Brazil to Boone
Appalachian State University professor Gabrielle Motta-Passajou
remembers the first time she saw the traditional Brazilian martial art of capoeira performed more
than 20 years ago in Paris.
“It happened very casually,” she said. “I was walking the streets, and there was a capoeira roda in the street. The music caught my attention, and I went and got closer to the gathering of people there.”
Before her stood a ring of people, circling a pair of competitors as they sparred with moves that were part dance, part fight and part acrobatics. “It’s really mesmerizing, so I got really interested right there,” she said.
Decades later, after learning the unique blend of dance and martial arts, Motta-Passajou moved to Boone and began teaching the style to others.
Now, she and others will share the capoeira and other fascinating aspects of Brazilian culture with the community during a series of events April 10 to 12 at Appalachian State University.
The Brazilian cultural events begin with a faculty forum at 7 p.m. April 10 on “Brazil’s National Treasures: Capoeira, Football and Samba.” Motta-Passajou, Andres Fisher and Brent James will share their knowledge at the Plemmons Student Union Price Lake Room.
The events continue at 6 p.m. April 11, with a screening of the documentary, “Bus 174,” followed by a panel discussion at the Greenbriar Theater in the Student Union.
The Brazilian film, released in 2002, depicts the true story of Sandro do Nascimento, an impoverished man who held passengers hostage on a bus for four hours after a failed robbery attempt. The film, which draws from original footage of the event, examines life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and the criminal justice system that surrounds it.
Craig Fischer and Bruce Dick from the Department of English, along with Brent James from the Department of Language, Literatures and Cultures, will host the panel discussion afterward.
The culmination of the week is the Festa do Brasil from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. April 12 at the Grandfather Ballroom in the Plemmons Student Union.
The event begins with an Afro-Brazilian dance workshop at 5 p.m., followed by a capoeira performance at 6:30 p.m.
Motta-Passajou, who teaches the craft at ASU and at Northwestern Studios, said it’s generally believed capoeira formed through a combination of cultures from African slaves, native Brazilians and the Portuguese during colonial times. But to determine exactly when it was created, or where or by whom is difficult. “It has a mysterious origin in a way,” she said.
The martial art emphasizes defensive moves, requiring both participants to dodge one another’s kicks until one is cornered, she said.
Meanwhile, members of the surrounding circle sing and play a number of percussion instruments including the tambourine, conga drum and cowbell. The key instrument is the berimbau, a single-string musical bow.
The performance will be followed with a traditional Brazilian dinner and music from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
A separate event Saturday at Northwestern Studios will offer capoeira workshops to visiting students and a batizado, or belt ceremony, for advancing capoeira participants. In fact, it was this batizado celebration, and the visitors it will draw to the area, that led Motta-Passajou to consider hosting the Brazilian week at ASU in the first place.
“We’re going to have probably the biggest capoeira event Boone has ever seen,” she said.