In this article, Alice Ripoll talks about her work, what it means to create art in Brazil, the role of the director and the creation of the performance CRIA.
Every single day I think about giving up. Thinking the group is done, that this is its last day. It seems that after the Covid pandemic, what was already complicated became even more precarious. All groups have problems, but it is difficult for a European artist to fully grasp what it means to make art in Brazil. Even more if it is dance, all the more if it is with a group of dancers who invented a dance that was born marginalized in Rio’s favelas. Favelas suffer from the abandonment of the State, from the absence of public policies and large unemployment. The population is regularly oppressed by the police and frequently endangered by wars of rival criminal gangs, drug-trafficking factions that wield a great armed power in areas where the State does not enter. This story could be just a sad one, but from these marginalized territories emerges a fantastic artistic potency and various technologies of coexistence, sharing and creativity. It’s just that today was a difficult day.
The most common problems faced by the dancers in my group are: not being able to leave their houses due to intense shooting, lack of money to live and to get to rehearsal, in addition to the problems that those who have lived with precariousness throughout their lives have. Stigma is a heavy burden. Once, two young black dancers from the group were late for rehearsal and ran out of the bus – it was enough to be stopped and searched by the police. Young black men running are potential suspected offenders. So, how to start a rehearsal after that? How to create in a void, without structure, without sponsorship? Without discipline, without punctuality, often, without dancers?
Even so, we created the show CRIA, a performance that is making the World stages and will be presented at Black Box teater, in Oslo, in 2022. This text could have started with more joy, it would have, certainly, if it had been one of those incredible days we live in the creation process, where nothing shook us or took away our desire. But today, there were few people attending the rehearsal, so today I want to give up, disappear, change my profession. Tomorrow will be another day.
And then, out of the blue, something is reborn, a spark of joy, of desire, the wonderful smell of Earth magma that arises from the sweaty bodies moving to resist destruction. We will not give up! It’s always like this...
The beginning of the Suave group, which I direct, was an epiphany, a moment of great expansion in the lives of all of us. As Alan says – assistant director who during the group’s first show became my boyfriend, and during the second, my son’s father – “it was not a normal encounter, something extraordinary happened there”. It was 2014, I had just directed a solo of a dancer in Rio, I was following with my other older group, REC (which was going through a certain crisis of how to carry on), when I was invited by Festival Panorama to participate in the Entrando na Dança (Joining the Dance).
In this project, three contemporary dance choreographers should each create a work, with dancers selected on an audition: a piece where contemporary dance would dialogue with some dance styles practiced on the outskirts of Rio. The works would be presented in cultural centers also on the periphery of the city. I chose passinho, an urban dance movement that had just been born in the favelas of Rio. It was three months of intense encounter, in which I transmitted the basis of the language research that I had been developing in dance, while seeking to establish a space open to improvisation and exchange, a place where dancers could express themselves freely through movement. But what happened in that meeting was also about passion. After the creation of Suave (meaning “Smooth”), a show resulting from this process and which later gave the group its name, we were so happy that we could only continue and create the second show, CRIA.
Here is where I find the hook to talk about directing. After all, this is the activity to which I dedicate myself, it’s what I can talk about. The hook is: for me to direct an artistic work, I need to be passionate about the performers. For all, for some, or for each one at a time…
What does the director do if not to represent, as an actor, the role of the audience? The director embodies a fusion between creator and spectator simultaneously. Insofar as she invents, she must be convinced of her own invention, and be honest enough to, when watching, be able to say to the director (in this case, herself): “this is shit”. The performer, the creature, the object, must be convinced by the director to personify a dream, a daydream, an image; embrace it and defend it to the point of convincing the inventor of her invention.
The moment when a dancer tries to give life to an image that emerged in the darkness of my thoughts has an eroticism and a denudation like two naked bodies having sex. As a director, I must expose myself, sometimes presenting idiotic, surreal, impossible, ridiculous ideas, and if I am not welcomed in this fragile state, it can be fatal. The dancer has the hard work of embodying a character born in the night of someone else’s dream. He must throw himself into an incomprehensible abyss of connections from an unconsciousness that is not his own, and therefore he will not understand rationally while he experiences and gives form to a life that does not yet exist concretely, creating meaning without understanding. In this abyss, the affliction of the blind flight blends together with a pleasurable wandering as I lead him carefully through the freedom of chaos.
Dance does not have lines (or when it does, it is often born from movement, and not from a narrative), so in the communication between the director and the dancer it is necessary to invent metaphors, words, sounds... and the images that I bring to the performers are almost always under construction, unfinished, blurred, to be completed in the encounter. The process resembles a sexual relationship where, in order to reach the peak, at a given moment, each body becomes the object of pleasure of the other, at the service of the other’s pleasure. At this moment, it is needed to “objectify” the partner and “use” him/her to reach orgasm.
The dancer donates his body and his spirit to the materialization of an impulse given by the director, whereas, while dancing, he uses someone else’s dream to move, and also to express himself (here “to express” takes on the character of an intransitive verb, as an “expressive state”. Or even: distinct ideas or sensations – sometimes even opposing – of director and performer may be expressed at the same time in a scene/movement, to which a third, or many, are added: the audience’s perceptions!). There are also moments where the movement is made in such a connection between dancer and director that, as a silent exchange of secrets, at each step the eye that observes creates – together with the dancing body – the next movement.
To be an Eye
In all cases, but even more so when the director has not brought any previously conceived scene ideas, one must have the position of a creating eye. That is, in the condition of being the one who watches the dancer improvise, there is no passivity. At the moment of the observation there is no chronological timeline: a first moment when the dancer moves and the eye sees, a second moment with feedback from the choreographer, and a third moment when the movement will be perfected and modified. This is not how it works.
The active eye, which has compassion now with the denuding that was (or will be) her own, welcomes, accompanies every hesitation, leads gently to a truthful direction, suffers with each state of presence that is lost, offers calm and support, and vibrates with every spark that is lit, when we all are still rocks in friction. Sometimes you have to turn your face away in disguise when the denuding is more than bearable. At other times, you see everything as through a lens that magnifies a thousand times. Sometimes it is necessary to unfocus in order to see better, but try for a single moment to be a passive eye that waits for the work to be done by the other, try to abandon him, and you will throw your dancer into the ditch of commonplace, of vanity, of boredom, of emptiness. The more confidence the performer has in the one who is watching him, the more he will give himself completely and try to do his best, because the eye there is the world, society, all the spectators who will come.
What does the Eye hear?
I like to think that, in the scene, the truth would be in the just expression. I ask myself what turns a movement, a situation and a performer into an expressive one, and I keep sniffing the answer like a mad dog, not knowing if it will come, but normally, yes, the “truth” comes, and then I have something to show. In this sense, I believe that this work of creating conditions, waiting, and then catching the fish, has much to do with the listening process in a psychoanalysis clinic (of course, with numerous and due differences in relation to objectives, methods etc.). You must listen a lot and know how to pounce. And in my case, as I work with human beings who have a lot to say, I listen.
What do I choose? Although the cutout is a directive attitude (“do this”, “repeat that”, “this will enter the work”), for me it presents itself as a collective imperative, which is not mine, without a subject who has declared it. They are expressive forces that impose themselves, in an undeniable statute of reality (I would never ask you to do that, you wanted to do it!). They are urgent truths, exclamations, and the moment I hear them, I cannot deny them. Here the director’s vanity has no space: the process has its own voice. What imposes itself with expressiveness is true and puts the performer in the JUST place, in the best place where he could be, even if it is not necessarily pleasant or beautiful.
With extreme poetic freedom, I like to relate this idea to Plato’s theory of the search for the concept of justice, represented in the allegory of the chariot. Each man would possess three fundamental characteristics, but each develops one aspect of his soul further than the others. Those gifted with “Appetites” are linked to the earth, nature, touch, senses and manual work. In those where the “Spirit” prevails, anger, pride, courage and impetus stand out; they are the warriors. And men linked to “Reason” think and command, exercising political functions. But the part that reminds me, in a light joke, of this way of directing, is the Platonic conclusion that if the city has a place for each soul to fit in, the soul will not feel wronged, the soul will find itself, and thus will feel just. The just city is one that offers conditions and roles for each soul to adjust to.
It is only worth showing something or someone on stage if they are more alive there, with their existence condensed or dilated. Sometimes you have to unmask a dancer. Not in a cruel sense, on the contrary. The process of searching for this expression happening in loco is of a beauty that improves all present, the dancer and the audience who identify with the work of humanizing themselves. Love is another name for this. The director seeks and selects the best of that person and gives it as a gift to the public, to the world and to the artist himself.
In the Suave group’s first show, the passinho dancers were a bit sexist. But I sensed that the dancer Vinícius wanted to do a choreography by Beyoncé. His eyes sparkled when the topic came up. I couldn’t hide from him that I knew he wanted and could do that dance, even though it was forbidden to him. I didn’t guess, I listened, he showed me subtly. Once knowing I had (obligation of those who know) to sustain his desire, and because it seemed as if it were the choreographer’s desire, he had to obey. We created the scene, which was included in the show, in a duet with a trans dancer. Vinícius’s desire even helped the ballerina – she made so much use of the Beyoncé universe, patterned after a ready-made trans/gay aesthetic, that her dance was a bit cliché, and sharing the scene with Vinícius put her in a different place. Facing impediments to approaching the truth, Vinícius permeated the scene of justice and desire. After sustaining this shock, Vinícius stopped dancing and went to serve in the army, but fortunately after I rescued him, he returned to the group and dances until today.
In improvisations it is easier to imagine the temporality that accompanies the cutout (even if an active eye works simultaneously with the scene), because it is after the improvisation that the cutout – or the communication of the cutout to the dancer – takes place. But often, what I ask a dancer to do was not created in improvisation, it appeared to me as if an angel had blown it into my ear, in those moments between dreaming and vigil. That which visits me as an image of something and I wish to see the dancer doing, appear because it is already part of the dancer, even though completed by my desire. Therefore, I will never ask for something that he cannot do, because that was already there contained in him, even if hidden, even if he thinks he cannot do it. If he really can’t, something is not right in the relationship…
Once, watching Vinícius move, I let my vision blur and he turned into a crow. His body is a little curved and shortened, his face is thin and pointed, his arms don’t fully extend as wings, he is small, light and yet very strong, and I saw him easily balanced with his claws on a branch. From this vision, I created a scene where he balances himself in several positions on top of a dancer, who does the porteau.
Another indicator of something being wrong is when the dancer perceives that part of my job is to create a city where his soul fits, and comes to believe that this is settled, and that his universe doesn’t have to be constantly expanding. (For example, in the case of Vinícius, even though part of the image came from the limitations of his movement, he must continue to seek to expand his bodily possibilities so that the images do not run out, and on the contrary, expand, as I must follow expanding my possibilities of dreaming and associating). We are always changing, even not changing is a change because the world shifts beneath our body. In addition, this encounter between the subject and a “character” must always be nourished so that it remains expressive, and then we run into limitations of the process such as the numerous presentations with a scheduled date... It is difficult for certain people in the team to understand why I always make adjustments in the pieces before a new season, or even during one.
The CRIA show
The word cria in Portuguese means small child or puppy. It is also a conjugation of the verb to create, and also a slang used in the favelas of Rio that designates someone born and raised in that place, therefore inspiring respect. At the time of the creation of the show, I had just had my son and I was very wrapped around the possible parallels between creating a life and a work of art. The passinho dance itself has always reminded me of a newborn calf which, despite being clumsy, struggles to take its first steps and to live. A sapling.
Being pregnant for the first time, I was struck by how easily I used to put myself in a state of improvisation, as if the body in a state of gestation found comfort in the state of creation. I think that to dance, or to create, it is necessary to become a bit of a child. It’s not about visiting your childhood, but putting up with error and meaninglessness in a better way than grownups do, and playing. Some friends distanced themselves from us when we had a baby, and it seems to me that this is because it is inevitable that you visit your own childhood in front of a child. These people would hardly be friends of artists for long.
The passinho and the funk dance are extremely sensual and youthful in treating sex as a joke, as a game. The movement of the pelvis can refer to the sexual act, which is also a generator of life. In our group there are many male dancers. Some were not raised by their fathers, and even lost them in violence events, but wanted early to be parents and raise their own children. If the world today practices some feminism through denunciation movements, I realized that boys wanting to be fathers different from their own seemed to point out a path to me, where those who have not learned how, but who face taking care of their own daughter’s corporally, will never be violent men. CRIA comes with men and women fighting a destiny of violence and death through dance, becoming parents and children in a dance illuminated by the urgency of desire, freedom, birth and accident.
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