6 March 2008
An irresistible combination of dance and martial arts techniques, capoeira is capturing Sydney’s hearts and feet. By Tatyana Leonov.
All the way from Brazil, capoeira (pronounced ka-pu-eh-ra) is here to stay. This Afro-Brazilian blend of dance, acrobatics and unarmed combat has found it’s way into Sydney’s culture.
Capoeira was created during the 16th century by enslaved Africans in Brazil as a form of self-defence in their quest for liberation from the Portuguese. When caught they were often kept on chains, yet they still practiced, disguising the fighting as a form of dance. The game involved fluid movements and acrobatics, and the music contained messages of freedom and hope.
In the late 19th century, slavery was abolished in Brazil and it became an offence to practice capoeira as it was associated with criminal gangs. Capoeiristas did their best to keep the tradition alive and by the 1920s it had evolved into a kind of folk dance.
It was common at the time for a capoeirista to have two or three nicknames, making it difficult to arrest them because the police did not know their real identities. Today, when a person is ‘baptised’ into capoeira they are given a nickname under which they perform and by which they are known within the capoeira community.
The first capoeira school was opened in Brazil in 1937 by Mestre Bimba after he demonstrated his skills to the country’s president. Today, capoeira is a world-recognised sport, dance, culture and way of life. It is a form of expression that lifts spirits – something it has done since it originated hunders of years ago.
According to the 2006 census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 6500 people of Brazilian origin living in Australia (a 30 per cent increase on the 2001 census). Encapsulating all the vibrancy and colour of Brazilian culture, capoeira has taken off around Australia. In Sydney, the capoeira scene has grown dramatically in the last 20 years. Schools teach capoeira; dancing schools include it in their syllabuses; and people practise on the beach, alongside volleyball and cricket players.
Group Capoeira Brasil has existed in Australia since 1992 and is a branch of the group founded in Brazil in 1989. It’s the organizer of this weekend’s 13th International Brazilian Capoeira Festival, which is expected to draw thousands of Sydneysiders to Darling Harbour to watch and participate. They’ll be music, drumming, samba, parties, and of course, capoeira.
International masters will perform, including Master Boneco, the founder of Capoeira Brasil and also a Brazilian soap star. One of the best female Capoeiristas in the world, Marylucy Da Sylva (aka Magali), will also perform daily and run workshops for the public.
Capoeira has a complex grading system in place. The capioeristas wear coloured belts; green signifies a beginner and white, a master. All the colours in between are levels and it can take years of hard to work to achieve the white grading. “The highlight of the day is to see all of the students get rewarded for their hard work and go up a level,” says Mestre Peixe, who founded Group Capoeira Brasil in Sydney. Having practiced capoeira since the age of 13, he started the festival in 1994 and understands how important it is to keep culture alive. “The most challenging aspect is introducing capoeira and the Brazilian culture to Australia,” he says. “I am looking forward to seeing all the masters come from Brazil. I am proud to showcase the level of our capoeira here in Australia.”
For those who understand, watch or participate in the sport, capoeira is more than just physical activity. “I have always been fascinated by martial arts but I was drawn to capoeira because of its emphasis on the art, disguised as a dance,” says Luke, a big capoeira fan. “Capoeira is a unique combination of rhythm, fluidity, athleticism, fighting and playfulness.”
Julio Chaves (aka Fominha) has practiced Capoeira since 1998 and has been instructing for the last four years. “Capoeira intrigued me with its fluent and agile movements” he says. For him the highlight of the weekend will be the energy of the ‘roda’, which is the circle of people within which capoeira is played. The people in the circle clap and sing and create an energetic atmosphere for the capoeiristas to perform to. As the two capioeristas in the middle engage in physical dialog, the roda raise their voices and play their instruments.
Participating in the roda as well as performing will be Meire Marchiori (aka Meirlou), the highest ranked female capoeirista in Australia. “I became fascinated by watching my master play the game, the way he moved really captivated me,” she says. Having practiced capoeira since 1992 and having participated in the festival since it began, she is someone to watch out for this year. For Marchiori, the highlight will be the sound, colours and energy of the event as well as having her two children involved with her.
“Life is a school and capoeira allows me to learn, says New Zealand capoeira master Professor Ouricio. “Life is also a theatre, and capoeira allows me to perform”.
The 13th International Brazilian Capoeira Festival is held this weekend, March 8-9 from 2pm at the Darling Harbour Amphitheatre. For more information visit www.capoeria.com.au.