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'Jeitinho brasileiro': Brazilian dancers around the world

Brasileiros pelo mundo

Para português, clique em EN/PT no menu de opções acima

I was spending a day like any other at grandma’s house in Sao Paulo when mom arrived with a magazine to show me. Right in the corner of a small column of VEJA, the headline read something like: 'Brazilian Roberta Marquez becomes principal dancer of The Royal Ballet in London' . I held it in my hands and stared at the picture of Roberta for a long time, digesting that piece of news. This, to me, should have been at the front page!! A twenty-seven-year-old dancer from Rio de Janeiro had managed to infiltrate not only one of the biggest European companies but become a principal dancer of THE ROYAL BALLET! I never thought this was even possible.

Before Roberta, there weren’t many names I had heard of who had established a career in Europe. Marcia Haydée, the Brazilian muse of Stuttgart choreographer John Cranko, had perhaps being the only one I took as reference. A mixed feeling of happiness, pride, and longing came over me. I remember being so fixated in the insignificant fact that Roberta is very petite, measuring 1’56m. Just like me! I though. That was perhaps what the company liked?

Roberta Marquez as Aurora 2006 © ROH

My journey would turn out to be quite different from Roberta’s. She had been made principal at Rio's Municipal Theatre Ballet in 2002 and her talent was spotted by Natalia Makarova in her staging of La Bayadere. Two years later, she would receive an invitation to replace an injured dancer at The Royal Ballet and perform as guest in The Sleeping Beauty, which led to her taking a permanent position as principal. I understand now that the effort, the sacrifices, all the hard work... they were left unmentioned. That tiny magazine article seemed to me just like a fairy tale, like the job had parachuted itself for the luckiest person to grab it, but nothing is ever so simple.

At fourteen, I had never even heard of Y.A.G.P. or the Prix de Lausanne, international competitions of today that have led to a busy exchange of talents and such multicultural scenes in dance schools and companies around the world. It was a rare sight to encounter a Brazilian dancer abroad. I just kept thinking… how did she do it? I wanted to know her background, her life, and looked for any similarities, any signs that I, too, could succeed.

Meeting Roberta in person was one of those magical moments in life. I was completely starstruck. She was even smaller than I had imagined, a little music box ballerina. I took a deep breath and introduced myself, and she answered (in Portuguese) :

'Ah! You too are Brazilian? Welcome!'.

There is this instant affinity when you discover that a person is from the same country as you, can speak your language, shares your culture and understands how far you have come. I was a tiny fish trying to swim in this big ocean, and having other Brazilians around me gave me security and comfort.

Next to Leticia Stock and Mayara Magri (front right), both from Rio de Janeiro.

The first thing I ask those who have just joined the company is 'Where are you from?' . For me, nationality could say a lot more about a dancer than any other detail of their life. A Latino? I’m from South America! Oh Portugal? I speak Portuguese too! Besides being passionate about dance, what else do we have in common? Finding that you share the same birthplace instantly builds a connection, a mutual understanding of the hardships and challenges one has faced to get there. You find out that first and foremost, that Brazilian dancer is a dreamer and a fighter, just like you.

It goes beyond the practicality of speaking your first language. I could speak more Portuguese if I wanted, but having lived abroad for so long, I find it hard to remember some words in conversation and end up with an Englese or Portugish. We swap back and forth a lot when we talk amongst Brazilians at work, which is very bad! My Portuguese is getting worse and worse, while my English is not perfect either ad will never feel as natural as a first language does.

Article for The Dancing Times - September 2018

Up until joining The Royal Ballet, I had only worked with two other Brazilians, one of them being ballet master and choreographer Daniel de Andrade, who had long settled in Europe. I was fortunate to have danced with Luisa Rocco, the sweetest person in the world! She was also from the countryside of Sao Paulo and had already been dancing in Stockholm before joining Northern Ballet on my third (or maybe fourth?) season. Two other Brazilians joined the company just after I left: the captivating Natalia Kerner from Fortaleza, and Nina Queiroz da Silva, another paulista (that’s how we call those who are born in Sao Paulo).

Nina and I properly met over coffee at Bageriet, one of my favourite cafes in Covent Garden. I had a fairly short break in between rehearsals, but we managed to talk about our careers, shared experiences, future prospects, thoughts on finding our happiness and staying true to who we are, believing in a Higher Power, trusting in coincidences, things we value most in life. We had just met, but it felt as if I had known her my entire life.

Roberta Marquez, Thiago Soares, Erico Montes, Leticia Stock, and Mayara Magri. When I joined The Royal Ballet, Brazil was so well represented already that I actually thought 'what could they possibly want with one more?!' I would be the last of my generation, but more Brazilians were about to join the team: Leticia Dias followed short behind me, and Denilson Almeida joined this season. Daniel Camargo was to make an appearance as guest principal, he had a splendid career in Stuttgart and now guests around the world, as well as choreographer Juliano Nunes, whose career started with another German company, the Karslruhe Ballet, one which I discovered by chance a few years ago. It astounded me to see that pretty much a third of their dancers were from Brazil. I even recognized some people I used to compete with as a kid back at home.

Right next door, Carolyne Galvão, from Goiânia, is in her third season with the English National Ballet, where the twins Guilherme and Vitor Menezes (two of my generation) also danced for many years. After a successful career here in England, they are now dancing with the Royal Danish Ballet. They were so kind to me when we reunited years ago here in London. I will always be rooting for them.

Backstage of La Bayadere with Ashley Dean, Chi Katsura, and Leticia Dias (left to right).

In my teenage years, I was inspired by the journeys of Erico and Leticia Stock, two dancers who I followed since they left Brazil to join The Royal Ballet School and later graduated into the company. To me, they were ‘the chosen ones.’ I didn’t know anybody else who had gone to study ballet abroad.

I was just a baby ballerina when Erico and I used to briefly meet in competitions in Sao Paulo, and even though we were never properly introduced, he welcomed me into his home and offered me a place to stay when I first came to London. Leti Stock, from Maria Olenewa School in Rio, made an impression on me since I saw her performing the Talisman variation in Belo Horizonte (she must have been eleven or twelve). I had never seen such beautiful lines and proportion, such quality of dancing.

I don't honestly believe that being born in a certain place makes someone special, or the other way around. I admire those who manage their space with dedication and talent, no matter where they came from. On the other hand, when meeting people from the same place as us, we have the feeling of belonging. We recognize each other. Therefore, the goal is for these stories to inspire us, both in ballet and in life. - Cassia Pires

Leti Stock in Viscera © ROH

During my first week with The Royal Ballet, Mayara pushed me forwards in class and showed me how to be bold. She wanted me to make a good impression on the director, who watched us from afar. She really took me under her wings. Mayara is the personification of the Brazilian spirit: joyful, caring, energetic, daring, unafraid, someone who makes it happen, no matter how challenging the task.

It is hard to generalise, but I believe that there are certain traits that make Brazilians very welcome in a foreign company, a special kind of energy and charisma onstage. Brazilians don’t give in, and they never give up. There is always a way, 'um jeitinho'.

Being a foreigner sometimes has its disadvantages though. We might need to work twice as hard to prove that we deserve the same opportunities as someone native, as most companies rightly want to push and promote talent closer to home. Also, we are expected to acquire a certain quality of movement, adapt to a certain style, which is not a problem when you admire and aspire to be the Royal Ballet type.

You find so many Brazilian dancers all over the world today. My radar is set on Europe, but there are so many great dancers in America, and in fact in small European companies I have yet to discover. I have friends dancing in Boston, New York, and San Francisco. In Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, and the list goes on and on... We tend to create a very special bond and support each other, even from afar. I know, from personal experience, that the journey of a Brazilian dancer living abroad can be very lonely. It is comforting to feel part of a group, to share the nostalgia for a country we so love and miss.

Dancing Le Corsaire pas de deux a few years back with Irlan Dos Santos, today in Boston Ballet.
Get together in Sao Paulo. (from left-right) Annete Buvoli, Kevin Emerton, Erico Montes.

Emotion and technique

Ever since I started dancing, I fell in love with the discipline and technique of ballet, but what I really loved was to be interpreting different characters and telling stories. Perhaps because of Roberta (who retired from The Royal Ballet the year after I joined), I got it into my brain that the place where they appreciated both emotion and technique was The Royal Ballet. I had this feeling that it had to be the place for me, but in order to be a great dancer or have a great career, it doesn’t mean that you have to leave your birthplace.

“When I was younger, I worried too much about the technique. But it alone is not enough. I can see when someone is dancing with the body, but without the head. It is the set that makes a difference. ” Today, when doing a ballet like Romeo and Juliet, she says “think about everything that goes on in her head when she sees Romeo dead”: “Here, in England, they value acting more. Sometimes, I feel like an actress without speech. ” - Roberta Marquez, Folha de S.Paulo 2010

Many years ago dancing Tico-Tico no Fuba with Leonardo Sandoval, now a tap-dancer in NY.
With Thiago Soares and musician Marcelo Bratke in Ilha Bela, SP.

I have huge admiration for those who fight to keep the art scene alive in Brazil. They are even bigger fighters than us, who have managed to ‘escape’. What foreign companies have that Brazil still lacks is support and infra-structure. There isn’t a moment here when you miss being on stage because performances just keep happening, but what I fear today is that talented young boys and girls are leaving the country just because their friends did and because there are so many opportunities now, but is this what their hearts really desire?

I have cheered and lived by every Brazilian who conquered their place in dance, be it in Brazil or abroad, and I thank each and every Brazilian for having kept my dream alive, for walking the walk and showing me the way. We have so much to give, we turn the stage brighter, no matter where we are.

With Thiago in Sumaúma, Festival Vermelhos - July 2018
Review of Raymonda Act III, The Telegraph - October 2019


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