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If there's one thing the high-energy performance by Afro-Brazilian dance and drum company Samba Fogo teaches you, it's that you don't have to be Afro-Brazilian to enjoy, or perform, in this company.

Samba Fogo is a glimpse into a culture and arts organization that has been cultivated in Salt Lake City through the vigor and charisma of its directors, dancer Lorin Hansen and her husband and musical director Mason Aeschbacher.

On Thursday's opening night, the "Pegando Fogo (Catching Fire)" program balanced traditional music, dance, and language with showmanship and contemporary adaptations. Translating experiential forms to a proscenium stage can be tricky, but the production was professional with smooth transitions and the entertainment never lapsed.

I felt like a student participating in a joyous classroom, where the curriculum was the variety of dance and drumming styles that fit into the broader category of Afro-Brazilian — with extra-credit for participation in community building.

The overall performance approach lends itself to featuring guest artists such as Bronwen Beecher, whose stage name is The Fiddle Preacher. The improvisation between musicians and performers was successful overall, while Aeschbacher is a charming and relaxed leader who keeps it all under control.

Guest artists and capoeira master teacher Mestrando Jamaika (Mauro Romualdo) is a local legend to those who study the blend of martial art and movement. His performance was similar to a competition, with participants moving in and out of a circle to challenge and show respect for one another's level of ability.

The fire dancing and other choreography by Hansen highlighted her magnetic personality and skill as a performer — as well as her ability as a director. Effective transitions, building simple movement phrases into an interesting arc, and weaving group pieces with solos is a large part of what makes for a successful program.

The weakest point of the program was the ending, which felt like a protracted 10-minute bow, couched in a carnival parade promenade. In stark contrast to the rest of the program, it felt tentative and unchoreographed. It could easily be cut, leaving the performance closer to an hour, which is closer to the amount of material the company has to offer.

Overall, "Pegando Fogo (Catching Fire)," is a wonderfully exciting performance, and serves as a reminder that Salt Lake City's free Living Traditions Festival is just around the corner, on May 18, 19 and 20., —

Dancing with fire

With "Pegando Fogo (Catching Fire)," the fun, high-energy performance may make you want to join the Afro-Brazilian dance and drum company.

When • Reviewed Thursday, May 3; continues Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Jeanne Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

Running time • Ninety minutes with a 10-minute intermission

Tickets • $15-$20 at, ArtTix locations or 801-355-ARTS.

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