Have you ever been wandering
around one of the many local street
festivals and come across a practical
demonstration of something similar to
karate but much more acrobatic, perhaps
with a touch of dance thrown in for good
measure? How about sitting in the raucous
stands of a Réal Salt Lake soccer game and
finding yourself slightly gyrating to the
catchy South American beats coming from
by the drum corps pulsating at the far end
of the stadium?
Or perhaps, on random occasion, maybe
you’ve gone to a club to catch one of your
favorite bands and instead found yourself
smack dab in the middle of a spontaneous
Carnival, a la Rio de Janeiro, completely
surrounded by all those intoxicating
Brazilian rhythms, all those lovely ladies
bedecked in full tropical regalia and all
those dancers enticingly playing with fire?
Such is the Brazilian renaissance that
seemingly has hit Utah, with acts like
Samba Gringa, Jinga Boa and Salt Lake
Capoeira leading the way. Now, add one
more name to that pile with Samba Fogo,
an umbrella that culls nearly all the different
players from those disparate groups
into one professional company.
For the layperson, it might be hard to differentiate between these separate Brazilian performance groups that call Salt Lake City home, yet there are significant distinctions. Salt Lake Capoeira is an actual training school—founded and led by Mestre Jamaika from Bahia, Brazil—and performs demonstrations of this uniquely flavored martial-art form. Founded by University of Utah professor Jon Scoville in 1990, Samba Gringa is a community group and samba school where people can learn to play different Brazilian percussion instruments, appreciating the many variant forms that samba can take. Although one must audition to become part of the Samba Gringa band itself, it is a very community-oriented group that welcomes anyone and everyone to study and join in the fun.
On the other hand, Jinga Boa—according
to Samba Fogo’s artistic director Lorin
Hansen—“is a seven-piece band that plays
a style of Brazilian music called pagoda.
It’s like if you took Samba batucada and
shrunk it down to make it more of a backyard
barbeque style of music, with vocals
and a small guitar called a cavaquinho.
“Our diverse nature is exciting and beneficial
but also sometimes, um … cumbersome,”
explains Hansen, who also plays
and dances in several of the other groups.
“It kept happening that Salt Lake
Capoeira, Samba Gringa, Jinga Boa
and ‘Vertigo Fire’—my previous fire
company’s name—would all get hired
to perform separately at the same
events around town. I always looked at
that and said, ‘Why not put this all together
into one awesome, choreographed show?’
And here we are today,” Hansen says.
As mentioned above, Samba Fogo melds
the various performance elements of this
growing community and Hansen’s personal
life. “I started as a solo fire dancer; then
I got a degree in modern dance from the
[University of Utah] and started Brazilian
drumming and dance,” says Hansen.
“Then we started Jinga Boa in 2003, and we
had always performed alongside Salt Lake
Capoeira. So, Samba Fogo is a blending
together of all these elements. Samba Fogo
is our most professional, highly rehearsed
and choreographed group.”
That is perhaps why Samba Fogo’s
upcoming performance will not be held on
a street corner, in the stands cheering and
jeering crowds in the stands or in a sweaty
nightclub with club kids swirling around a
This time, they will be performing in an
actual proscenium theater where an audience
will get to see and hear all the various
dance and music forms—including a game
called Maculele that was developed in the
sugar cane fields of Brazil, as well as fire
dancing, eating and spinning.
Hansen is the first to admit that for all its growing popularity, the Brazilian culture and art movement here in Salt Lake City has also completely taken over her life. She, like many of the company’s other members, spends up to five nights a week playing, dancing, studying, performing or teaching (at both the University of Utah and Repertory Dance Theatre’s Community School) Brazilian dance and music, “and the craze seems out of [her] control.” But it is precisely that same exotic allure of the art form that draws and amazes curious audiences that simultaneously tugs at others in the community to become performers and practitioners.
“I think that Samba and Brazilian music
and dance are completely infectious and
very compelling by nature,” says Hansen.
“Brazil is pretty compelling. Once I was
introduced, I immediately fell into love. Or
maybe into obsession…”