Viver Brasil’s World Premiere Gives Peace a Chance

By Sheri Linden

It’s a potent synchronicity: A Dalai Lama quote hangs just outside the LA rehearsal space where dance troupe Viver Brasil has been fine-tuning its new work, one that centers on peace as an attainable goal. 

Viver Brasil in rehearses Peace Transcends. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

Viver Brasil in rehearses Peace Transcends. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

Watching a recent run-through at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre — it was my first time in a dance studio in many years, my ballerina dreams long behind me — I was quickly enrapt by the dancers’ astonishing exuberance. During a break, company cofounder and artistic director Linda Yudin turned to me. “We take happiness very seriously,” she said.

Nothing could be more evident as seven charismatic performers brought their athleticism and grace to the exhilarating Peace Transcends. Between sequences, they gathered around guest choreographer Vera Passos, a figure of calm and focus, for instruction. Dona Cici, another visitor from Brazil, and the woman whose remarkable life’s work inspired the piece, watched from a folding chair in a corner.

Closing the Aratani World Series at downtown LA’s Aratani Theatre, Peace Transcendspremieres on Saturday as part of the Ford on the Road.

Since 1997, Yudin and Luiz Badaró, her creative collaborator and husband, have been devoted ambassadors of sister-city programs linking LA and Salvador de Bahia, in northeastern Brazil. Through Viver Brasil, they explore the essence of traditional Afro-Brazilian dance and music, with an accent on contemporary dance movement.

Vera Passos and Dona Cici share a moment. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

Vera Passos and Dona Cici share a moment. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

Passos and Dona Cici (born Nancy de Souza e Silva) knew each other in their native Brazil but had never had the chance to work together until Yudin brought them to LA for Peace Transcends. At Yudin and Badaró’s Hollywood home, bright with Brazilian art, the three women sat down for a talk about the work’s genesis and development. The two visitors from Brazil spoke in Portuguese, with Yudin translating. No translation was necessary for the enthusiasm that animated their conversation, or for the profound mutual respect and affection among the three artists.

Troubled by police violence in Salvador, Yudin has set out to address in this new work the struggle for peace through a celebration of Dona Cici’s work with at-risk youth in her community, where she directs a program for more than 200 children and adolescents, as well as their families, teaching a range of cultural pursuits, including storytelling.

“When I tell the stories of Afro-Brazilian culture, I become the characters of the story,” Dona Cici told me. “It’s very gratifying. I say that I tell stories for children and for those who want to hear.”

Conceived over many months but mounted in less than two, the half-hour piece incorporates text written by Dona Cici, the singing of Kátia Moraes and original live music with a strong percussive backbone. The six-section cycle uses imagery of theCandomblé spirits known as orixá to depict defining energies of the human experience. An especially striking section evokes the maternal energy of oxúm, or the sweet water of flowing rivers. 

Viver Brasil in a recent performance at the Ford. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

Viver Brasil in a recent performance at the Ford. (Courtesy of Viver Brasil)

“We couldn’t speak about peace if we weren’t able to raise awareness of the tragedies and inequities that are happening here and in Brazil,” Passos noted, adding that the chaos section is relatively brief “because we would prefer not to have to believe in this moment. It’s like a piece of fast film, moving forward.” 

Peace Transcends closes on a note of hope. It’s a moment of reflection, Passos said, about not only childhood but also “our work as adults and how we have the responsibility of the world in our hands.”

As for Dona Cici, the revered elder who inspired the homage — “a little box of surprises,” Passos called her with a smile — the work continues. “Sometimes I feel like my work is like that of an ant, very small, but I’ve had a lot of victories. And it gives me strength and hope… For me, every day is a day to begin again.”

Viver Brasil’s Peace Transcends premieres at the Aratani Theatre in Downtown LA on Saturday, May 30 at 7 p.m. Learn more here.