60 drummers. 40 dancers. One night.
The country’s largest samba performance group will be at Austin’s ZACH Theatre April 21 for two shows only. A Night in Rio is going to be electrifying, with more than 80 Austin Samba performers using Brazilian drum and dance to explore the culture of the world’s most famous Carnaval celebration in Rio de Janeiro. Audiences will be invited to join the traditional samba school the night before Carnaval as its performers move among the streets of Rio. They finally arrive at the Sambódromo, Rio’s renowned avenue where the city’s enormous parades take place, to give it all they’ve got during the giant celebration.
We got a fun insider’s sneak peek of A Night in Rio from Austin Samba’s director, Lee Clippard.
Why should Central Texans see A Night in Rio?
In just more than an hour, audiences will get a whirlwind and breathtaking view of the month or so leading up to Carnaval without having to leave their seats. (Actually, we hope people will get up from their seats and dance with us.) They’ll experience music and dance from across Brazil. No plane tickets required. Everyone will leave with a smile on their faces and feet that want to samba. It doesn’t get better than that.
What’s been the most challenging part of bringing this show together?
Well, there are so many moving parts. We have 40 or so drummers and about 60 dancers. It’s been a fabulous challenge to create and write a show that both showcases everyone’s talent and remains as authentic as possible to the Rio Carnaval experience.
Why did you choose to set your annual musical production in Rio this year?
We are paying homage to our inspiration—the annual cycle of Carnaval in Rio. Our group is modeled after the traditional “escolas de samba” in Brazil, and we want to bring that experience to audiences in Austin. The month leading up to Carnaval is very intense with everyone preparing for the big parade, and we are compressing all of that activity into about an hour. Rio is a dynamic city with music being played in clubs and on streets from across the country, from samba reggae to baile funk, and we are representing as much of that as we can.
What inspires dancers and drummers to join Austin Samba?
They come from all walks of life and have an incredible diversity of experience, both in life and in drumming and dance experience. We welcome all people, from those who have never before picked up drumsticks to classically trained dancers and percussionists. I believe that all of us are drawn to Austin Samba by the joy of the music and the reward of learning something new. We stay for the community, and of course, because it is just too fun to play and dance samba. We become samba addicts.
Tell us more about your role as Austin Samba’s new director.
Austin Samba is filled with exceptional talent, and I love getting together almost every week of the year to play and dance with everyone. We work very hard each year to put on our big show, just like the samba schools in Rio, and it has been an honor to lead the group this year. Our founder and president, Jacaré Patterson, developed an incredible and unique community group through his leadership from 2001 through 2017. His shoes are big ones to fill.
All photography courtesy Austin Samba