Balé de Rua, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh<br/>Holdin' Fast, Zoo Southside, Edinburgh<br/>The Weepers, The Zoo, Edinburgh

Three hundred years of Brazilian history are transformed into a display of testosterone-soaked glee
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The Independent Culture

With a testosterone-soaked evening of capoeira, hip-hop and percussion, Brazil's Balé de Rua is the obvious breakout act from this year's Fringe – the dance group most likely to be coming soon to a theatre near you. The show starts innocently enough. The 15 men and sole woman appear in crisp white suits and sharp-brimmed hats, rolling their heads and hips while beating out a samba rhythm.

This, however, is the costume of the Brazilian folk hero, Malandro – a mythical hustler who combines elements of Robin Hood, Fred Astaire and Mack the Knife, and the first faint sign that Balé de Rua is not quite the straightforward carnival it seems. The fine tailoring lasts only a couple of songs. Soon the cast reappears as agued, bent old figures with what appear to be shawls pulled up over their heads, until they let them fall, revealing them as light summer dresses – the perfect uniform for a bunch of muscular black men to do a hand-clapping stomp to a steel band "Ave Maria".

They may wear a grin on their faces, but they come from a place where Catholicism meets the gods of Africa, and where people routinely surrender their bodies to other, more powerful forces. The most astonishing thing about this show is not the athleticism or the musicality, but just how deep underground are the currents flowing through it. What Balé de Rua aim to do, with reasonable success, is make a feelgood, foot-tapping evening out of the darkest elements of Brazilian history.

If human trafficking, torture and race discrimination can't get you dancing in the aisles, then maybe possession cults, black magic and Preto Velho, the dead slave whose spirit presides over the evening, can. Stripped down to skintight black underwear, the dancers stagger, draped in chains, or crawl into metal basins, offering themselves as meals or sacrifices. Paint is daubed or spat on them to make brightly coloured bruises. And in between they spin on their heads, pop their limbs, moon-walk, orbit each other in the balletic mock-fights of capoeira, and urge the audience into clap-alongs.

Not all of it works. There is too much repetition, and the tight, martial formations sometimes look like a revivalist meeting of the backing dancers from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation. On the whole, though, who would have thought that 300 years of suffering, intolerance and superstition could be made to feel like such a knees-up?

A good rule of thumb at this year's Fringe was that the further an act had travelled, the more unashamedly entertaining it was likely to be. From Balé de Rua to the Ladyboys of Bangkok to Children of the Khmer, performers who were far from home had a good time and shared it with their audiences. Anyone who had just trundled up the A1, on the other hand, seemed compelled to share harrowing visions of deprivation and societal collapse.

There was a strong Czech presence in Edinburgh, which was about as gleeful as you'd expect from a country just an easyJet ticket away. Dot 504's choreographers Josef Frucek and Linda Kapatanea performed with Wim Wandekeybus's Ultima Vez, a pedigree that proves all too defining in their piece Holdin' Fast, where Wandekeybus traits abound. There is erudition-as-disorienting-device, when a dancer races through a lecture about "primitive functions in an interval", while two others fill a blackboard with formulae and three more grope each other. There are full-torso collisions, sleepily erotic floorwork and a trademark hint of cannibalism – especially ironic in the circumstances.

The same elastically confrontational kind of movement crops up in The Weepers, by Prague-based Skutr, but better paced and to more concentrated effect. Set to traditional Slavic mourning songs, The Weepers builds tiny interactions between its three men and three women into flurries of emotional sparring that leave shadows in the air long after they are over. On this evidence Czech dance could use some dissenting voices, but seems justifiably confident in itself.



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