Last week our family went to see Compagnie Käfig, a group of 11 dancers from Rio de Janeiro who combine hip hop and samba to create an a mesmerizing visual feast. The dancing was so absorbing that it was easy to become completely caught up in what you were seeing. At first glance, there was nothing specifically in the performance that forced the audience to think much about what the dancing might be communicating beyond sheer spectacle.
Yet, if I have my facts straight, many if not all of these young men began their lives street dancing in the favelas of Brazil, huge impoverished living areas without basic city services and limited opportunities for those who live there. Favela inhabitants are forgotten members of Brazilian society, or if not forgotten, certainly ignored. These are people to be controlled and hidden – not recognized in any concrete way as having inherent worth. Compagnie Käfig’s performance , Correria Agwa, translates from the Portuguese to “running water. ” Part 1 is about running and Part 2 deals with water and perhaps thirst. But the title is the two words put together, “running water,” a luxury in the favelas as it is in many places. And while running can be graceful and freeing, in this performance the dancers appear to run in place, never getting anywhere. It comes across as humorous, but is it, if no matter how fast, or which direction, or where you run there is no way out
And the water… this part of the performance contains plastic cups, maybe 75 or 100, lined up in such a way that the dancers must move with incredible precision to navigate them. It is a breathtaking, joyous feat of technique and athleticism. Then, again with humor, the dancers quit navigating the obstacles and allow the cups to litter the stage: chaos which provokes one dancer to utter the only spoken words in the performance: Now we must do it all again. The cups are reordered but the chaos returns. And here is the most amazing part. They dance in the chaos with visible joy. Are they performing for us the resilience of their friends and neighbors in the favelas? Surely, they are. As we recognize these dancers’ talents perhaps we might be moved to consider many who are ignored in Brazil and in our own communities. Perhaps, too, we recognize ourselves – our own need to dance joyfully and skillfully amidst the chaos that our lives become from time to time and, when necessary, to start anew and “do it all again.”