Viver Brasil presented From Heaven [Orun] to Earth [Aiyê]: An Afro-Brazilian Dance Journey & Fashion Show on Sunday, September 22nd, at 4:30 pm hosted by Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena. Viver Brasil’s Directors are Linda Yudin and Luiz Badaro and dancers Bianca Medina (Oxum) and Shelby Williams-Gonzalez (Oba) created this production. The venue was intimate and was held outside, which provided a vibrant backdrop.

The dance journey and fashion show featured Viver Brasil dancers as African Brazilian orixas. What are orixas you ask? Orixas are deities within African-derived religious systems who are the link or connection between heaven and earth. They have humanlike qualities and rule over the forces of nature.

As the performance began, the dancers looked like royalty as they walked down the aisle to the ancestral and tranquil voice of Oyni Richards. Her presence and voice ceased all outside noise and transformed the space into a haven of flowing rhapsody and rhythm. As she continued to sing the dancers form a straight line and looked larger than life.

Viver Brasil - Yansa - Photo courtesy of the company.

Viver Brasil – Yansa – Photo courtesy of the company.

Richards held the energetic space for the orixas and the first orixa she summoned was Ogum. Phillipo Haile aka Mestre Muito Tempo dressed in silver and blue. Ogum is the orixa of technology and Tempo emphasized the expansion human potential through grounded but effortless movement.  He also moved with mastery and precision as he glided across the grass with his machete, for he is the warrior who opens our path by chopping down and clearing away obstacles. So, it was befitting that he was the first orixa to dance because he had cleared the path for the other orixas to enter into the space.

Soaring in from the far left wearing beautiful liquidly greens, rainbows, and earth tones with two small serpents in each hand was Ajah Muhammad, who welcomed the undulating and rippling movements of Oxumare, the serpent/rainbow orixa into her body. This was the orixa of transformation and Muhammad transformed the space with each step as she twist and turned as if she was following divine instructions. She was direct and keenly aware of the body as archive and elevated the audience with her intense personification of Oxumare.

Viver Brasil - Vera Passos - Oba - Photo by Jorge Vismara

Viver Brasil – Vera Passos – Oba – Photo by Jorge Vismara

Following Oxumare was Oxum, the orixa of rivers, beauty, fertility and love, and Bianca Medina was the materialization Oxum in simmering gold and silver crown with gold beads that shielded her face. She moved to music that was amplified with a soft flowing river and chirping birds. As she danced to this lovely song, it seemed like she was beckoning all the rivers on the earth to become sweet and quench the bitterness within the world. Her arms flowed with an elegant serenity as she used her mirror to reflect her beauty that illuminated the space with a peaceful energy that felt like a calm summer breeze.

Shelby Williams-Gonzalez was Oba. The female warrior/hunter orixa and she was the most powerful of the female warriors. Through the fierce and cunning movements of Williams-Gonzalez, who was dressed in green earth tones and leopard print, it is clear that she was the one who had to dance for Oba. Williams-Gonzalez had sheer intensity and commanded the attention of the audience through her direct eye contact and her fearless presence. She interacted the most with the other orixas, especially Ogum, Oxum and Xangô who she hugged and walked forward with as a dynamic heavenly dual.

As she left his side, Xangô stood in the center dressed in red, gold and white proudly holding his double-headed axes across his chest. Xangô was the orixa of justice and prosperity and Drew Love’s stature and physicality denoted righteous authority. Xangô the orixa of thunder and lightning and Love illustrates this through a mighty roar symbolizing thunder. He replicated Xangô’s lightning through his rhythmic quick footwork that increase with intensity as he moved compellingly through the space flashing his axes as a symbol of his virtuous power.

As Xangô walked back into his space, ocean waves were heard in the background, which could only mean that Iemanja, the mother of all of the orixas and queen of the ocean, was near. Laila Abdullah slowly turned toward the pond rippling behind her as if she is saluting it and walked forward with a gentle ease. She was Iemanja. Her soulful turns appeared like swirling water due to her soft pastel blue skirt and the blue beads in her crown shimmer in the sun. Her arms and upper torso ebbed back and forward like the ocean as she radiated a melodious energy that wrapped the entire space with warmth and divine feminine grace.

Indira Leneman was Oya and the last of the orixas to elevate the space. She entered with a fearless energy that was undeniably Oya/Yansan who was the goddess of wind and storms and connected deeply to the ancestors. Leneman was dressed in all red with a white head wrap, her face shrouded with the same crown as Oxum and Iemanja, but her beads were red. She danced a like a whirling twister of ancestral energy and pushed away negativity with a long raffia wand. Her flow was grounded but elegant. What a dynamic combination.

Viver Brasil has exceptional dancers and the production From Heaven [Orun] to Earth [Aiyê]: An Afro-Brazilian Dance Journey & Fashion Show was definitely a captivating journey that felt like heaven.

Written by Kim Gadlin for LA Dance Chronicle, September 28, 2019.

To visit Viver Brasil’s website, click here.

Featured image: Viver Brasil – Oxum Ago Ayo – Photo by Gia Trovela