Against a backdrop of jumbled shacks seemingly piled atop each other, the dancers run in place with studied movements, then collapse to the floor in steady succession.
This is a rehearsal at the Ballet of Paraisopolis, one of the biggest favelas in Sao Paulo.
The dance school is just returning from a four-month hiatus for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left Brazil with the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the US: nearly 130,000 people killed.
COVID-19 has hit hard in the favelas — poor, overcrowded neighborhoods that often lack clean running water, sanitation infrastructure or basic healthcare.
Although the virus is still spreading fast in Sao Paulo, the epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil, students and teachers at the school say they wanted — needed — to dance together again.
“I was really anxious to come back. It felt like my first time,” said 17-year-old dancer and local resident Kemilly Luanda, taking a break from rehearsals in an improvised studio whose ballet barre is a balcony railing — the dividing line that separates this world of graceful leaps and precision pirouettes from the brick shacks it overlooks.
Luanda and her classmates are rehearsing a new ballet with an urgent message: Nine Deaths, a tribute to the victims who died in a stampede when police raided a huge street party in the favela in December last year.
The school had to postpone the debut performance because of the pandemic. Now, the students are working to prepare it as they return from the long interruption.
Getting through lockdown has not been easy for the academy, which was founded in 2012 and provides free training to its 200 students thanks to public funding and private donations.
Luanda, who is in her final year at the school, recounted how difficult it was to keep up with her training through remote classes from the two-room house she shares with her parents, four siblings and dog.
Paraisopolis is a postcard of the inequalities that divide Sao Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling economic capital.
The favela juts up against one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, Morumbi, a privileged reserve of luxury high-rises and mansions that is a world apart from the one where Luanda lives.
“I had to get everyone out of the bedroom, prop the cellphone up on the top bunk and practice in the aisle between our beds,” she said.
Her shaky Internet connection, small phone screen and lack of computer made things harder.
She missed the “sisters” she has studied dance with for the past eight years, she said.
She is one of 22 students who have returned for classes — 10 in the school itself, and 12 on the second floor of a cultural center that was converted into an anti-coronavirus command hub during lockdown.
Wearing masks, they practice for four hours a day, five days a week.
The rest of the school’s students are continuing their classes online, for now.
The academy had to postpone its first-ever graduation ceremony, now planned for next year.
Keeping the school going by remote learning “hasn’t been easy,” founder Monica Tarrago said.
“It was the worst feeling I’ve had in my life. We never stop except for Christmas and New Year’s. We’re like a family,” she said.
However, the school’s six teachers designed an intensive program to keep students engaged.
“We thought of everything we could do via [the videoconference application] Zoom to keep up their physical and mental preparation at home,” Tarrago said.
The program featured classes on nutrition, stretching, exercises and choreography, plus lessons with 10 dancers from around the world, including French ballerina Isabelle Guerin, former danseuse etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet.
The dancers are working hard to ready Nine Deaths. They have the sores on their feet to prove it when they remove their ballet slippers after class.
“We have to feel the characters in our skin. I try to feel their suffering... It has to hurt, body and soul,” Luanda said.
Still, she added: “I can’t live without dance.”
An Australian university student who has never visited China and has only a modest social media following would seem an unlikely target for the Chinese government. However, when a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a news conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fueled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. Pavlou first placed himself in the superpower’s sights when in July last year he organized a small sit-in at the University of Queensland, where he studies, to protest against various Chinese government policies. Since then, the Global
‘ASKED TO MOVE OUT’: Indonesian coast guard personnel argued with a Chinese vessel over territorial claims after it entered the country’s exclusive economic zone An Indonesian patrol ship confronted a Chinese coast guard vessel that spent almost three days in waters where Indonesia claims economic rights and that are near the southernmost part of China’s disputed claims to the South China Sea. The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency on Friday night detected Chinese ship 5204 entering Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in what Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea. The agency sent a patrol ship that closed within 1km of the Chinese coast guard vessel and they communicated to affirm their position and their nation’s claims to the area, Indonesian Maritime Security Agency head Aan Kurnia said. “We
BEFORE WINTER COMES: Snow cuts off roads into Ladakh for four months or more each year, so the crunch is on to get food, tents and high-altitude equipment to Leh From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China. In the past few months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said. The move was triggered by a border standoff with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand
Dark matter, mysterious invisible stuff that makes up most of the mass of galaxies, including the Milky Way, is confounding scientists again, with new observations of distant galaxies conflicting with the current understanding of its nature. Research published this week revealed an unexpected discrepancy between observations of dark matter concentrations in three massive clusters of galaxies encompassing trillions of stars and theoretical computer simulations of how dark matter should be distributed. “Either there is a missing ingredient in the simulations or we have made a fundamental incorrect assumption about the nature of dark matter,” Yale University astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, a coauthor of