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Carnivalesque Improvisation in Frevo, a Dance of Resistance from Recife, Brazil

The Music Scholar Lecture Series

"Carnivalesque Improvisation in Frevo, a Dance of Resistance from Recife, Brazil"

Speaker: Kathleen A. Spanos

Date: Friday, March 8, 2019 at 4pm

Location: Leah Smith Lecture Hall

Open to the University of Maryland Community | Free

Abstract: Frevo is an energetic music and dance that comes from Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco: loud brass instruments provide the fast-paced music and dancers in bright costumes hold small colorful umbrellas as they perform acrobatic feats, dropping to their knees before springing up into high airborne splits. The word frevo is a corrupted form of the Portuguese verb ferver (“to boil”) that alludes its frenetic nature and the hot, sweaty Carnival during which it is danced. Frevo comes from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, and its neighboring city, Olinda, and it is an emblem that represents a regional variation on Brazilian national identity. In this presentation, Spanos will present ethnographic research based on six months of fieldwork in Recife to examine how frevo is a “dance of resistance” and implements strategies that derive from its origins in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Spanos considers frevo to be a dance of resistance because it narrates, through both sound and movement, complex notions of identity that contribute to individual and collective expression, social empowerment, and the valuation of popular culture. In considering how frevo’s playful and carnivalesque nature combines with its improvisational techniques, Spanos uses the term “carnivalesque improvisation” to describe how dancers use improvisational strategies to communicate cultural knowledge, to challenge sociocultural boundaries and socioeconomically determined attitudes, and to work through and around the unpredictability and frequent violence of Carnival and Recife’s society at large.

Bio: Kathleen A. Spanos, Ph.D. specializes in studies of dance and festival in Brazil, the Eastern Caribbean, and Ireland, and she is interested in examining kinesthetic strategies involved in “dances of resistance” from cultures around the world. Her doctoral dissertation from the University of Maryland, College Park examined masquerades and carnival culture on the island of Montserrat and she received her Master’s in Traditional Irish Dance Performance from the University of Limerick. (