A sell-out in Paris, a triumph in Edinburgh and a hit in London, the international blockbuster Balé de Rua is currently playing as part of the 2010 Sydney Festival before heading to Melbourne late January.

Australian Stage's Brad Syke speaks to Artistic Director Fernando Narduchi.

Balé de RuaBalé de Rua promises 'the colour of Carnivale', which sounds exotic. What can we expect?
The Carnival is just an image from Brasil, maybe the most known, but what we want to show is much more than this. As we say in the beginning of the show: “we want to talk about the Brasil we love”. Our first idea when we started to create this show was to talk about Balé de Rua history but as we started we realized that to talk about Balé de Rua is to talk about Brasil  since our work is mainly inspired by the Brazilian popular culture. All the company is formed by common people from the streets and what we take to stage is what we live in the day-by-day. To talk about Brasil is to talk about the black people and their huge contribution to the Brazilian culture – the music, the religion, the food, the joy of life, the faith. Brasil is a mixing pot of many influences and that´s what you can see in our show. But the most important is the message of optimism and joy of life which are the “trade mark” of our people even when we face troubles. The show is little bit of the Brazilian popular culture, it's roots and history.

What does Balé de Rua mean?
It's a long history. We started dancing “Street Dance”, it is style of dancing as the classical, modern, tap dance and etc. When we created the company in 1992 we decided to name it Balé de Rua because in those times the Ballet was considered as the top of all dances. The street dance was almost unknown and in those times we were still trying to conquer a space in the dance scenary. The academic dancers used to look at us and say that we didn't have technique once we never went to a formal dance school. Of course we were trying to show that we had a technique and it was not easy and we never accepted the idea to be a “minor dance”, we wanted to be respected as dancers as they were. So, when we choose the name “Balé de Rua” which means “Street Ballet” we wanted to say that our dance was so serious as the academic dances, that we dance balle but a balle from the streets. Today, after 17 years Balé de Rua became a dance style  and that´s what we wanted to do since the creation of the company, to develop our own way to make dance, to have an identity. This way when you say Balé de Rua you are speaking about our company in a very specific way. I hope I´m making myself clear because my English is not so good. This is the origin of the name of the company but for us, Balé de Rua is more than a dance company, it's a life ideal, it's our dream.

Is Balé de Rua, to Brazil, what, say, clowning or krumping is to Los Angeleans?
If you mean the street dance, yes. The street dance since the beginning in the USA was an expression of the black people, the outsiders from the gueto and so it always was and still is a kind of art extremely connected to cultural identity and social matters. In Brasil it was the same and still is. We must take care to generalize because the reality of Los Angeles is very different from ours in Brasil. We have some common points of course as the social exclusion but the history of the black people in USA is very different from ours. What I can say is that our dance is closely related to the life we live in the day by day, to our struggle to make a living and all the troubles we have to face to survive.

How ubiquitous is this hybrid performing art, on the streets?
The street dance and the Hip Hop as a huge cultural movement is very strong in Brasil and in Uberlândia. In the 90's we had many groups in the city, much more than today, but now we have many guys doing Hip Hop battles and rappers and graffiti artists in the city. The Hip Hop became global and it is almost in everywhere.

What has made Balé de Rua so successful, and so enthusiastically embraced, across cultures and countries? What's the secret ingredient?
I think it is our authenticity and originality. When we go to stage we go with heart and soul, we never pretend to be someone else but just ourselves. Besides we have a message of joy and hope, of love and celebration of life. We open the heart and give it all to the audience.

What inspired you to create this work, in the first place?
This show came up from an invitation we received from Pierre Morand and TS3 to create a show to tell Balé de Rua story. Pierre met us for the first time during the 10th Biennale de la Dance de Lyon in France. It was in 2002 and it was the first time we were travelling abroad. This festival was very important to us and opened doors to the company. After that Pierre started to invite us to present in Europe and he fell in love about our style, profile and history until one day he invited us to make a new creation. This way, to tell our history we picked some parts of other shows we have done and we created new parts. As I said before, after we started the creation the theme became wider and we realized we were talking about Brasil not only us. It's easy to understand since all the shows we already done was inspired in the life we have in Brasil as common people trying to survive as artists. We never choose an abstract theme, we always speak about the reality that surrounds us.

To what do you attribute the intensity this work has become known for?
I guess for the same reasons I said before: I think it is our authenticity and originality. When we go on stage we go with heart and soul, we never pretend to be someone else but just ourselves. Besides we have a message of joy and hope, of love and celebration of life. We open the heart and give it all to the audience.

Your choreographer & collaborator, Marco Antonio Garcia, is self-taught. What (if any) impact does that have on his motivations and methods? How is the work different (if at all) because of the lack of orthodoxy?
Marco Antônio is, in first place, one of the founders and director of the company. It was me, him and José Marciel who created the company and so we share the direction. I could say we are the spine of the company and we take all the decisions together and we learn from each other. Since the beginning Marco Antônio showed a great talent to choreograph. It came naturally and I think it's an advantage since we could develop a new style.  But it is not like magic, usually we take one year to make a new creation. There is a research period before we go to stage to create the movements. He doesn't have an orthodoxy information but he has a knowledge that comes form the day-by-day living and his experiences as a man. Information is every where if you have your eyes opened. In Brasil dance is part of our lives since we are born, we have a great heritage on dancing, not the formal one but the popular and folk ones. Dance in Brasil is in the streets, in the homes, is everywhere. He is a very open minded artist and he takes all the information he can. He likes to see any kind of dances and we talk a lot during the creation process. What is interesting about him is the fact that when he is creating he thinks about the light, set up and costumes at the same time. So, he can see in his head the whole scene not only the movements. That's how he works. He is very methodical and disciplined and when he is creating it seems he is in a “transe”. He goes deep and deep and is always looking for perfection. He feeds too on the dancers bodies. He gives one idea and let them try and then what they do inspires him to go further. The development of Balé de Rua as a dance company and his as a choreographer are very connected and mixed. One built the other.

Is the work narrative, or impressionistic?
It's more impressionistic than narrative but it has a history. Sometimes we have some spoken words to help the audience to understand some very specific thing but the show is opened and we let  the people takes it's own opinion and understanding. We like to do like this and we think it's important to let the people free to make their particular “trip”. We already listened many different opinions from the same scene and it's always very nice to check what the people feel. Sometimes they bring a completely different position that we couldn't imagine before. I see our shows as a celebration, a ritual and all we want is to bring the people to participate and touch them somehow.
{xtypo_quote_right}When we go on stage, we go with heart and soul, we never pretend to be someone else but just ourselves. Besides we have a message of joy and hope, of love and celebration of life. We open the heart and give it all to the audience.{/xtypo_quote_right}
Is the first and foremost aspiration of Balé de Rua performance, or uplifting the spirits of the working-class youth you teach?
Today I can say we couldn't exist without our students. They are part of the Balé de Rua spirit, they bring new energy and hopes. They are the new generation and the future of Balé de Rua. They are also a big motivation to us once they dream to belong to the professional cast someday.

They respect and admire us a lot and we love to teach them and dance for them. Today, 11 from the 15 dancers of the company came from our school. We are very proud to offer them a real opportunity to become a professional dancer. In Brasil it's not easy to make a living from dancing, mainly for artists like us, self-taught with a street dance background.

What has French director Paul Desveaux brought to bear? Why him?
At first it was a shock to us, a cultural shock. He had a completely different way to see the performing arts from us and it couldn't be different. He is French and we are Brazilians. He came from the school and we came from the streets. It was a huge experience to us, a test of our convictions and identity. Paul brought to us mainly a different way to breath and how to deal with our energy during the show. He also helped us go deeper into the acting aspects. He gave us good advice about touring and the international career. It was a great exchange and we became friends. Paul was suggested by Pierre Morand who invited us do this creation. He chose Paul mainly because he already had experience on working with dance companies and choreographers.

You oversee 'physical preparations'. What does that entail, for a production as athletic as this one?
I can say the endurance of our dancers comes, in first place, from their lives since they were born. When you are a poor guy living a hard life your body becomes resistant and strong to face all the challenges of life. When they come to the company we offer them a hard daily routine of training. Every day we start with a warm up followed by many kinds of exercises to make them stronger and flexible. This routine lasts around 1h30m. We start on the floor working the bones and articulations and then after we do exercises for the arms, legs, back and the whole body. Very often we give them a free time to practice the Hip Hop usual routines which is very strong too. To increase their technique we always work on “body awareness” and I use also some classical principles and some Laban method to help them understand better their own bodies and the movement mechanics. Usually I develop the class according to the choreography Marco Antônio is working on. If he wants jumps or spins I try to work on this, if there are floor movements I work on their arms, shoulders and chest and so on. After the class they start the repetitions and a lot of aerobic workout. You must love it otherwise you can't be a professional dancer. It's necessary to be very disciplined and determined once the challenge is to go beyond your limits everyday.

How did you make the transition from classical dance to this gritty, urban style? And why?
When I started making dance classes in Uberlândia there were only a few men doing dance classes. Most of the students were girls and much younger than me. I was very shy and I never went to stage as a classical dance student. One day in the early 80's I was biking at night and then I saw a group of male dancers doing their routine in a square of the city. I stoped and it looked amazing to me. A lot of rhythm and energy, the beat was crazy and I said to myself: I want to learn it. Then I came back the next day and again and again until I came to introduce myself. Until that time I had never listened about street dance, it was completely unknown to me. That's how I started.

With these people I learned my first funk moves and from then on my life changed completely. I left my old friends behind and started a new life, learning not only dance steps but a complete new style of life including slangs, dressing style, a totally new body language. In the beginning I needed to “forget” the classical information I had to learn a new way to use the body. These people didn't want to fly but to have their feet on the ground. The spine was not so rigid anymore but very flexible and most of all the swing and the bounce. I started to go to a nightclub they used to go every week end and then I made new friends and got more and more involved with them. At that time I was the learner, the student and some years after I met Marco Antônio and José Marciel and we decided to start a new company. Then I could exchange with them and give the information I had on other dance techniques. We wanted to try new experiences and we were not afraid to break all the barriers and frontiers. Why not this? Why not that? Dance for us always was a space of total freedom, a space where we could do anything we wanted without any fear. We wanted to please ourselves in first place. We were not worried about the other's opinions or if we would succeed or not. We just went on doing and experimenting what we wanted to do. That's how we are until today.

Balé de Rua is playing at the Sydney Opera House from January 8-17 and The Arts Centre, Melbourne from January 20-30.

Top Right Photo - Eric Deniset

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