I think that the Orisha must be something like a wind, it comes toward you like a wind and embraces you….My heart beats as fast as the lead drum plays, my head grows, and it seems like I see a blue light ahead of me and a hole appears in the middle of the room. Then I want to run, to grab someone, but people seem far away, out of reach. Then I don’t see anything anymore.” These are the words of a senior priestess of candomble in the 1978 film Iawo describing how as she dances she’s possessed by her patron god or goddess. Joseph M. Murphy, quoting her in his book Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora, well describes the religion of Bahia, a northern state in Brazil heavily influenced by African culture. Like voodoo and Santeria, candomble requires its celebrants to “work” the spirit–in essence, to create it: “Biblical traditions would not speak of a spirit ‘made’ by human action,” Murphy writes, but a Yoruba proverb says “Where there is no human being, there is no divinity.” It’s this tradition that underlies the dancing of Bale Folclorico da Bahia, a 30-member troupe of dancers, drummers, and singers about to make its first visit to Chicago. Also incorporating such Brazilian forms as samba and capoeira, it arrives trailing impeccable credentials–New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff hailed it as the standout company of the Lyons Dance Biennial in 1994. More important, it arrives trailing a long history of dance that’s not about ego but about religious work, about inviting and testifying to the spirit, surrendering to deity: the dancer’s head, they say, is the rider, the body the horse. Friday at 8 at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash; $10-$25. Call 312-559-1212 for tickets, 773-955-2787 for information, 773-928-7777 for discounts on groups of ten or more. –Laura Molzahn
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo.