Brasil Brasileiro, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

“The performance contains very loud music” announces the notice outside the Wells’ auditorium. True enough – and the band is by far the best thing in the evening – but the message might also have indicated that this compendium of Brazilian dance and music, with its acreage of bright smiles, swivelling hips and unfocused verve, is also of a determined vivacity that does not disguise its amateurish air and its extinguishing sameness.

What purports to be a survey of mostly Afro-Brazilian culture is interminable, cabaret-orientated and grimly eager. A bare stage. Design most notable for its absence. The musicians (who are fine and resourceful) ranged as backdrop. A cohort of dancers summoned from the wings, who must first dutifully explore some cultural background before we get to the sambas and the capoeira – and a passing observation that their choreographies (to coin an optimistic phrase) are wildly reliant upon energetic repetition, and singularly lacking in theatrical edge or focus. This, whispers aching tedium, is cabaret stuff, and not very good cabaret at that.

The evening wends a predictable way. The music is boisterous but vivid; the singers less than entrancing as they bare their souls to us about we-know-not-what. The dancers are of considerable and unrelenting joviality as they embark on their curiously limited activities. A trio of capoeira gymnasts are determined to show us cartwheels and spins and somersaults that any admirer of Olympic Games contestants would find distinctly mere. There is a sense, as the evening wends its inexhaustible way, that the production is bizarrely starved of resource or imagination, and that Brazilian folk-culture and music must be more varied than this outburst of the teeth-grittingly jolly seems willing to show us.

Ill-shaped but flashily efficient, this display is unlikely as social or artistic comment on a great country, and about as subtle as the Amazon in flood. The staging is basic, inevitable rather than interesting, and the cast appear eager but unconcerned with theatrical finesse. Costuming, like the rest of the evening, rarely rises above the obvious, the brightly predictable. The director is Claudio Segovia. The musicians give the evening what lustre it can claim. The audience yelled approval.

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