Deborah Colker and Brazilian Contemporary Dance
The insatiable mind behind Brazil’s largest contemporary dance company, Deborah Colker speaks to Jungle about the building of her career and her new show, Cruel
Perseverance and a lot of energy. These are, without a doubt, two of the most defining traits in the personality of Deborah Colker. The Rio-born dancer of Jewish Russian descent started out with ballet, learnt piano and went on to play volleyball, turning professional in the latter, before deciding to return to dance. After realising it was the right path for her, and from the very start in the early 80s, Deborah has choreographed shows, taught lessons, worked in fashion, theatre and carnival; she created special sequences for the World Cup and became the first woman to develop a dance for Cirque du Soleil, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Canadian company.
To the passerby, Deborah, short and with a certain way about her – girlish, yet with a touch of tomboy – could go unnoticed in relation to her vast experience with dance. But one merely has to see her on the stage for any doubt to disappear; the vigour and precision with which she executes movements choreographed right down to the millimetre together with her company simply transform her into a giant. Even when she can’t be identified, whether amid the dancers or not even on stage, she has the ability to captivate the audience with her extremely fertile imagination, through the routines which she develops.
Creating a singular and unprecedented style in Brazil, the trademark of the company today, Deborah strives for more. And the mixture of contemporary dance with circus acrobatics enveloped broader influences, the necessity for which was determined by the very shows themselves. After Rota, in 1997, she realised the importance of staying close to the classical. “Rota was greatly responsible for my returning to a love of classical ballet. Its technique benefits the existence of a contemporary dance company every day, and this can be seen in every sense: in the discipline, the aesthetic, the technique, breathing, and synchronicity”, she says.
Then after Nó, in 2005, she took the gamble of applying more drama to the shows. And her doing so was not in vain, as her latest work, Cruel, which Deborah is actually presenting around the UK, arriving in London in June, is inspired by the cruelty of youth and of old age, and by emotions such as love, passion, lust and rejection.
Beyond winning innumerous awards in Brazil, the Deborah Colker Dance Company also received in 2001, in London, the Laurence Olivier Award for best choreography for Mix, a fusion of their first two productions, Vulcão (Volcano) and Velox. Talking to Jungle, the choreographer, now 50, reflects on her long journey since starting her own company, right through to her modern day recognition amongst audiences and critics alike.
How and when did you start dancing?
I started when young, studying ballet between the age of five and eight, and then I stopped so as to study piano and volleyball, and focus on my other studies. When I was 15 I began dancing once again, taking classes in ballet, jazz and tap dance. When I was 17 I started contemporary dance, and it was then that I chose to devote myself to dance, though I went on to study Psychology. In 2000, I returned to study piano again. I still dance classical ballet, even today, but it was in contemporary dance that I found a means in which to express my ideas, feelings and concerns.
Where did the idea for the Deborah Colker Dance Company come from?
From 1984 until 1993 (the year the company began), I was working as a choreographer and movement director for several theatrical productions, in showbiz, cinema, advertising, TV, and dance too. Over all these years I was also giving contemporary dance classes, and I choreographed lots of shows and during that time I began to develop my own style as an artist, then in 1993 I had this absurd necessity to tackle a far more complete piece of work, something which reflected me more. The first show, in 1994, was called Vulcão. As soon as it premiered, I knew I wasn’t simply putting on a show, but that I was essentially creating a dance company.
What was the experience like, of creating a dance company in Brazil? What is the hardest or most challenging part?
When I began in the 90s, it was still difficult to get slots in the theatres, coverage in the press or any kind of sponsorship. Starting a dance company in Rio de Janeiro in the 90s was like planting a seed in the desert; it felt like trying to climb up walls or scale a mountain. And that, incidentally, is how Velox, my second show, was born in 1995. At that time there were very few municipal or provincial dance companies throughout Brazil that were managing to survive. But those times changed for the better and I believe that my company played an important role in that change. We weren’t asking for any favours in our merely existing, but what we were doing was developing a creative and professional work that’s important for culture, education and art.
Where do you get inspiration from for your shows?
From daily life, from contemporary life, from my experiences and perceptions of the world. We also carry out research and experimentation that creates a dialogue with these inspirations.
Which show was most difficult to choreograph?
They get more difficult to choreograph and conceive each time. I’m very demanding and I don’t want to repeat myself.I believe that with time we become more sophisticated and mature. In this sense the restrictions are becoming ever tougher.
And which of your shows got the most positive audience response?
All of them have had a brilliant response from the audience, but I have to admit that Velox was a high point. Rota was a worldwide success… well, it’s hard to say. 4POR4 went down brilliantly in New York; Cruel was wonderfully received in Germany and also Brazil too. All of the shows have communicated well with the audiences.
You’ve performed in London before, haven’t you? What are you expecting from this return?
Yes I’ve brought all the company’s shows to London. I’m feeling good about this tour of Cruel in the UK. ‘Cruel bears my trademark style, yet takes things in new directions. I think the shows will be emotional and will have a great rapport with the public.
Do you think Brazilian dance has a good reputation outside of Brazil?
I think so. We have good dancers working in companies abroad and we have different types and genres of Brazilian companies performing abroad too.
What do you consider to be the most important part of your work?
I believe in the force of movement as beauty, wonder and thought. My work is a fascination with experimenting with new spaces and discovering new movements, and building a creative body. It is charged with emotion, intention, ideas and principally the certainty that dance has an intrinsic capacity for expression and emotion.
By Ana Brasil
Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker @ Barbican
Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker UK Tour