An interview with Eric Galm (Ph.D.’04) by Center for the Arts Intern and Music Major Lucia Strother ’11
In anticipation of this weekend’s upcoming performances by Viver Brasil, I spoke with Eric Galm, Wesleyan graduate and professor of music and ethnomusicology at Trinity College. Galm is an expert in Brazilian music, and provided some valuable background information for Friday and Saturday’s performances.
A large portion of Brazilian music and dance has emerged from the music and dance of the African diaspora, and in Brazil, music and dance are virtually inseparable. Eric highlighted two categories of Brazilian tradition that illustrate this connection and will be represented in this weekend’s performances. Sacred music and dancing, known as candomblé, expresses African-derived religion that is still found in Brazil. There is also a lot of African-derived social dancing, generally known as batuque (the generic label applied by the Portuguese during early years in Brazil).
Later, the samba emerged through a mix of European dance styles and variants of these African dances, and is now the most popular form of music and dance in Brazil. Samba and its accompanying music was popularized in the 1930s, when dictator Getúlio Vargas made it the “official dance” of Brazil in an attempt to unify the regionally segmented nation.
Viver Brasil’s performance this weekend will extract motifs, phrases and elements from these traditional forms, and transpose them to the stage using the choreography and storytelling of modern dance. Eric previewed the program of Viver Brasil’s performance and identified that the first half will be based on sacred dance forms, while the second half will feature several types of secular dance.
In the first half, dances will invoke specific deities from Afro-Brazilian religious tradition. Eric elaborated on the way the religious storytelling is incorporated in Brazilian music and dance:
“Each of the spirits have their own set of songs and musical rhythms. For example, Xango is the god of thunder and guardian of the drums. He’s represented by the colors red and white, and dances with a double-headed hatchet or axe. There are a certain set of markers that identify him, and a strict set of songs and rhythms that make up his music.”
Therefore, anyone steeped in these religious expressions would be able to identify a particular deity and follow the storyline.
Each of the secular traditions that will be featured in the performance’s second half has its own extensive body of work with songs to choose from and adapt to the stage. One piece, In Motion, will feature capoeira, an “Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance game.” Eric mentioned that he has seen other modern dance representations of capoeira and been disappointed by the decision of those companies to eliminate the one-on-one, combat element that is so central to the art.
Audiences should expect a lot of percussion, much of it improvised. Sometimes, as in the case of the berimbau, a one-stringed percussion instrument, the percussion will actually inform the dancers’ movement. The music will also feature female vocalists and melodic instruments like flute or saxophone. I’m excited to see the variety these performances will offer, and happy to have the opportunity to experience a category of world music that is under-represented at Wesleyan.
Friday, March 25 & Saturday, March 26, 8pm
Pre-performance talk by Debra Cash in the CFA Hall at 7:15pm before the Friday performance
$23 general public, $19 seniors, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students, $8 Wesleyan students