & Roots of Brazil performs Saturday, March 3, at 8 pm at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint. Tickets: $8-$18. Call: (208) 263-6139. They perform again on Sunday, March 4, at 3 pm at WSU's Beasley Coliseum in Pullman. Tickets: $8-$28. Call 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &