Um lugar para chamar de lar
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For the past seventeen years, returning to my home country has been a bittersweet experience. The moment I land in Guarulhos Airport, after a long and sleepless flight (eleven and a half hours from London to be precise), and I find my parents on the other side, waiving with the biggest smile on their faces, I feel an indescribable relief. I remember coming back from Toronto for the very first time, where I had spent the last five months, and seeing a crowd of familiar faces all cheering me up. My entire family was there for the big welcome: uncles, aunts, cousins, godparents, old friends... congratulating me for having made it. I have always had the warmest reception, which has naturally become smaller and smaller, yet still very emotional.
I was lucky to have already turned fifteen when I left Brazil, as most kids going to vocational schools leave home as early as eleven years-old, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t miss my family terribly. In the years to come, I would slowly adjust to this new reality: the comings and goings, long flights, happy returns and very difficult departures. It is hard to believe that I have now lived abroad for longer than I lived in Brazil, and at one point, I even asked myself… Where exactly is home??!
I never really thought I would survive the distance, and I think nobody expected me to. I was very attached to my parents when I was little, and didn't enjoy going for sleepovers or long school trips. I had been right under my parents' wings for those fifteen years! We have always kept a tight family circle in fact, with aunts, uncles, first and second cousins and friends-who-are-like-family all coming together at every excuse for a celebration. My parents enjoy throwing a 'little party', so my happy returns have always been followed by a barbecue at home or some sort of celebratory gathering. I, on the other hand, was never a big fan of gatherings and must admit that, at first, it kind of bothered me that I was arriving home exhausted and jet legged and had to “entertain” the guests. But then I realised that it was actually the best way for me to see everyone, and truthfully, I really missed them.
Even though it is holiday time for me in Brazil, my agenda somehow always gets completely full! If it isn’t for visiting friends and family (easier to see them all at once to avoid disappointment), I'm at a doctors' appointment or dentist, spending a whole afternoon in the beauty salon since everything is A LOT cheaper in Brazil (a manicure costs me £4, while in London it is £25), taking ballet classes at Ballet Marcia Lago (my mom’s school) or even rehearsing for a performance.
I love being able to dance at home so family and friends can see it, and feel honoured to be invited to do guest appearances in festivals, but I soon realised that having a proper rest in July (my summer holidays) is more important and beneficial for my health than if I am constantly working. I don’t go looking to perform anywhere, but if an invitation comes, I wouldn’t turn it down. There have also been occasions when I flew into Brazil just to be performing with Ballet Marcia Lago, very brief moments of great happiness and satisfaction.
When I moved to England and started out my career, I felt more independent. I was earning my wages as a dancer, fending for myself, and truly living my dream! Life became a lot more exciting and I really enjoyed the privacy of my flat, being able to easily get the bus anywhere, the fact that, in England, everything was done perfectly on time, and felt the security and support of being with an international ballet company. Every time I arrived back in Brazil, I would feel a bit misplaced, out of sorts. It still takes me a few days to situate myself, get used to the hot weather, which I always crave so much, but I think what affected me the most was feeling dependent on my parents to drive me everywhere and having to adapt to a very different rhythm.
Mom would always be dashing off somewhere, always late for her teaching and dragging me along, while dad would also make me late for my appointments and change his mind about our day plans at least five times. I was constantly rushing some place, doing ballet classes, or stuck in traffic, while I couldn't enjoy and relax just being at home. I guess now is the time to explain that, although I am a paulista, from Sao Paulo (the state), I don’t live in Sao Paulo city. My house is 40km (24.8 miles) from the big metropolis, near Atibaia.
Tucked away in the countryside, our home is a place of beautiful surroundings and immense peace. The family calls it Shangri-la, a remote and idyllic spot where life approaches perfection, where the sun shines brighter than anywhere else (literally). Uncle Edu built a house in Atibaia in 1983, and ten years later, my parents wished for a little piece of their own heaven. It is a place so full of memories, where I spent a childhood making mischief with my cousins, 'meeting' the neighbour’s calves, playing soccer in a grassy field, raising chickens occasionally, climbing up to treehouses, playing hide and seek with the few neighbours we had, and spending every sunny weekend or holiday, apart from maybe New Years.
In Brazil, people are very superstitious about New Years and tend to stick to old traditions that supposedly will bring them luck and prosperity. On New Year’s Eve, most people wear all white alluding to peace and spiritual purification, put on new lingerie with the colour of what they most want to attract (yellow for money, red for passion, etc.), eat a spoonful of lentil to bring in money, and if you are near the sea when the clock strikes midnight, you must jump seven waves as a little tribute to Iemanjá, the Queen of the Sea. Tradition has it that she will give you strength to overcome any obstacles you may face in the year to come. Having said that, I haven't been able to spend New Years 'the Brazilian way' in a long, long time.
My dad is the architect of our house, building it literally from the ground up, and in 1999, it would become our permanent home. Tired of all the stress and business of the big city, my parents decided to move there and commute every day to Sao Paulo. It takes less time for them to drive 40 km on the motorway than to cover a shorter distance in such awful traffic. I had just turned eleven when we moved there, and funny enough, I sort of resented the fact that I had to travel so much, as far as Sao Caetano do Sul, for ballet classes and private coaching. I’d leave home very early in the morning and get back late every single day, apart from Sundays. I never appreciated its surroundings as much as I do now, but I believe it also had to do with something we call ‘habituation’.
Human beings become accustomed to all that is routine. It happens all the time, even when you become a dancer with The Royal Ballet. There have been times when I took this amazing theatre for granted, and I thought this would never happen to me. The fact that we have a big stage that is ours, bright and spacious studios, a vast repertoire to choose from... yet, it all becomes normality. Going to the Royal Opera House felt like just another tiring workday. And just like that, I stopped appreciating Atibaia and overlooked the beautiful scenery that surrounded me because it was part of my everyday life.
It is hard to keep seeing everything with fresh eyes, but truth is, if we want to be happy, we need to cultivate a sense of gratitude. The book I'm reading at the moment, The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan, reasserts just that, but it is something I have grown up with and learned first-hand from my parents.
In the past few years, my parents have settled into a less frantic pace of life. Every morning, they have breakfast together with the dining-room door wide open to the stunning view of Pedra Grande. Then, mom is off to the pond to feed her “little fat kids” - the carps. We have one Labrador - Oliver - and two adopted street dogs - Rita Cristina and José Miguel Lopez - who always come barking for food too. I often find my dad lost in his own thoughts, gazing into the picturesque landscape, and when asked whether the house is finished, both agree that, thirty years on, it is still a work in progress.
I used to think they should be saving money instead of spending it on building this and that (what more could you want besides the sun and a swimming pool?), but now I see that it gives them immense pleasure to plan every detail, make use of the space, and share it with family and friends. They actually enjoy every inch of it, and nothing is ever neglected. It is really about them feeling proud and blessed, and making the most of the present moment.
When I left Brazil for the first time, I never imagined that Atibaia would become my sanctuary, a tranquil place where I could recharge my batteries and reset my values. Nowadays, I make staying at home a priority, hence quarantining for two weeks was not a problem). I had plenty of nourishing food cooked by aunt Cida, who lives next door, lots and lots of sun, went swimming, played tennis with Leo and Carol, did yoga, had a good rest and much parental affection (I’m ashamed to say that they still spoil me like a princess). Unfortunately, it was not possible to see everyone this time around, but we are sure to make it count next time!
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. - Marcel Proust
Well, now that I live miles away, Atibaia has turned into a little oasis, my place of refuge. I feel so fortunate to be there close to my family and admiring mountains and pasture, hearing birds sing, trying to take in all the energy the place emanates. The view is so beautiful, the kind that makes you feel grateful just to be alive. I believe nature has this power and influence on us, mere mortals.
Whenever I'm there, I want to freeze time and forget that there is such thing as career and ambition. My grandma has made it quite clear that she thinks a return to my home country is long overdue, and sometimes I feel like she could be right. I could just drop everything and return to the arms of my dear ones. But we all know that life is not simple, and I think it is just a little too late... my heart also finds itself here, in London.
It gets harder and harder to leave my family, I must admit, but I have tried to come to terms with the fact that it is just how this life goes (t's been years and years of practise). We say our goodbyes and I can hardly look back, swallowing my tears as I approach customs. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for my parents too, but they understand that while I’m happy and fulfilled with my job and life in London, our sacrifice is worth making.
I always come back to London with renewed faith, and it feels as if I’m experiencing it for the very first time again. I realise that I have actually missed my English life - my cozy flat, my boyfriend, my day-to-day routine… I feel so grateful for having a job here, and what a job!! The Royal Opera House is something out of this world. It is strikingly unusual for us, Brazilians, to be able to say that this is where we work. I believe I have only gotten this far because, at every step of the way, every turn of the road, I thought… This has to be worthwhile!
I understand now that there isn’t just one place we can call home. My home is here and there, in my new, exciting adventures in English soil, and in the colourful places of my childhood.
Below is Sumaúma, choreographed by Thiago Soares to beautiful scores of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Ernesto Nazareth, two renowned Brazilian composers. Clips of a very special performance I did with Thiago at Festival Vermelhos in Ilha Bela, 2018, with Marcelo Brakte on the piano.