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Ivalo Bertazzo - 'Milágrimas'

The miracle of social change

by Ana Paula Höfling (with contributions by Jenai Cutcher)

April 2006 -- SESC Pinheiros Theater, São Paulo, Brazil

For six hours a day, six days a week, the 41 members of Ivaldo Bertazzo’s dance company train their bodies and minds. These captivating performers not only rehearse, but also study English, Portuguese, dance history, pedagogy, percussion, singing, and origami. They learn music and movement from countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, along with a technique called Reeducação do Movimento, which translates as Re-Education of Movement. Then they do their math homework.

These performers are at-risk teenagers and young adults participating in Dança Comunidade, a project led by Bertazzo, which unites artistic expression and social action.  In partnership with several non-profit organizations and SESC (an organization that provides working-class Brazilians with world-class facilities geared toward sports, leisure and the arts), Bertazzo, assisted by Inês Bogéa, created his second evening-length work, “Milágrimas”, which closed its five-month run at the SESC Pinheiros Theater in São Paulo, Brazil this past April.

In Bertazzo’s previous work, “Samwaad” (2003), the group immersed itself in the Indian movement traditions of Bharata Natyam, Odissi and Kathak. In “Milágrimas”, a title which includes the Portuguese words for “thousand” and “tears” and makes reference to the word for “miracle”, the dancers embodied the rhythms of South Africa. Wearing deep red costumes that alluded to elements of African traditional dress, these disciplined young bodies, lined up into perfect rows, opened the piece with stomping, clapping, calf-slapping and call-and-response singing. These red rows wove in and out of each other, creating a geometric counterpoint that added to the musical complexities of the body percussion in a visually and rhythmically stunning beginning. The dancers, many Brazilians of African descent, wore their hair in corn rows and other African-inspired hair styles, affirming and validating their heritage.

The strong influence that “Samwaad” left in the group shows through in the second section of “Milágrimas” where the dancers’ movements become less rhythmic and more melodic. Now dressed in simple off-white pants and skirts, the dancers, with their backs to the audience, carefully lift their knees and place their feet quietly on the floor while handling white pieces of cloth. They flick and carefully stretch this cloth above their heads, as if ready to hang it on a clothesline to catch the afternoon light (which seems brought into the theater straight from someone’s backyard in the design of Pedro Pederneiras). Bertazzo’s dancers go from turns and lifts to everyday gestures with ease--on their knees, they transform the white pieces of cloth into rags for cleaning the three-step staircase that frames the stage. This simple set by Patrícia Galvão adds texture to the performance space and provides the dancers places to climb, sit and hide. 

In the world of “Milágrimas”, such disparate things as samba rhythms, Indian-inspired movement, contemporary dance partnering and even the dancers’ corn rows seem to belong together. Unfortunately, the rhythms and movement of South Africa, which open the piece with such beauty and strength, are not clearly integrated into the rest of the piece, but only quoted from time to time. These young but already seasoned performers seem at home in “Milágrimas”--in a country with so many cultural influences such as Brazil, it is not surprising that these dancers easily embrace this confluence of cultures.  What is surprising, however, is the professionalism and clarity of performance achieved by these teenagers who did not have the privilege of early dance training; many of them came to Dança Comunidade from extreme hardship. Bertazzo’s miracle is to give these teens and young adults the tools to succeed through a complete educational program that, aside from the classes already mentioned, also includes support from psychologists, transportation to and from rehearsals and even balanced meals.

In the final section of the work, Bertazzo uses the harsh urban reality faced by these young dancers as a source of choreographic material. Here, with the exception of four characters in Balinese-style masks that might represent outside forces, the dancers become themselves, wearing jeans and t-shirts or simple dresses. Like teens everywhere, they form temporary alliances with one group then with the next; they assert their independence by dancing their own dance in solos and duets. They walk across the stage, in a powerful procession, staring defiantly out to the audience, defying their destiny, re-creating and re-shaping their futures through dance.

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