Norton Center for the Arts director Steven A. Hoffman sees Balé Folclórico da Bahia as an operatic ensemble of musicians and dancers, but he sees even more to it than that.
"This is one of those groups that truly are ambassadors of their country," Hoffman says of the Brazilian performers who visit Centre College's Norton Center this week. "Their culture is so beautiful in terms of blending African and Latin cultures, and it really lets us explore our own culture from a different perspective."
Balé Folclórico founder Walson Botelho recently described creating the 25-year-old company to the Washington City Paper: "I had the dream to create my own company to show all over the world my own culture, the popular culture of my land."
His land, specifically, is Bahia, Brazil's fourth-largest state by population. The state, on the Atlantic coast, was the center of sugar cultivation and imported a large number of African slaves from the 16th to 18th centuries, creating a large black or multiracial population that endures today and has mixed with the country's Portuguese heritage.
That cultural mix is largely what is on display when Balé Folclórico takes the stage.
Hoffman compares Balé Folclórico to the Japanese Yamato Drummers or Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble in terms of presentations of world cultures he has booked at the Danville venue. But the Brazilian troupe brings the biggest show, a riot of 38 performers in colorful costumes dancing to wild rhythms.
"It's spectacular," he says, "not something you often see in this country, particularly here."
In keeping with recent Norton Center presentations, Balé Folclórico will be part of a number of extra presentations, including a matinee for school students, a panel discussion on religion in Brazil and a demonstration of capoeira, a dance style that Hoffman says looks like ultimate fighting.
"It looks like mixed martial arts, but they never touch each other," he says.
Hoffman acknowledges that the center is catching the South American export at a time that Brazil's profile is rising on the global cultural radar, particularly with the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
That, Hoffman says, is part of the reason he tries to select carefully when bringing in international programs that can paint broad impressions of their cultures.
"We want to make sure that what we are bringing in is of a very high quality," he says. "This is a blend of the historic and storytelling in a colorful program I think people are going to love."
IF YOU GO
Balé Folclórico da Bahia
What: Brazilian dancers, instrumentalists and singers in traditional and contemporary performances.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30
Where: Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville.
Tickets: $19-$36. Available at box office, 1-877-448-7469 or Nortoncenter.com.
Capoeira demonstration by Balé company members: Introduction of the basic movements of capoeira, a martial arts dance form. 11:20 a.m. Oct. 29. Cowan Student Center.
Panel discussion: "Religion and Folklore in Afro-Brazilian Culture": Two Brazilian members of Balé Folclórico will join Francie Chassen-López, University of Kentucky distinguished professor of arts and sciences, to discuss the historical development of Afro-Brazilian culture and its roles in society today. 5 p.m. Oct. 30. Combs Center, first floor.
Brazilian Dinner: Brazilian-themed buffet at the College's Dining Hall. $8 adults, $5 children, free for Centre students. 5:30-7 p.m. Oct. 30. Cowan Student Center.