2014 Chrystal Dance Prize Winner Kimberley – Connection to Brazilian culture

Kimberley Cooper, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD)
Kimberley Cooper, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD)

Brazil is a wild country. I have now been there three times, and each time as I discover more I realize how much more there is to learn. The culture is deep and vast; city, jungle, desert, coast, percussive, sensual, rich, contradictory and beautiful. This last trip, financed by the generosity of Dance Victoria and The Chrystal Dance Prize was so far the richest and most life shaking. I am so grateful to have had this experience and I can’t thank you enough. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

I applied to spend time researching dance, music and culture in Brazil with Valeria Pinheiro. I am working on a master project with Val who has a company and theatre in Fortaleza, which is in the northern state of Brazil called Ceara. I had been to Brazil before, and I had spent time with Val, studying and researching, but because of the Chrystal Dance Prize, we were able to cover new territory and have a different kind of experience.

Val’s company, Cia. Vata, is a dance and music company and their work is very much inspired by the culture of northeastern Brazil. Val is a tap dancer, and her style of tap (which she created based on many different influences) is very unique and special. She calls her style of dance “brincante”- which roughly translates to “playful body”. I feel a real kinship to how Val mixes tradition with contemporary, Africa with Europe, and to her mad passion for rhythm.

We began our research in the north, I met Val in her city of Fortaleza and we travelled the next day to a triangle of cities in the middle of the state, the oasis in the desert. The dirt is rich and red and the culture is strong.   We had many amazing experiences together. Val seems to inspire serendipitous meetings and magic wherever she goes. I really got to see an incredible inside view of that part of Brazil. Some highlights included; a concert by one of Val’s master teachers, a trip to “cowboy church” with a once a year ceremony that happens in the desert when the ranchers come together to pray for rain (and sing and dance), a concert by Brazil’s top flutist and pandiero player in the tiniest of theatres, and a trip to a miniature cultural centre, part way up a mountain where we watched a jam session with some Brazilian musicians, a jazz bassist and an Argentinian who played an ancient French instrument related to the hurdy gurdy.

We then went to Recife, a city a little further south. Recife is where the rhythm called Maracatu comes from. We were only there for a few days but still managed to study with a dancer who had been in one of the biggest folkloric companies and attend a fantastic Maracatu party.

From Recife to Rio de Janeiro, my new favorite place in the world. It was almost winter when we arrived and was quite cold and rainy for the whole time we were there, which was only five days, but time stretched out as we went from adventure to adventure. We heard so much incredible music, we went to the neighborhood where samba was born, we went to a samba school where they teach a technique for learning music called “o paso”, or “the step”, where rhythms are broken up and attached to a basic forward and back step that is then attached to a drum pattern. This particular school had three levels of students who practice all year for Carnival. Many Brazilian rhythms are translated into the songs from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and that is all they play…no, really. All of this is directed by the “o paso” teachers who signal changes with whistles and funky hand signals. There I was in this poorly lit sticky room, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, overwhelmed to the point of tears while about 30 people took “You say good-bye, and I say hello” to a whole other level. And on the last night we went to a concert that was perhaps the best live music experience I have ever had. The band was absolutely amazing; they took traditional Brazilian music, shook it up and funkified it and…it was just a magical night. I never wanted to leave.

Now it is months later, it is the first day of rehearsal for Ziriguidum, the final offering of our season. It will feature new work by DJD, and Cia. Vata. Val and her company are coming to share the evening with us, each taking one act, plus a short collaboration finale with both groups. Ziriguidum means that illusive, charismatic thing that some people have that makes them special. The Brazilians are bringing a piece that is about the culture of their region of Brazil, and we are exploring the aesthetic of cool. This is the next step towards the big collaboration/fusion work we hope to create in the not too distant future. The purpose of Ziriguidum is to show our forms separately, to introduce our companies to each other, and to introduce our audience and community to Val and her work. We are very excited to have this time together with them and to keep this “creative stew” brewing – this time in our part of the world. None of them have ever been to Canada.

Thank you so much for your contribution to this ongoing work. The trip was truly inspiring, the exchange of information between Val and I was invaluable and my understanding and appreciation of, as well as my connection to Brazilian culture grew immensely. There is still so much work to do but the “stew” is definitely becoming more flavourful!

Kimberley Cooper