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Flash Review 1, 7-31: Swaggering Jugglers and Solemn Nuns
Nobrega Channels Brazilian Street Culture

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr

Antonio Nobrega's one-man show, "Figural," is a charming blend of dance, mime, music, and theatrics rooted in the cultural traditions of Brazil. As one of the featured performers in the Latino Festival of Arts and Culture held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park last night, Nobrega proved himself to be an extremely versatile artist -- one man with many talents.

The structure of his show was simple and his presentation informal, all in the style of Brazilian street performers. Singing and strumming his guitar, Nobrega walked through the audience, approaching a stage set with a large, open trunk and piles of costumes strewn about the floor, as if he were in the middle of packing for a long trip. Indeed, as he moved through the audience, I felt he was inviting us along on his subsequent journey through Brazil's complex cultural history. Nobrega donned the costumes one by one, wordlessly, yet eloquently portraying a series of characters, some funny, some ironic, some tragic, but all in some way alluding to the blend of indigenous, African, and European influences that define Brazilian popular culture.

The most compelling of these characters, from a dance standpoint, was also the first. Wearing a mask, tights, and a tail, Nobrega portrayed some sort of rainforest creature. He circled, twitched, and nimbly executed acrobatic floorwork, drawn from the vocabulary of capoeira. The choreography demanded that he use his arms and legs as four equal limbs -- each with the same responsibility for weight bearing, locomotion, and balance.

His other characters were developed primarily through gesture, rather than spatial movement. Nevertheless, Nobrega's mimicry is more about transformation than imitation. His understanding of the essence of a gesture is so absolute that he is able to actually create mini worlds for the audience to join in, rather than simply describe a character second hand. We met a wizened elder, a gypsy sarcastically waltzing to Tchaikovsky, a solemn nun, a swaggering juggler, and a French-speaking accordion player who encouraged us to hum along.

The final character, however, left me confused. According to the press packet, Nobrega was portraying Tonheta, a sort of clown-hero intended to unify the preceding personae. In order to introduce the new character, he called upon a "female creature" from the audience. He wound up with two women on-stage and gave them a long list to read, explaining the relationship of Tonheta to the other characters. In theory, it was a great way to get the audience involved and initially, it was very funny. Nevertheless, either it went on too long, or it was too hard to understand the progression due to intermittent giggling, but the intended affect was lost on me.

Nobrega ended the evening as it began, strumming his guitar, singing, and walking back through the audience, leaving us with lingering images of his characters and wishing there were more. Incidentally, tonight was his first and exclusive New York engagement, and I certainly hope he'll be back with more.

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