Abadá Capoeira: the Spirit of Brazil

By Mary Ellen Hunt

October 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

By Mary Ellen Hunt

“I want the pieces to flow like water from one to the next,” says Márcia Treidler, evoking a serpentine image of a river of music, dance and theater at Abadá-Capoeira’s Spirit of Brazil 2012 show, which runs October 18-21 at the ODC Theater. “I want the audience to feel the nonstop energy and never get bored or tired.”

“Mar de Tradiçönes,” or the Sea of Traditions, is the theme of this year’s show, the sixth to be presented by Abadá-Capoeira, and Treidler has planned an impressive lineup of international guests of musicians, singers, dancers, capoeiristas and choreographers.

The Spirit of Brazil has always highlighted Brazilian culture and traditions, she notes, but the program this year will view the world of capoeira through a historical lens.

“I want to leave people with the feeling they just visited Brazil,” she says energetically, having just returned from her own journey to Brazil where she’s been teaching.

Given its enormous popularity now, it’s almost hard to believe that capoeira was once considered a crime. Capoeira traces its roots back to the quilombos, or settlements founded in the 17th and 18th century by runaway slaves in Brazil. Born of a cultural melange of dances, rituals and traditions blended together by slaves of widely varied backgrounds and ethnicities, the nimble, fast-paced capoeira became a common language as well as a martial art that could be used to defend one’s self. By the late 19th century it was widely practiced throughout Brazil, and yet its association with black culture ultimately led to the prohibition and repression of the art.  Even today, capoeiristas take on aliases, or apelidos—names that they’ll be known by in the wider community—a nod to the days when capoeristas hid their identities to avoid being arrested and exiled.

Fortunately, capoeira enjoys better days now, and it has become a primary conduit of Brazilian culture. The international Abadá-Capoeira, or Brazilian Association for the Support and Development of the Art of  Capoeira, based in Rio de Janeiro, boasts some 41,000 members spread throughout 30 counties. Treidler, known in capoeira circles as “Mestranda Cigarra,” founded the San Francisco organization for Abadá-Capoeira, and is one of only ten mestrandos—master teachers charged with maintaining and governing the art, philosophy and techniques of capoeira—in the world.
Treidler herself is modest about her own achievements in capoeira, which have been considerable. Born in Rio de Janeiro, she began her studies under Mestre Camisa in the early 1980s and became the first of his female students to attain the rank of mestranda, a feat in the then male-dominated world of capoeira.

Treidler recalls that she was a teenager of 17 when she first began studying capoeira after seeing a performance in Rio de Janeiro.

Pictured: Abadá-Capoeira’s Spirit of Brazil Photo by: RJ Muna
Pictured: Abadá-Capoeira’s Spirit of Brazil
Photo by: RJ Muna

“There were people of all different sizes and shapes, all coming together and performing together,” she says. “And there was so much music and energy. I saw in an instant I wanted to do this.”
She remarks that she wishes now she had started at a younger age, but even so it took a year for her to convince her mother to allow her to take capoeira classes.

At the time, there were some women involved in capoeira, Treidler says, but when she began studying, there were very few competing at the highest levels and very few women teachers. She doesn’t recall even many women students in the classes with her.

“Now I see a lot of women developing good work in Brazil and in Europe,” she says, “but then the culture of capoeira was male dominated. In classes, it was the men who they developed, and the teachers were often more supportive of the men than the women. If you had a man and a woman in your class, they would just give feedback to the man.”

In Mestre Camisa however, Treidler found a guide and a mentor. “I didn’t want him to make it easy on me or treat me differently,” she says emphatically. “He helped me to become what I am today. And now I want to be a good example to other women because they need someone to look up to.”

After teaching for several years in Brazil, Treidler moved to California and founded Abadá-Capoeira SF in 1997, along with the ACSF Brazilian Arts Center, where she continues to teach.

And she returns to her roots in Brazil a couple of times a year, she says, “to see what’s developing, and see other teachers. It’s important that we are on the same page, so I’ll go back and teach classes, but I’ll also observe and see what everyone is developing, see their goals. It definitely enriches your knowledge. You see that every teacher follows the same style, but each has a different personality and that really comes through in their work.”

As a teacher, Treidler feels that the much of her job is to pass on the importance of the culture that comes with capoeira.

“You need to develop your knowledge of the music, develop a connection with Brazil, be a martial artist, be a dancer, know the history,” she declares. “It’s required that you be as complete as possible in your education, that you try to learn as much as you can, because you need to be able to pass that on to others. Otherwise we will lose the tradition.”

For the Spirit of Brazil, Treidler has called on some familiar faces, as well as new talents who will all appear onstage at ODC with ACSF performers. Featured this year will be the Brazlian born “Professor Mobília,” or Anderson Freire de Barros, joined by “Professor Goma,” or Ezequiel Alves dos Reis, who hails from Goiania, Brazil, but now works in Geneva, Switzerland. “Goma and Mobília are both engaging and captivating,”
Treidler remarks. “They are both talented, amazing performers, but they also have that ability to really connect with people and bring them into the show. Mobília is a dancer, he’s theatrical, he’s an amazing percussionist—the complete artist, I would say.”

And women capoeiristas will be well represented by the Brazilian Yara Camargo Cordeiro, also known as “Professora Yara,” who currently works in Washington, DC.

Then, too, the Spirit of Brazil will encompass more than just capoeira. Local Samba teacher and founder of SAMBAXÉ Dance Company, Raffaella Falchi will also perform, as will the drum ensemble Quimbanda Grupo Carnavalesco, led by the master percussionist Gamo da Paz. And featured along with capoeira will be the Afro-Brazilian style of maculelê, a traditional form often performed with sticks or machetes.

In the past 20 years  Treidler says, interest in capoeira has exploded.

“There’s been a huge growth, not just in numbers,” she observes, “but also knowledge and understanding of capoeira. People know of it, even if they haven’t done it. Musicians and dancers want to learn capoeira and incoporate it into their own styles. And so many people want to know the history of it. We Brazilians really know and appreciate that this is an art form that came from struggle. Now it’s becoming known in Europe and America.”

“The Spirit of Brazil is going to give people this great experience of the rich culture of the music, the martial arts, the artistry,” she continues. “I want everyone to feel they have had a taste of Brazil.”

Mary Ellen Hunt writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has also contributed arts stories to Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Dance Teacher, Diablo Magazine, the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, KALW (91.7 FM) and the KQED website.