Ballet is a world conjuring images of luxury and entertainment, a preserve for the cultured, the elite. That may be true in many cases. But in Rio de Janeiro, a city exemplifying Brazil’s staggering divide between rich and poor, where favelas hug the hills next to luxury apartments, the ballet venue is a stunning exception in a country in turmoil.
The Art Nouveau building that is Rio’s Municipal Theater rises in the centre of the coastal city. Built in the early 20th century, it was inspired by Paris’s ornate Opera Garnier. It is publicly funded and ordinary citizens can buy ballet tickets for as little as $2. The shows are put on inside a luxurious marble interior that resembles those of the world’s premier opera houses.
Behind the facade, though, the ravages of Brazil’s economic crisis are plain.
In 2017, many of the Municipal Theater Ballet company’s dancers were forced to accept food donations. Some turned to driving for Uber to make ends meet. The Ballet was hit hard.
On June 23, 2018 it held its first show in a year. There was a frisson of excitement and tension as the ballet dancers came together and prepared to perform once more in their grand, historic space. Some had not seen each other for a very long time.
The dancers knew the importance of this first night. They practised and trained with renewed determination, going over every minute detail. It was fraught in the dressing rooms too. They were back — and they wanted the public to know it.
The curtain rose on the opening night and even the most experienced dancers took deep, nervous breaths as they peered from behind the theater’s huge curtains. This was a new kind of pressure. Had they done enough? Would they be able to perform to the level of perfection and precision expected?
The orchestra started and finally after one year it was time.
Margueritta Tostes, one of the ballerinas, said: “As soon as I stepped onto the stage I wanted to cry. We had been away for too long. Way too long, because of injuries, or financial difficulties. I cried with relief that I was out there again, dancing with my colleagues.”
The final curtain fell to huge applause.
Backstage, the dancers rushed to the centre from both sides, screaming, shouting, crying, celebrating. It looked more like the final of a Brazilian football match than the climax of a night of restrained elegance. But instead of jerseys and football boots, there were pink ballet shoes and white tutus rushing onto the stage.
Brazilians are known to give free rein to their emotions. And, after a year of waiting, pent-up frustration and tension were released, giving way to a wave of sheer joy. — AFP