Watch Dance and Wearables Tell the Story of Capoeira

The history of Brazilian dance combat gets choreography and a motion-activated soundscape in Maziar Ghaderi's 'Mexe.'

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Sep 14 2015, 6:20pm

Images courtesy of Sean Stiller and Richard Cerezo 

The capoeira style of combat-dance is rooted in imperialism, slavery, and the colonization of Brazil—or rather, the struggle black Brazilians faced in overcoming these tribulations. Canadian-Iranian new media artist and dance/tech pioneer Maziar Ghaderi explores this strife, and the multi-cultural art that has come of it in Mexe (pronounced mesh), his new project, which stars a cast of sensor-clad capoeira dancers representing Orishas from Yoruba mythology: the Man (Oxala), the Woman (Iemanja), the Girl (Oxum), the Boy (Oxossi), and the Trickster (Exu).

Thanks to these sensors, each dancer's movement is translated into a reactive soundscape, unique to the flurry of backflips, cross kicks, and rolls choreographed by one of Ghaderi's collaborators, Newton Moraes. “We wanted to create the world’s first Capoeira cyborg and on a few summer nights in Toronto, that’s exactly what we did,” explains Ghaderi. “Working with a single medium bores the shit out of me. I like to mix up the seemingly unrelated. Timeless traditions like Yoruban mythology and capoeira offer rich narratives and philosophies that new media technologies can help augment in unprecedented ways. This is what my artistic practice, Playformance is all about.”

Ghaderi emphasizes that it's imporant for the story to drive the tech, rather than the other way around, so the wearable sensor's influence on the experience is subtle—a certain dance triggers a peacock trill, a move increases the reverb, another cranks up the volume, etc. The show carries on the mission of Ghaderi's previous work, Dissolving Self 2, which married past and future by capturing whirling Sufi dervishes with a Kinect camera and projecting a reactive light show behind them. In his new project, which debuted at Toronto's SummerWorks Festival last month, Ghaderi puts the dancers center-stage to tell a personal and specific narrative.

"Gather around a 360-degree stage (roda)," he entreats in the Mexe description. "Move through a live soundscape that traces capoeira from its African roots to its oppression in colonial Brazil via the transatlantic slave trade, and finally to the transnational, multiethnic phenomenon it has become today." Get a taste of the phenomenon in these teaser introductions to characters from the performance below.

The full list of collaborators on Mexe includes Maziar Ghaderi, Stephen Surlin, Patricia Marcoccia, Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, Lesley Wadron, Nathan Pruitt, Ibo Benna, Jafari Moore, Kimya Hypolite, Lalaine Ulit-Destajo, & Axe Capoeira.

See more of Maziar Ghaderi's work on his website.

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