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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
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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