Samba Fogo | Theater | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Samba Fogo 

Brazil Nuts:Local performance groups gather disparate elements into Samba Fogo.

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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 dance floor.

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…”

Hayes Christensen Theater
Marriott Center for Dance
University of Utah
330 S. 1500 East
July 17-18
8 p.m.
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