He is experienced, fearless, passionate, and possesses an adventurous and unbridled commitment to making a difference through the arts. In 2010, and presented by Kay & McLean Productions and Michael Coppel, he brings the fieriest Brazilian performers to Melbourne in Warriors of Brazil.

In the midst of an unconventional rehearsal schedule, Anna Lozynski interviewed creator and director, Toby Gough to find out more about the show which he describes as ‘100 percent authentic from the land’.

Toby GoughTell us what inspired you to make the martial art of Capoeira (kah-poh-ayr-ra), the subject and focus of a live stage show.
The focus of my partner’s (Hana AlHadad) PhD is how the process of performance can be used to resolve conflict. Her research was based in the communities where the drug lords rule.

I put a call out to the different social projects that work in the favelas, and along the journey met many remarkable people who had dedicated their lives to transforming their communities, through the arts. Workshops, conducted in the favelas, were designed to show people that the arts could offer a valid lifestyle and a better future than the cycle of drugs and violence. Initially, it was not my intention to use this material as a basis for a live stage show.

In the workshops, we performed stories, with music and dance, about life on the streets in Brazil today, and how Capoeira gives them their identity, roots, religion and links to the past. We were blown away, not by AK47´s, but by the talent, the energy, the passion, and the music. We then dreamed to take some of the team to Edinburgh, and the performance project began.

When the cast returned from Edinburgh Festival with multiple awards, the impact was stunning: the cast had become positive role models in a world which usually affords very little hope. The dream had come true.

How long have you been working on this concept, and what has been involved?
The concept has been evolving over the last two years. We have twice performed as part of the Edinburgh Festival. The show has gained respect amongst the Brazilian community, especially after it was filmed for Globo TV, the national TV station of Brazil. Subsequently, many of Brazil´s top musicians have contacted me to join the production. Some of the best musicians in the country are now on board, including Dede, who has played with Sergio Mendes and the Black Eyed Peas.

The cast has increased its professionalism, and are passionate about improving the show, competing with each other every night to be the best. The gravity defying feats get increasingly better. The more the audience screams, the higher the cast jumps.

How you have structured this performance to best evoke its content to the audience.
There is a spectacularly big blistering samba opening with Capoeira acrobatics inspired by the streets of Brazil today. Next, the audience meets the cast, introduced by one of the actors from the film, City of God who take us on a guided tour through the favelas, and a journey through the history of Brazil, its uprisings, rebellions, the birth of samba music, and how Capoeira reveals the secret to what makes the Brazilians the greatest soccer players in the world.

There is also processional drumming in the actual audience area so one can really feel the vibrations, and imagine that one is in a carnival in Bahia, the biggest party on the planet.

Which scene in the performance particularly resonates with you?
There is a moment before the riotous carnival ending (after the audience has been through the African rebellions, social uprisings, musical migrations, the rise of the favela gangs), when the beautiful Paloma tells the story of her life, and how it has been transformed by music. With her spectacular voice, she literally transports you during “Milagre de Povo” meaning the miracle of the people, accompanied simply by the moringo, and guitar. Knowing what she has been through, it truly is a miracle to see her on stage. It is also impressive when Ananias performs 38 flips in 30 seconds in one single breath. 

Which part of the show do the performers find most challenging?
Getting them off the stage when the audience is crying out for more, and keeping the girls and boys’ hands from the audience away from the performer’ six pack and eight pack abs!

In the lead up to the Australian tour, describe the rehearsal schedule?
We rehearse on the beaches of Bahia in Brazil to achieve an extra spring in our step, and in the samba bars at night, as the place heats up for carnival.

Unlike other Brazilian shows, in which the perfomers are from Europe or America, my cast are authentic. Twenty gorgeous performers from the streets of Brazil filled with heat, sweat, and passion.

What is your artistic mission?
I have several: To make a difference, to give people a voice, to tell important stories, to empower, to resolve and transform conflict, to celebrate and to give the audience the best night ever.

You are touted for travelling to Sarajevo during the war to direct an opera. Is there anything you would not do for art?
With every decision, I ask, whether the world would be a better place by doing it or not doing it. If I decide to do something, then it is all consuming: heart, body, soul, and all resources possible, despite the consequences, or the risks that need to be taken. Though, I wouldn't put anyone else in danger for art.

Warriors of BrazilWhen did you discover your sense of adventure could translate into your work as a director?
As a student teacher in Africa at 18, I wrote and adapted plays which we toured around the lakeside villages by boat and jeep. The British Council saw the educational value in many of these shows, and funded them to tour Africa and return to perform during the Edinburgh Festival. I was then invited to many different countries by international artists with whom I developed relationships. That was twenty years ago and I haven’t had a chance to sit down since.

Tell us one thing that people are often surprised to learn about you.
Only one? I never watch any of my shows and hardly ever go to the theatre. I never write scripts until after the first night. I don’t have a mobile or a home phone.

What is your greatest passion, professionally?
Throwing myself into the unknown.


Warriors of Brazil opens in Perth (January 8, 2010) and tours to Sydney (from Jan 19), Brisbane (from Jan 28), Melbourne (from Feb 2) and Adelaide (from Feb 9). Further information»

Top Right - Toby Gough
Bottom right - Warriors of Brazil. Photographer Andy Phillipson

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