10 Minutes With Choreographer Sonia Destri Lie
Sonia Destri Lie has placed her bets on dancers from an unlikely place: the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Destri's artful choreography allows the dancers of her Companhia Urbana de Dança to speak their truth about the experience of being black and poor in a country where race and class rule. At turns raw, fluid and well crafted, her work is about the lived experience of her dancers. This month Destri will present ID: Entidades and Na Pista at White Bird in Portland, Oregon, and BlackRock Center for the Arts in Maryland.
Before Companhia Urbana de Dança, you worked in ballet and contemporary dance. How did you become immersed in hip hop?
When I left Brazil we didn't have hip hop or urban dance. I met Marvin A. Smith, an American teacher and choreographer, in Germany. Every time I passed his studio it was a lot of happiness. One day he invited me to take his class. Oh my god, heaven! No tension in my body.
How do you describe the form of hip hop you are doing?
When I started with the CUD dancers I was very "Marvin." The guys had their own vocabulary that they copied from television; they knew some tricks, they knew how to move. We're talking about many years ago: Michael Jackson, "Soul Train," Backstreet Boys. I started bringing American people to teach them the real thing. For a few movements we knew we were as good as the Americans. For others we decided to take that part of the movement and work on it and sign our name at the end. We stopped fighting and trying to be something we are not, or to dance a dance that doesn't belong to us.
What kind of training do you offer your dancers?
They do what we call an "army cross-fit class." It's a session with stretching and abdominals, and we mix breakdance, capoeira and contemporary dance. Once a week they run on the beach. I also decided to start giving dance class again. I begin it with hip-hop diagonals and we end with ballet.
Sonia Destri Lie. Photo by Stephanie Scherpf
Can you describe your process of creating new works with the company?
Normally I have the idea and say, "I'm thinking about this. What do you think?" I give exercises, sometimes I bring books, sometimes I ask them to write things, and I change the text and they read to each other. Sometimes I ask them to create choreography to the lines that they just read.
What does it mean to you that you are from Brazil's upper middle class and that you work with dancers from the favelas?
This company changed my life. I had no idea about the pain of so many people. You see people dying everywhere here in Rio. So it's not just about dance. The company is a place where they can have a voice. The American people have the expression, "To use my white privilege to change things." That is what I do. I never thought that to be white would be something good.
What is your vision for the company in 20 years?
I want to get our own space and the sponsors we need. I want my dancers to be running their own young company. The guys are going to keep doing the repertoire, learning, traveling, and I'm going to be here to help. We're going to have two dance companies, one that belongs to the guys. It's going to be an intense 20 years. I don't want the feeling that I wasted my time.
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: