Bale de Rua, Peacock Theatre, London<br/>Rotor, Siobhan Davies Studios, London

Brazil's dark past is worth making a song and dance about
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The Independent Culture

Perhaps it comes from living in a country that straddles the equator, but Brazilians don't seem to see the need to warm up an audience – they just turn the heat full on.

Bale de Rua is a dance show that sets out to present a short history of Brazil, or rather, a short history of the African races now living in Brazil. Three centuries of slavery, poverty and struggle doesn't sound like anything to sing and dance about. But this is also a story of resilience, and there's no doubting the fighting spirit of the show's 14 strapping male dancer-percussionists, its lone, feisty female dancer, and singer Adriana Regina Francisco, who switches her power-delivery from pop ballad to football chant to "Ave Maria" with the ease of a TV remote.

It's clear that Bale de Rua, which in its native city of Uberlandia is not just a show, but also a state-supported social project (its performers all started out on the street), isn't used to dealing with British reserve. Behind the big stage smiles you can detect bewilderment verging on panic as the Peacock audience dismally failed to take part in a call-and-response, or even to clap along reliably.

On a set built to look like a sports stadium, white-suited, bare-chested dancers (left) display street-honed skills laced with jacket-shrugging, knee-waggling and other stylish tics. One man proves to be a champion moonwalker. Others break and pop and spin on their shoulders. Stripped to tiny black trunks, all are expert in capoeira.

Less comfortable are scenes invoking religious faith. A celebration of the Virgin Mary oddly puts the men in women's dresses to stamp ecstatically to a steel band arrangement of Gounod's "Ave Maria". Later they enact a congado, the annual singing, drumming procession for Our Lady of the Rosary, the help of escaped slaves. Here, though, the veiled votary statue turns out to be a man, spinning on his head. More disturbing still is a sequence in which a figure known as Preto Velho, the ghost of a maltreated slave, works himself into a terrified trance. For all the energy brought to this hybrid show, its dark undertow is what sticks.

Quite the reverse experience is to be had at the latest Siobhan Davies project. You go expecting something cerebral. You end up, well, if not having a ball, then most thoughtfully entertained. Having built her own handsome studio space in south London, the choreographer has used it not just to create and show her work, but also to orchestrate conversations with other artists, from potters to poets.

At the hub of Rotor is a piece by Davies based on a line of dancers perambulating round a central spot, like the hand of a clock. The monotony is broken only when they introduce disturbances which create kinks, dodges and swirls. It's a bracingly simple idea, mesmerising to watch, and it's crucial to see it before other works in the gallery. This way you understand the point of reference of, say, engineer Ben Tyers's silver sculpture which turns on its plinth to appear magically liquid, or Clare Twomey's tableful of unglazed pots, silently weeping in a slow collapse as they struggle to contain the water that's poured into them – a startling metaphor for the cycle of life.

'Bale de Rua' : (0844 412 4322) to 20 Nov. 'Rotor': (08444 771 000) to 14 Nov

Next Week:

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