Upon a chance viewing of a dance company from the Brazilian city of Salvador in the state of Bahia while studying for her master’s degree in dance ethnology at UCLA in 1986, Linda Yudin’s life changed direction.
Raised in Danville, Ill., and living in Los Angeles at the time, Yudin was going south three months after seeing the performance. Her interest was in the Afro-Brazilian dance traditions prominent in Bahia. These dances often are used as a way to explain stories from the Candomblé tradition, which praises deities known as orixás.
“I was so taken aback by the orixás dance, traditional movement and the fact that there was this whole complex of mythological stories that could be brought so beautifully alive on the stage through dance and music,” Yudin says. “As I always say, I met Brazil in Los Angeles.”
Back in the U.S., Yudin celebrated these dances as director and cofounder of Viver Brasil, a dance company based in Los Angeles that she started in 1997 with her husband Luiz Badaró, who is from Bahia.
Yudin says she started the company not only to bring these dances to Los Angeles, but also to feature talented, young performers. The company not only performs regularly, but also teaches classes and workshops. Yudin also is a faculty member at Santa Monica College and a former UCLA faculty member.
Viver Brasil will bring their show “Feet on the Ground” to the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday. The show is divided into two parts, the first being a series of vignettes that show the stories of the orixás including the “Three Wives of Xango.”
“In the Yoruba tradition that came from Africa to Brazil, there are hundreds of really wonderful stories of love and betrayal and stories of winning battles and understanding these forces of nature through these mythological stories,” says Yudin. “And they make wonderful dance theater.”
Another story follows Ogum, the orixá of iron, as he brings the elements of nature to the world.
The second half of a show features other styles of dance such as samba and Capoeira. With its high energy and acrobatics, Capoeira is a combination of martial arts and dance.
Also featured in the show are dances associated with the celebration of Carnival, which is a time when some of thepopulation celebrates its African ancestry. In the 1960s and 70s, when Brazil was a military dictatorship, citizens of Brazil used Carnival as a form of protest. Many instruments like the surdo drum, which is a large bass drum, were made to catch the attention of authorities.
“To speak out against the government was obviously inappropriate and, so, what young black activists and choreographers and musicians and composers did was they took to the streets of Carnival and used the Carnival as a platform to being the discussion of racial equality in Brazil. And by doing that, new forms of contemporary Afro-Brazilian dance movement were created to express this expression of politics and racial equality in Brazil,” Yudin says.
To prepare shows, Yudin also consults elder masters in Bahia including Nancy de Souza e Silva, griot-storyteller, dancer, singer and scholar who studied the Candomblé tradition with famed photographer and ethnologist Pierre Verger in the late 1970s.
Now in her 70s, Silva consults with Yudin on what myths to include in her shows such as “Feet on the Ground.”
“As we’re dancing and researching, or I’m teaching my classes, when we get stuck with which song would be included in this particular piece ... she’s literally a phone call away, and we do that,” Yudin says. “We can be in the middle of a rehearsal and we’re having a moment where we’re not sure how to pronounce a word in a song and we’ll call her up.”
When Viver Brasil comes to Strathmore, Yudin and her team hope to share with audiences the dances that have so greatly impacted her life.
“It completely changed my life and changed my literal direction…it’s been an amazing love affair,” she says.