Brazil: From Samba to Ballet to Hip Hop
By Wendy Perron
My whirlwind, three-city tour of Brazil started with Samba and ended with a very cool improvisation group. In between were hip hop, Balanchine, dancing in the streets, and Amazon-inspired rituals. Oh, and a funding inequity between a new ballet company and other groups that has many dance people seething with resentment (more on that later).
My guide was the intrepid Holly Cavrell, former Martha Graham dancer who teaches at the University of Campinas and has written for Dance Magazine. She and her colleagues brought me into dance studios, each an enchanted world that reflected the sheer ingenuity of finding a space and infusing it with a vibrant sense of craft. And just as graffiti and artistic murals are blended together all over Brazil, so too vernacular dance seeps into concert dance.
First stop: Rio de Janeiro
Choreographer Andrea Jabor shares an inter-disciplinary space with four other artists, including a fashion designer. We walked up a narrow stairway to a tiny studio, where beautiful objects and garments were all over the place. Jabor’s current women dancers have an earthy, playful appeal and look like they were born doing Samba—and that’s how she used them. The one man present did a Samba tap dance—I had no idea such a thing existed. Very elegant and delicate on the balls of the feet.
Later that day we saw a real, pre-Carnaval Samba show in Padre Miguel favela (favelas are like shanties, usually studding the hillsides). Hundreds of people were packed like sardines in the large, open-ended quadra. To our left a bateria of about 150 percussionists stoked everybody into a fevered dance state. On a balcony above us were a few string players, singers, and the announcer. To our right, fireworks just outside the quadra competed with the bateria. And in the center, group after group of outrageously costumed performers paraded. Most of the pageantry, from an adorable 9-year-old girl samba-ing like crazy, to the Las Vegas–type show girls in g-strings and elaborate headgear, flaunted their wares in green and yellow, the colors of the Mocidade Samba school—one of the more traditional ones in Rio.
The most moving part, however, came at the beginning, when scores of grandmas formed a single line circle, each one shuffling along in her own remembered Samba. (They’re called the Velha Guardia, the old guardians.) They’ve lived the Samba every year. It’s in their bodies, and the bateria brings it out.
Next morning we drove to the base of the Maré favela (population about 132,000) and entered a vast, gutted warehouse about a city block long. At the far end was a group of gorgeously diverse dancers looking like they were improvising on a Marley-type floor. In fact they were doing Lia Rodrigues’ precisely counted choreography for a new version of her Pororoca, which is the word for the aquatic turmoil that happens where the river meets the sea. In silence (with only counting) the 10 dancers swirled around each other, whipping, swatting, and leap-frogging. If you looked at the whole, you saw whirlpools of rushing water; if you looked at each dancer, you saw vivid personalities.
Lia Rodrigues' Pororoca, photo by Sammi Landweer, courtesy Rodrigues.
Behind the curtain at the left was an equally huge space with a dirt floor. Rodrigues, who has worked with Maguy Marin and continues to perform in France, plans to transform that half into a school for the community. This building is the first cultural center of the area. Like many of the choreographers I visited, Rodrigues believes in what she calls the “synergy between art and social process.”
Colker's Tatyana, photo by Leo Aversa, courtesy Colker.
For an entirely different experience, we visited the well established Deborah Colker Movement Center, a handsome building that contains six studios and offers classes from ballet to hip hop to Pilates. Colker was rehearsing for Tatyana, her take on the Onegin story, in a large studio with a huge “tree” sculpture by Gringo Cardia. Her highly trained dancers climbed on, and hung from, the tree sculpture. There were ingenious bits, for example a duel fought with poking canes and slamming fans. Like all of Colker's past big pieces, Tatyana will run nightly in Rio’s João Caetano Theater for two months this spring, and then it opens the Edinburgh festival in August. In the fall the company goes on a North American tour.
Next city: Campinas, about 60 miles northwest of São Paulo
The next morning I took Holly’s class at the University of Campinas (right), joining fresh-faced youngsters avid to learn, like any other dance department—except this is a free university where you have to audition to get in. With her long and varied experience as a dancer and teacher, Holly began the class in partners—with massage work (ahhh)—and ended with a dynamic, full-bodied phrase. After class I watched a few wonderful student pieces, some clever, some gutsy.
Then we drove to downtown Campinas to see a rehearsal of Holly’s own company, Dominio Publico (Public Domain), in, well, in public (left). Her four skilled dancers used touch, voice, humor and inexhaustible energy to give passersby a real experience. A random skateboarder whizzed through them, at first following but then leading them in circles. This all took place in a church plaza that also had a budding encampment of Occupy Wall Street in it. (Apparently at a later rehearsal, one of the occupiers joined in with the dancers.)
That night we went to a health club in Campinas to see a rehearsal of the hip hop group Eclipse. Popping, voguing, whacking, they plunged into partner work, flipping each other up high and landing with a thud. They don’t often get to rehearse with a matted floor, so they really went to town. A couple of the guys practiced gasp-worthy tricks, and all had great movement quality. The four women had spunk but, as with many hip hop groups, didn’t have the physical power that the men did. Eclipse sponsors an annual “Battle of the Year” in Campinas, where this year 27 groups came from all over South America. Eclipse also tours to hip hop festivals, including in Los Angeles.
The next morning I gave a lecture with DVDs on different approaches to contemporary dance. Not surprisingly the most lively response came when I showed Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas and then Beyoncé’s music video Countdown. YouTube is everywhere so these students knew all about that controversy about Beyoncé’s “sampling” of the choreography and look from de Keersmaeker’s film. It was good timing because Rosas was about to perform in São Paolo the following week.
That afternoon we took a long, getting-lost-often ride on a bumpy dirt road surrounded by beautiful hills and skinny cows. Finally we arrived at the home studio of Graziela Rodrigues, a faculty colleague of Holly’s at Unicamp who had spent much time in the Amazon. We saw three ritualistic solos for three different women, drawn from life in the Amazon as Graziela had observed it. In the first, a woman presses a baby doll to her bare breast to signify a woman’s attachment to a baby that has died. The second was about a woman laboring on a coffee plantation, to beautiful music by Hector Villa Lobos. The third was related to Candomblé, which came out of slave culture. Danced by Larissa Turtelli with powerful intensity and drama, the dance circles around a flame in the center of the space. She hissed, shimmied, and finally dampened the fires. Although Graziela has written that she’s interested in “marginal bodies,” she relied on the dancers’ body to tell their stories.
Third city: São Paulo
On our first night in the largest city in South America, we went to Teatro Sérgio Cardosa to see São Paulo Companhia de Dança, a new ballet company. Considering the group is only three years old and doesn’t have a school, I was surprised at how good the dancers were and how interesting the rep was: Balanchine, Nacho Duato, and Marco Goecke. (Here’s my review). Ask anyone in the São Paulo dance community how this was accomplished and they will tell you: money. Someone in the ministry of culture wanted São Paulo to have its own ballet company modeled after The Royal Ballet. (The city of Rio has had a ballet company for many decades.) According to Dr. Helena Katz, the most prominent dance writer in São Paulo, three years ago this company was granted 15 million reais (about 8 million U.S. dollars), leaving only 2 million reais (about 1.1 million dollars) for all other dance groups in the state of São Paulo. Naturally, there was plenty of grumbling, and the most recent grants have been less polarizing. Still, this young ballet company has resources that smaller groups can’t even dream of. Many of the artists I visited were on the edge of survival.
We entered a enchanted world when we dropped by the Cia Soma, the home of the traditions of Antonio Nóbrega, a legendary performer who combines circus, music, dance, and puppetry of Brazilian culture. Covering every inch of the walls were photos of Nóbrega and other traditional Brazilian performers, plus swatches of lace in framed collages, miniature panoramas in boxes (à la Joseph Cornell), and ancient woodcuts. This is part of a 20-year-old heritage project that strives to recapture the traditions of Brazilian folk theater. The puppet wagon, stage curtains, and costumes are hand-stitched from colorful old fabrics. It was moving to see two young women carry on the traditions. A class of young children watched their puppet antics and Loie Fuller–like skirt dance with delight. Afterward one of the women showed me a bit of the Brazilian folk dance frevo, with steps named after everyday items like scissors and screw.
Perhaps the most enthralling dancing came from Morena Nascimento, who has worked with Pina Bausch. She rehearsed at the charming Cineclube Crisantempo, a small theater with adjoining a café and large dance studio upstairs (where we saw Zelia Monteiro give a somatic-influenced ballet class). A gorgeous mover, Morena devised a partnership with pianist Benjamin Taubkin, in which they, at times, sit back-to-back on the piano bench. Her sensuous, gestural movements were captivating. At one point she crawled under the piano while Benjamin continued to play. When she resumed dancing, it was with a sharper rhythm and attack from both of them. The piece ends with a black-and-while film of the two of them just talking about their work. I think her aim was to create a dialogue between music and dance, but the most stunning aspect was her dancing.
Morena Nascimento with pianist Benjamin Taubkin.
Our final destination was a garage studio shared by Diogo Granato and Nova Dança. You walk though an alley to get to the studio. At the far end is glass instead of a wall, through which you can see a garden, and beyond that a little yoga studio. Diogo, who has danced with Nova Dança for 15 years, branched out with his own group, Silensiosas + GT’aime, which has performed in subways, streets, and airports. This night the improvisation with five dancers and three musicians was so subtle, so daring, so in tune with each other that it struck me as the best group improvisation I’ve seen since the legendary Grand Union in the early 1970s. Their movement was sprinkled with contact improv, clowning techniques, samba, and parkour. Turns out they’ve done workshops with Steve Paxton, Lisa Nelson, and Nancy Stark Smith. No wonder the contact was so fearless and the group awareness so sophisticated! And when Diogo engaged us in “audience participation,” I confess I couldn’t resist and joined in—rather recklessly, I’m afraid.
Silensiosas + GT'aime, photo by Haroldo Saboia, courtesy Silensiosas.
My pal and guide, Holly Cavrell, grew up in NYC but has been teaching in Brazil for 22 years. She’s a pillar of the dance community there. What she arranged for me to see was just a sliver of the dance in Brazil (and there was even more to our week-long adventure that I couldn’t fit in here). This blog is sort of a continuation of the chock-full article that Holly wrote on Brazil for Dance Magazine five years ago.
Like the colorful tile mosaics all over Brazil, Holly created for me a mosaic of current Brazilian dance.
Online video game Fortnite is involved in serious controversy over its "emotes" dance feature. Even if you're not a gamer, this is a case choreographers should keep close tabs on. Here's why.
Let us quickly introduce you to Fortnite Battle Royale: The video game sprung up in September 2017 and has grown to insane levels of popularity. It's free to play and features 100 users duking it out to be the last person standing. But here's the catch: If you want to get ahead, you have to make in-game purchases, trading real money for V-Bucks, which you use to redeem things like weapons.
So what's it got to do with dance? A whole lot. One of Fortnite's most popular—and lucrative—features is its emotes, animated dances that users can purchase to perform on the battlefield. Many are taken directly from pop culture, and Fortnite's developer, Epic Games, is in the midst of a heated lawsuit regarding its Swipe It emote. After much public debate, rapper 2 Milly filed a suit last week claiming that Epic Games stole—and is now largely profiting from—the Milly Rock, a dance move he created and popularized, without his permission. Take a look:
It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.
Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
I've been a fan of Jordan Isadore's for about a decade. His gorgeous, spine-contorting renditions of Christopher Williams' repertory are legendary, and for many years I had the privilege of making dances with him and producing his works through DanceNOW[NYC].
Over the last year or so, as he began winding down his performance career, Isadore began making odd, phenomenal objects: dribs of Labanotation scores rendered as hung mobiles, gorgeously crafted in stained glass and metal. The designs are stunning, imbued simultaneously with a hipster-nonsense contemporaneousness and reverence for dance history.
I spoke with Isadore about his retirement from the stage, and transition to crafting full time.
There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.
Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.
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Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
If the news about the upcoming CATS movie has your head spinning, we're right there with you. It seems like every week we have a bit more to share about the new film adaptation, which is set to release in December 2019. So, in order to keep it all straight, we present you with our master list of everything we know—our version of "The Naming of Cats," if you will. We'll add updates as they emerge.
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks: