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A Solo Performance of Body and Voice

By Bess Rouse

Staff Writer

Performed by Isaura Oliveira, Paige N. Hopewell ’02, Suelin Chen ’03, Geeta Nagpal ’02, and Aparna Surapaneni ’02

Concept, choreography: Isaura Oliveira

Directed by: Isaura Oliveira and Thomas DeFrantz

Little Kresge

October 5-7, 2001

A white cloth spread out diagonally across the entire stage; a pile of rich red fabric clumped together near the audience; a rope stretched in a perfect circle on the floor. The scene lies set for Isaura Oliveira, a lecturer in the Theater Arts department, to perform Ancestrais (Ancestors).

Cloaked in white, the single woman slowly walks along the path of the diagonal fabric carrying a bucket. Upon reaching one end, she settles into a squatting pose, places a coiled cloth on the crown of her head. After filling the bucket she balances it on her head and walks back down the diagonal. She repeats the process once more, all in complete silence. On her third trip her body begins to move in subtle isolation -- first her shoulders, then her hips. Now, music drums. At the end of the sequence she slithers down the cloth, collecting it under her body.

This is the memory of a story from the past. In it, a woman gives pots of water to Oxala, the Orixa of peace. The Orixas are the divinities of CondomblÉ, an Africa rooted religion practiced in the state of Bahia. Ancestrais explores, through words, movement, visual art, and music, the meaning and history of the Orixas and their importance to understanding and living in present day society.

Each prop gives way to a different image, a different scene, a different mood, a different Orixa.

The circular rope takes on a snake-like quality as Oliveira wraps and slips it around her body. In one of the final positions, Oliveira is inside of the rope; it stretches between her eyes, down the length of her body around her feet and back to the top of her head.

Another lasting image is of Oliveira standing center stage completely draped in the silky red fabric. A single arm extends out of the mass, fingers tense and separated. The mass disintegrates and an angry evil spirit consumes Oliveira. Her hair, which has previously been secured in a white scarf, now swings wildly. Her finger, which seems disconnected from the rest of her body, accusingly points at her. At the heat of this moment, Oliveira yells, “Stop.”

And so the performance stops, and the mood changes. She humorously demands a new costume, different lights, and different sets. The change seems to bring us of the past and into the context of present day. Oliveira now dressed in a fringed beaded costume perches herself on top of cubes painted with graffiti.

Then the soliloquy began. This orator, though, is another personality; possibly one closer to Oliveira’s own, but a performance character nonetheless. She urged that the Orixa are the beginning of everything. Computers, cell phones, and the Internet exist because of the history.

Oliveira then dictated a letter to President Charles M. Vest that one of the student performers, Paige N. Hopewell ’02, typed on a laptop computer. She asked, “Where are the new dance studios?” (a question I think most MIT dancers have asked themselves). Students need art and exercise, not better mental health facilities, according to Oliveira. She throws her head back and cackles in satisfaction.

These changes of personality seem to suit Oliveira. Within the performance, she ranges from a content meditative woman, to a possessed demon, to a street corner prophet; all with ease and conviction. Oliveira's explosive stage presence, as well as the constant use of art and props, kept the audience wondering what would come next. Besides being entertaining, Oliveria’s work left the audience with a deeper sentiment for remembering history and what came before.

Oliveira, as well as MIT students taking her class in Afro-Brazilian dance, will perform at MIT at the end of November.