The art of capoeira is in the spotlight this weekend at the city’s Brazilian National Arts festival.
Published: June 16, 2011 (Issue # 1660)
Traditionally, two capoeiristas play together inside a circle of other members playing musical instruments.
St. Petersburg and Rio de Janeiro may not seem to have much in common on the surface. But the desire for freedom and peace of body and mind are natural for people all over the world, regardless of nationality, religion and occupation, and accordingly, samba and capoeira have proved popular far beyond Brazil’s borders.
This week, the Mundo Capoeira team invites Petersburgers to embark on a thrilling journey around the magical world of capoeira, guided by experienced teachers from Brazil and Europe at the Sixth Festival of Brazilian National Arts. The festival will be fascinating for both people familiar with capoeira and other Brazilian arts, and for those who have only heard about it, organizers promise.
Only a couple of centuries old, capoeira has already traveled a long way, from being a prohibited activity to a Brazilian national sport and part of its identity. Back in the 1820s, slaves in Brazil devised capoeira — a mixture of martial arts and dance — to brighten up their grueling working days and to prepare for escape from their owners. Today, people all over the world practice the sport to escape from mundane daily life and test the limits of the human body.
The journey begins with batizado, the initiation ceremony. Batizado is a game in itself, in which a newcomer takes on an experienced teacher. At the end of the game, the master gently takes down the junior capoeirista which symbolizes the start of a long and often difficult journey into the world of capoeira.
Another important thing that every capoeirista should have is an apelido or nickname.
“My name is Linguado. It translates from Portuguese as flat fish,” says Nikolai Pchelin, a capoeira teacher in St. Petersburg. “This name was given to me by my master.”
This tradition dates back to the times when capoeira was prohibited. To avoid problems with the law, capoeiristas introduced themselves in the community only by their apelido, so that if a member were captured by the police, they would not be able to give the names of their fellow capoeiristas, even under torture. Today it is simply a tribute to tradition, but it remains very popular among practitioners.
Capoeiristas may appear to defy the laws of gravity.
“Russians study the history, philosophy and fighting technique of capoeira very seriously,” said Mestre Dende, a master of capoeira from Brazil who is visiting St. Petersburg this week to take part in the festival. “This is very pleasant, and we pay them back in kind by learning the Russian language.”
Artyom “Axe,” a capoeira teacher from St. Petersburg, has visited many countries in order to practice capoeira. “In Brazil, capoeira is played more craftily, with tricks, dodges and cunning moves,” he said. “In Europe, the focus is more on the spectators — more acrobatics and aesthetic elements,” he said.
His apelido “Axe” was given to him by a Brazilian mestre, and has an intriguing meaning. “It is quite difficult to translate,” he said. “It’s a state reached when training and playing capoeira. If the roda (the round) in capoeira is good, you can feel it, because all the people there form a whole, singing and playing. It’s a state of euphoria.”
A mixture of martial arts and dance, capoeira’s third key element is music. The traditional accompanying musical instrument is the berimbau, which is believed to have originated in Africa, and consists of a wooden bow with a steel string and a dried hollowed-out gourd.
Lively rhythms, dance and a friendly atmosphere are guaranteed at the Brazilian National Arts festival this weekend. An Afro-Brazil show will instill a carnival atmosphere among spectators with passionate samba, wild maculele dancing, fishermen’s tales of the town of Salvador, and, of course, capoeira performed by people who seem to be immune to the laws of gravity.
The festival will continue with an Afro-Brazil party on Sunday with live music, Brazilian drums, samba and reggae.
The festival runs from June 17 through June 20. The Afro-Brazil show takes place on Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m. at the Troitsky concert hall, 223 Prospekt Obukhovskoi Oborony. M: Proletarskaya. The Afro-Brazil party will take place at 11 p.m. on Sunday, June 19 at Dusche nightclub, 50 Ligovsky Prospekt.