The art of Newton Moraes

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The first Brazilian to join the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

By Sacha Vaz

Fourteen years ago, Newton Moraes, the gaúcho from Porto Alegre, founded the Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, and has been making his mark in the history of Canadian dance ever since. Newton Moraes, 49, is a member of Dance Ontario and Dance Umbrella of Ontario and was the first Brazilian to join the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, one of the best dance schools in Canada. Currently, Moraes acts not only as dancer but also as choreographer, director, researcher, teacher and whatever else is needed to accomplish great works of art! According to him, dance is the most complex of all the arts. Read the interview with Wave and learn a little more about the life of this Brazilian artist in Canada.

  How did the desire to dance come about?
Moraes: In southern Brazil there is a lot of samba dancing, ballroom dancing and other things. Through my religion, Batuque, I was introduced to the African-Brazilian dance. But the desire to be a professional dancer came later, when I was 24 and began studying ballet and jazz in the Phoenix Ballet, which was directed by Tony Seitz Petzhold, who was one of the best dancers and choreographers in the history of Brazilian dance.

Newton Moraes in “Ihu”

You were the first Brazilian to join the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, one of the best dance schools in Canada. Tell us a little about this journey from Brazil to Canada.
Moraes: At the time I was with the Phoenix Ballet, I met my longtime partner, Robert Shirley, who sadly died in 2008. I called him Bob. He was professor of anthropology at several Brazilian universities, including that of Porto Alegre. In Canada, he was a member of the University of Toronto. It was his idea that I come to Canada to further my education, as there was no contemporary dance school in Porto Alegre. So I joined the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, which was really instrumental in my career. There I studied more than 10 hours a day, and in the first year I was one of the students invited to dance with the company at an event at Harbourfront.

In 1997, after only six years in Canada, you founded the Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, which today is considered one of the best contemporary dance schools in the country. How do you explain this success?
Moraes: There are two reasons. The first is that the Brazilian dance is very respected in the world, as an example we have Grupo Corpo in Belo Horizonte, Quasar Dance Company in Goiânia, Cena 11 in Florianópolis, and the Ballet of the City of São Paulo, that are always traveling around the world. Brazil is an exporter of dance! The second reason is that my studies are a mixture of two cultures, Brazilian and Canadian. The dance is very present in Canadian culture. I would say the Canadian dancers do not have the same simplicity of the Brazilians, but they study seriously and try to perfect themselves. So I think my success is due to these two reasons, besides the seriousness that I give to my work. My dance company is still small, but it has toured not only in Canada but also in the USA, Germany, Colombia, Cuba and Brazil.

Who are the people who most influenced your career, your way to view the dance? Who are your mentors?
Moraes: My relationship with the dance is something I take very seriously, and is connected to my spiritual side, so my pai-de-santo, Pai Beto, was undoubtedly a big influence on my life. At first, no doubt, Edison Garcia, Anette Lubisco and Tony Seitz Petzhold were the people who most influenced me professionally. In Canada I have had many mentors, but David Earl was one of the most important ones. Currently, it is the dancer Jean Sasportes, from the Pina Bausch Dance Company, which in my opinion is the best in the world! You can learn more about the work of the beautiful dancer, Pina Bausch who died in 2009, in the movie “Pina”, from the German filmmaker Wim Wenders, shown recently on TIFF – Toronto International Film Festival.

I heard that you are trying to bring Jean Sasportes for a visit to Toronto. What is your objective?
Moraes: My objective is to have Jean Sasportes give lessons in the Newton Moraes Dance Theatre and perhaps we would create a work together. But to make this possible, I have been trying to raise funds from the Canadian Government, the Brazilian Consulate in Toronto and I’m also looking for support from Brazilian companies. I always get support from the Toronto Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts. It would be wonderful to receive Sasportes here!

In an interview with the Toronto Star, you defined your style of dance as a mixture of folklore and spirituality. How is that?
Moraes: Yes, for me, spiritually is one of the essences of dance. When we toured in Brazil, I took all my dancers to African-Brazilian centres, so they could see an average person, dancing, possessed by an Orixá. Of course, I do not encourage anyone to become a batuqueiro, because I respect all religions. I just try to show the real meaning of dance.

Last year you produced the show “Saudades do Brasil.” What is it like to you to live away from your homeland for so long?
Moraes: I’ve been here 20 years, I love Canada and try to incorporate the colours of this country. Red represents love and art to me. But I do miss our culture and I think I always will miss Brazil. Over there, people hug more and the sense of space is smaller. The way that Canadians express themselves with the body is different from ours. Another thing is the language. I feel that when I speak English, my personality changes completely.

In 2010, you created the show “Ihu,” a tribute to your partner Bob. What does “Ihu” mean and what is the message of this show to the public?
Moraes: “Ihu” is a word from the Kamayurá indians that means all sounds, that is, all that reaches the ear, and that includes the supernatural, the sounds of the spirits and the sounds of the magical entities of the forest. It is an autobiography about my life before, during and after Bob.

What’s your favorite musical rhythm for your choreographies?
Moraes: I do not have a preferred rhythm, everything depends on the theme of the work. I was a DJ in Brazil, I know how to mix rhythms and this is what I usually do. I’m very eclectic. I like classical, baroque, samba and others. In “Ihu”, for example, I use elements of African-Brazilian music and electronic music. Sometimes, I use poetry, such as Mario Quintana’s, and do a re-reading. I like to produce the songs for my works! I’ve had a DJ on the scene doing live sound and I have worked with a composer who made music specifically for my works. Thus, each choreography has a different style of music. I like to innovate!

In addition to performing with Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, you also teach at Bavia Arts Centre and Ballet Creole.
Moraes: Yes, my dance company has eight dancers and we work by project. In addition, we use the space at Bavia Arts to teach young people to dance. I also teach at Ballet Creole and at several schools in Ontario.

You were a graduate student at York University, did you complete the course?
Moraes – No, unfortunately I had to leave the course. After so many years of experience in the arts, it is difficult to find something that really adds to my career. Unfortunately I had two teachers who were not qualified and we had some conflict. So at the moment, I study the works of Jean Sasportes, who is my current mentor and has a lot to teach me. I have plans to continue my studies in Amsterdam.

What is your biggest dream?
Moraes: I dream of having a building where I can establish the Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, with several rooms, studios, stage and a library so I can leave my work available for research.

Thank you for being available for this interview, Newton. What’s on the agenda for the Newton Moraes Dance Theatre?
Moraes: I appreciate the opportunity. We will be performing in Saskatchewan and Alberta in the coming months.

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