In parts of Venezuela, the religious Feast of Corpus Christi is also a feast for the eyes and ears. On this day, descendants of African slaves dress in blindingly colorful costumes and masks and dance for 12 hours straight.
Accompanied by a cuatro volteado (a four-stringed guitar strung upside down), maracas, and cencerros (cowbells) hung from the waist of the dancers' clothing, the Diablos Danzantes de Turiamo performed the centuries-old ceremony at Bolivarian Hall in Washington Thursday night.
The hour-long spectacle, part of the Venezuelan Sounds 2004 series, provided a good sampling of the ritual dances.
Though the cuatro part consisted of just a handful of chords in a simple rhythm and the performance space was limited, the whirling capes and sheer intensity of the five dancers provided plenty of variety to hold one's attention. As the dancers moved toward and away from the white-veiled altar, the intricate steps included tracing the symbol of the cross with their feet.
Although each dancer depicts the Devil, every facet of the display is intended to scare him away: the dizzying prints and colors of the capes, shirts, knickers and Day-Glo socks, the fierce masks, the clanging cowbells and rattling maracas, and the small whips.
The origins of Diablos Danzantes are rooted in Venezuela's colonial times, when slaves incorporated their homeland culture into the Spaniards' Catholic rites. The priests allowed this reinterpretation, though the dancers adopted the colorful masks so the Spaniards could not identify them.
-- Gail Wein