By: Hedy Weiss
The name suggests a cutesy twist on America's beloved backyard tradition: Barbatuques. In fact, the Brazilian troupe's appellation combines the surname of founder Fernando Barba with a refigured spelling of Portuguese terms for "strike" and "trick." The dancers certainly pound on each other as part of their body drumming. As for trickery, it's not so much a matter of pranks as a bewitching spell born of audio-visual-percussive novelty. This unique ensemble of a dozen or so performers blends the invention of Stomp, the versatility of Kodo drummers and the instincts of tap into something stylish, Brazilian and indeed quite magical. "I sometimes teach in Brazil, my students kept bringing recordings of this group to serve as their accompaniment, and the music itself is utterly gorgeous," says Lane Alexander, founder-director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which is hosting Barbatuques May 29-31 in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, where the troupe will perform.
"When I finally saw them, I found them unbelievable. They call themselves a body band, but what they really do is take the tradition of body drumming and mix it with traditional Brazilian rhythms. They sing, pound on each other, dance and occasionally play a few select musical instruments. "Close your eyes, and you think you're hearing a band." But don't close your eyes. Judging from the seductive clip on the Chicago Human Rhythm Web site, Barbatuques also provides a delightful, entrancing visual display. Like so much artistry of the past decade or so, it's unclassifiable. "I hesitate to say hip-hop because that gives the wrong impression.
They're not what we call hip-hop," Alexander says. "But they verbalize in ways that bring hip-hop to mind. They're truly unique in Brazil and, as far as I've seen, everywhere else." The visit is a postponement from earlier plans to host the troupe last fall, plans which fell through because of visa difficulties. The rescheduled gig will be part of a larger Chicago Human Rhythm outing to include tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, one of the most exciting practitioners of the art form today, and new works from BAM!, the Rhythm Project's resident troupe.