Alex Neoral’s Focus Cia de Dança makes cutting-edge, fluidly sculpted dance that doesn’t immediately feel “Brazilian”. For that side of him, you need to see what he choreographs, separately, for Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro. But more on that later.
When he comes to Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre, his company will stage works set not to percussive sambas or to tropicália, but to the stark, propulsive rhythms of American minimalism pioneer Steve Reich—a long-time fascination for Neoral.
“My Brazilian influences, I think, come in the rhythm,” he begins, speaking to the Straight from a tour stop in Halifax. “I believe my work is a mixture of what I am, what I see, and what I think, so, yes, you can identify things like jazz, contemporary, carnaval, and capoeira in my work. I have Brazil in my body and in my eyes.
“The thing I like—and what I really look for—is not to be identified in one style or one kind of music,” he adds. “I have a really big repertoire of a lot of different music. I love when someone says, ‘Oh, this work is really different than the other one.’ ”
You’ll get a feel for that range and sophistication when you see Still Reich, four works Neoral set to the composer’s music.
“For me, Reich’s compositions create an atmosphere, a really abstract world—and you can introduce the movements of dancers in this universe,” Neoral says. “In 2008 I made two of these pieces, and now in 2018 I made two more—he’s still inspiring me in these 10 years. And it’s really nice to see this trajectory of my language over 10 years.”
It’s been almost two decades since Neoral launched his company. Before that, it wasn’t easy to become a dance artist in Brazil. At 15, he discovered dance, beginning with tap and jazz and settling into the then burgeoning world of contemporary. His family and friends were not always supportive of what they saw as an unprofitable career, but Neoral has had the last laugh.
“With dancing I know more than 30 countries, I have my own studio, I have my own car and my own apartment,” he says. “Every day I make dance I am happy.”
Of course, he worries about the situation in his home country today. Just as Brazil was becoming a red-hot centre for contemporary dance, a financial and political crisis hit. Neoral is now sad to see some talented Brazilian dancers having to head abroad for work. “We are still resisting and making art, but I see professional dancers leaving,” he laments.
Still, Neoral is proud to be Brazilian,and never more so than when he’s choreographing for Rio’s annual Carnaval.
“Carnaval is really different work because it’s a competition and a really specific way you choreograph—a parade that travels the avenue, always travelling,” he enthuses. “So it has to be like a machine with everything working. It’s difficult, it’s fun, and you have all this emotion and competition.
“And it’s really nice to have everybody together and singing and dancing and being Brazilian, especially these days,” he adds, then says with a small laugh: “You always wish you’re somewhere else except when it’s Carnaval.”
Focus Cia de Dança presents Still Reich at the Scotiabank Dance Centre next Wednesday to Friday (October 2 to 4).