NORWAY — They traveled far in the name of dance and, for the next several days, the Alberto Maranhao Theater Dance Company of Natal, Brazil, is teaching and performing their unique style of Brazilian contemporary dance throughout southern Maine.
Last fall, Debi Irons, owner of the Art Moves Dance Studio and founder of Cottage Street Creative Exchange Inc. in Norway, visited the Alberto Maranhao Theater Dance Company in their home country via a Partners of the Americas trip. The state of Maine has been a partner with the state of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, under the program since 1967.
“I was surprised by the depth and speed of my enchantment with the people of Natal,” Irons said. “I fell in love with them and invited them here — and they came.”
The troupe, led by artistic director Wanie Rose and trainer Rosa Mendonca, arrived in Maine on July 20 and settled into the apartment at Irons’ Cottage Street location for their stay. There are five dancers: Juarez Moniz, 28; Gustavo Santos, 31; Paulo Victor, 19; Thaise Galvao, 21; and Gabriela Gorges, 23. Photographer Brunno Martins, 25, also made the journey.
They spent their first week conducting classes and making appearances in the Oxford and Androscoggin County area, including a performance at the Celebration Barn Theater in South Paris and at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston.
“The sharing of pure joy and love via an art form that is so visceral to everyone who experiences it seems to be multiplying among us,” Irons said. “I never could have imagined the impact this is having. It appears to be magic. The other night, at Studio 32 in Bethel, people were deeply moved after taking class with, and then watching a brief performance by, this Brazilian dance company.”
When Irons visited their home studio in September 2014, she introduced a dance she had choreographed, which she titled “Cross My Heart,” and left it in their hands to practice and bring back to her when they visited.
“Wanie and the dancers built upon what we started, and I was profoundly moved when I saw it again,” she said.
That piece, which the Alberto Maranhao Theater Dance Company performs alongside dancers from Art Moves, is one of many the group is performing during their stay.
Their blend of contemporary dance pulls from each of the dancers’ strengths. Santos, for instance, specializes in capoeira ginga, which Irons said is “a Brazilian martial art form disguised as a dance.”
“Capoeira is the most influential of Brazilian dances, other than the samba,” Irons said.
Before they depart Aug. 10, the group will have an opportunity to be a part of the Maine Dance Festival, taking place from the Norway area to Portland from Aug. 5 through Aug. 15.
Although summer is a time when many dance companies throughout the state take time off, several are participating in this regional event. To open the festival, the Brazilian dancers will join the Casco Bay Movers in Portland on Aug. 5 to perform a combination of dances from Brazil and Maine.
Local singer/songwriter Davy Sturtevant will join the Maine Dance Festival, performing live while dancers add another dimension to his music on stage. Irons said she has enjoyed watching her Art Moves dancers — Sasha Campbell, Tegan Bullard, Karianna Merrill and Greta Giasson — dance with the visitors from Brazil in her Norway studio.
“Davy Sturtevant has come to rehearse with us for the Aug. 5 show at Oxford Hills, and it’s like they’ve been dancing together for years,” Irons said. “Again, it appears to be magic — but I know it’s a lot of hard work, attention and patience on the part of all parties.”
She referred to the effort as quite a collaboration — a real creative exchange.
Wanie said dancing is a communication between the performer and the viewer.
“Because the public is watching as they’re performing their art, there’s a dialogue — a communication,” she said. “It has the potential of transforming both the performer and the audience.
“We communicate with our body,” Mendonca said. “Dance is the most spontaneous way of expressing ourselves.”
Hosting the dancers is a community effort, according to Irons. Besides their physical fitness routines, their dance practices and their performances, the group also is trying to experience all that Maine has to offer.
“So many people have been involved in the transporting, feeding and supporting this exchange and this company, CDTAM, that the transformation has already occurred for every single person who has interacted with them,” Irons said. “My Brazilian friends do not want to leave. I joke that I will hide their passports. They have already fallen in love with this place and our people. I hope that they carry this feeling with them wherever they go, and continue being catalysts for joy and success.”
Irons said everyone is welcome to attend practice sessions at her Norway studio, and the remaining performances. She said dancing is something people need to experience to understand.
“‘You can dance if you want to’ has always been part of my Art Moves Dance Studio mantra,” Irons said. “One’s desired form of self-expression should never be ignored, always fostered. It opens us up, makes us stronger, more fluid in the face of conflict and open to change and growth. Dance demands presence. Self-expression of any positive kind moves us forward in our humanity.”
On stage in Paris:
The Alberto Maranhao Theater Dance Company of Natal, Brazil, will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to kick off the Maine Dance Festival.