Last night, February 8, 2020, Ephrat Asherie Dance performed “Odeon” at the Zellerbach Theatre at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia. The production was presented in coordination with Next Move Dance and opened on Friday February 7.
I was interested in attending this performance because of the music. “Odeon” is the title of Ernesto Nazareth’s most famous composition. Ernesto Nazareth is well known in Brazil in the context of 19th and early 20th century composers who were the foundation of Brazil’s samba. Along with Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, Antonio Callado, Pixinguinha and others, Nazareth improvised in choro ensembles, and composed maxixes (Brazilian tango) and other forms. Nazareth was trained in European music, as were many of his contemporaries in Rio de Janeiro, but combined this with popular and contemporary rhythms (of Afro-Brazilian influence), to create a “Brazilian” national (popular) music.
The performance of “Odeon” by the dance company, was energetic, upbeat and fun. At the very beginning, it was announced that the choreographer, Ms. Ephrat Asherie, herself, wanted the audience to “relax, enjoy and respond.” And that we did! The company of six dancers, (Manon Bal, Teena Marie Custer, Val “Ms. Vee” Ho, Matthew “Megawatt” West, Omari Wiles, and Ephrat Asherie) interpreted a joyful program, full of exhilirating interactions to live music. The instrumental ensemble included Ehud Asherie (music director and pianist, and the choreographer’s brother), Eduardo Belo (bass), and percussionists, Sergio Krakowski, Vitor Gonçalves and Angel Lau.
The musical selections included: Brejeiro, Odeon, Fon-fon, Tenebroso, Apanhei-te cavaquinho, Ouro sobre azul, Confidências, Ven cá, Branquinha and Bataque. Some of the musical numbers were with piano and others were percussion only. There were also instances when the dancers themselves created the sound and rhythm, with clapping and stomping, as in the opening. The style of their dances was a mix of street dance, acrobatics, samba no pé, voguing, African dance, to name a few.
The dancers were well rehearsed, but at the same time, it all felt spontaneous and fresh. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves onstage and this positive energy was transmitted to the audience. Each dancer cultivated and demonstrated a unique personality and atitude but when they danced in unison they fit together perfectly. There were selections when the percussionists came into the center of the stage and directly related to the dancers. The pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) and other percussion instruments were played in a call and response to the dancers’ movements in some selections. The dancers and musicians were always in synch and this was truly a collaboration on all levels.
At the end of this breathtaking display of fast and fancy footwork, and stunning orchestration, the audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation. Ephrat Asherie Dance company transmitted the exhuberance of Nazareth’s pieces through their spirited execution of the imaginative choreography.