- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Many Americans think of tango as the ultimate cultural expression of Argentina and samba as that of Brazil.

But the two South American countries have more to offer, which is what the Kennedy Center aims to show during its AmericArtes program, from Tuesday through May 15.

"The program will include tango and samba because they are intrinsic to the cultures. But I also wanted to show people things they have never seen before," says Alicia Adams, director of international programming at the Kennedy Center.

Ms. Adams, whose focus on South America began as a three-year effort in 2001, this year will include contemporary Brazilian and Argentine dance, music, fashion and theater performances.

Carlos Miele, a Brazilian fashion designer who laces his fashion shows with live music, modern dance and computer images, is one of the contemporary performers featured.

"We want to move away from the stereotypical," Ms. Adams says. "What I want to do is profile contemporary art. I want to raise people's level of awareness of these countries."

Mr. Miele likens his show to the spirit of Brazil. He describes it as very energetic, rhythmically vibrant and representative of a mix of religions, ethnic backgrounds and fashion styles.

"In Brazil, we are in continual transformation. The blend of African, European and Indian people and traditions is very dynamic," Mr. Miele says.

While reluctant to stereotype, Mr. Miele says Brazil is a country where people generally are not afraid to show off their bodies, which is apparent not only on the beaches and at the annual carnival, but also in his show.

"Brazilian culture is about affirming the body," Mr. Miele says. "While Japanese culture [for example] is about denying the body."

Fellow countrymen Hermeto Pascoal and Fabio Pascoal will accompany the show with live music.

Brazil has an undeniably sensual culture, but it's not just about enjoying bodies and beaches.

"Americans have this idea that Brazil is only about having fun, but it's much more than that," Mr. Miele says.

His fashion show also portrays the ever-present tension between the haves and the have-nots. "[In the show], privileged children try to set fire to a homeless person. But the homeless is wearing fireproof and shot-proof clothes. [The children cannot get to him] because the consumer market does not exclude anyone," Mr. Miele says.

The homeless person survives and the privileged class feels threatened.

AmericArtes also includes performances of "Romeo and Juliet" that combine commedia dell'arte with circus tricks; Mercedes Sosa, an Argentine folk singer of four decades who has been called "the voice of the silent majority"; and Grupo Corpo, a Brazilian dance troupe that blends classical ballet, modern dance and traditional Afro-Brazilian movement.

The program also includes "Buenos Aires Tango," which according to the program, shows off tango's stylized eroticism while merging it with modern dance. It features tango orchestra Orquesta El Arranque, Ana Maria Stekelman's Tangokinesis, and vocalist Lidia Borda and pianist Diego Schissi.

The tango, like its homeland, celebrates elegance and passion. But the music and dance started in the seedier areas of the port of Buenos Aires in the 19th century. It was only later, in the 1920s, that it moved into the city's theater houses, where it received a wider appreciation among the middle and upper classes.

Late this month, the Argentine dramatic ensemble Banda de Teatro Los Macocos, will perform "La Fabulosa Historia de Los Inolvidables Marrapodi (The Fabulous History of the Unforgettable Marrapodi)," a comedy about a family of untalented Creole actors that never seems to learn from its mistakes. The troupe will mix old and new dramatic styles.

The Kennedy Center caps the AmericArtes festival in mid-May with a piano recital by Martha Argerich, an Argentine piano player who made her debut at age 5.

Alongside the headliners will be free shows at the Millennium Stage featuring a mix of music, dance performances and lectures.

Another free feature is an art show by Argentine sculptor Amalia Amoedo, called "Fantasy Horses." The fantastical horses are life-size art installations that can be seen throughout the center. They are to "embody the beauty and hope found in the sweet and simple things of life."

Also, the American Film Institute Theater will feature a Brazilian film with Sonia Braga, "Tieta do Agreste."

Altogether, about 20 acts will be presented during the month of the AmericArtes program. Kennedy Center officials hope Washington-area residents will add to their understanding of Argentina and Brazil and start to think beyond tango, samba and fruit-bowl-donning Carmen Miranda.

"Our American vision is often so myopic," Ms. Adams says. "We want [the program] to show the diversity of these countries. We want audiences to get enticed by these cultures."

Events schedule

Grupo Galpao's "Romeu & Julieta," Tuesday and Wednesday, Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater; "Buenos Aires Tango," Friday and April 20, Eisenhower Theater; Mercedes Sosa, April 21, Eisenhower Theater, sold out; Banda de Teatro Los Macocos, April 23 to 25, AFI Theater; Grupo Corpo, April 25 to 27, Eisenhower Theater; Carlos Miele's "Rituals," April 25 and 26, Terrace Theater; Martha Argerich, May 15, Concert Hall. Free shows with other Brazilian and Argentine performers will be held at the Millennium Stage. For informaion and tickets, call 202/467-4600.

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