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Rotting Roots

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

now the mud has settled..

On Hallowe’en night (October 31st), we debuted a new show called ‘Rotting Roots’. This show was a collaboration between Simeon Smith of Masamba and Brazilian choreographer Alessandra Azevedo.

The show was developed on the invitation of Dublin City Council and the North East Inner City, who proposed the idea of turning the new Royal Canal Greenway into a series of haunted houses and scary sites for Hallowe’en Night. The project was organised by a team of local arts activists, Brian treacy, Fionnuala Halpin and Masamba’s Simeon Smith. this team was tasked with curating the site, with the aim of providing an alternative to the clichéd Hallowe’en events that occur elsewhere throughout the city. Those events serve their purpose, and many of them are well organised, but there was a gap in the market for a more creatively orientated event, aimed at adults as well as older children. ‘Canalaphobia’ was born!

Masamba’s creative team met to discuss ideas, and it was decided early on to move away from traditional ‘samba’ themes, and also to avoid the rich traditions of Candomblé and Umbanda. Again, it was felt that these themes were too obvious, and also that it would be difficult to do them justice with such a short timeframe and a modest budget. Instead, a harder edged sound was adopted, including elements of the music of Sepultura, System of a Down, Evanescence and Pink Floyd. It might be hard to believe this, but Masamba’s music team of Simeon, Niall and Graham found this music ‘acceptable’ and were perhaps even a little enthusiastic about it. In fact, Graham and Niall both generated ambient/industrial pieces of music which we used under some of the live percussion playing.

The title ‘Rotting Roots’ emerged quickly, and represents both the concept of communicating with our ancestors in the spirit world, but is also a nod to the famous Sepultura album ‘Roots’.

In rehearsal for ‘Rotting Roots – Lucille Aires (L) and Allesandra Azavedo (R).

With the music sorted, it was on to a narrative. This was improvised in the studio by dancers Allesandra Azavedo and Lucille Aires. They freestyled dance moves to the soundtrack, and then edited the material with some input from Simeon. In this way, the narrative emerged organically as a response to the music, and current events in the world. There also remained an element of Hallowe’en/Samhain/All Souls Eve, so that the show would fit into the wider Canalaphobia vibe.

Synopsis of Rotting Roots

Coco is a recently-deceased arrival in the spirit world. She is lost, confused and afraid and shedoesn’t know the ropes. The two other characters are experienced spirits, who are trying to settle her and show her the way. If she goes with negative spirit, she will turn into an evil sprite, but if she finds kind guardians, she will be at peace in the spirit world. Until she finds her place,Coco will travel between the living world and the spirit world, and can never rest. She will be a ghost.


As the creative team discussed the emerging choreography, they found connections to some of the issues facing modern society. The theme of fitting in could refer to a young person finding their place in life. This could refer to a general development of the personality, but more specifically exploring gender identity. The narrative could also refer to an immigrant arriving in a new country, and trying to find out the customs and habits of their new environment.

The idea of three main protagonists might refer to a family unit, or it could refer to the three founding cultures of Afro Brasilian life – the Indigenous indians, Portuguese and African – three continents colliding. It could also refer to gender – male, female and those who identify outside or between those descriptions.

Completing the team

As some of the themes we explored were quite complex, and possibly controversial, we decided that we needed a way of contextualising the dance performance. This was also important as the audience would be moving through the marquee quite quickly, and might miss the nuances of the show as a result. Storyteller Osaro Azams was invited to generate a commentary on the action, which eventually morphed into a powerful beat poetry recitation, accompanying the action. This added another layer of drama to the whole event.

Also, with Hallowe’en in mind, we wondered if the show was scary enough. We knew it would definitely be unnerving, but were there actual scares? We asked long-time Masamba member and partner Ruth Ormiston to add one little twist in the tail, just to get the heartrates pounding. Needless to say, Ruth entered into the spirit of the event, and went all out to create mischief.


It was a challenge set up a show in a blank marquee in just 3 hours, but despite several technical glitches outside our control, the show was finally ready two minutes before the start time of 5.30pm, and ran without a pause for three hours. The performers quickly adapted to their roles, but also adapted the performances to suit the audience in the marquee at any given time. Some audiences were gently invited to join in with the dancers, while many more ran screaming from the site in sheer terror. Overall the feedback was highly positive, with some people visiting the show up the three times.

Lucille Aires performs ‘Rotting Roots’. Photo: Chris Schelly

‘Yes it was soggy and cold, but still a pleasure to listen to the vibrant performance by Masamba last weekend at canalphobia. I am sure it stirred the imagination and curiosity of many of the adults and children who watched and participated. Congratulations!’

We were also honoured by the presence of the Brazilian Ambassador to Ireland, Sen. Marçel Biato, and his entourage. Again, the feedback has been very positive, and the creative team are in discussion with the Embassy about continuing the partnership and developing another show in 2022.

One of the quieter moments, video courtesy of Robert Twamley.

…and after the show.

The rush to set up, coupled with three hours of performance in cold and wet conditions, took their toll, and the entire team was shattered by the time 8.30pm rolled around, and the last audience members filed out of the marquee. There were ways in which the show could be improved – of that there is no doubt. But, overall, the team was very happy with how Rotting Roots worked on the night, and as mentioned above, the audience feedback was very positive (once the screaming died down). The creative partnership worked extremely well, and there is definitely an enthusiasm for future collaborations between the artists involved.

Rotting Roots – Performers

Lucille Aires

Osaro Azams

Alessandra Azevedo

Graham Dunne

Niall Gregory

Yves Loham

Ruth Ormiston

Simeon Smith

Funders and Supporters

Dublin City Council

North East Inner City (NEIC)

NICE – North Inner City Entertainments

Amber Signs

Chains Ltd.

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