When arts and politics meet – The Companhia de Ballet da Cidade de Niterói close-down

“An artist must bear in mind that he or she is part of his or her country’s life. And it is his or her job to provide examples that inspire new vocations”  – Ana Botafogo

Photo via Nikiti Cultural

By Juliana Araújo

As usual, I came back home from work and switched my computer on to read the news of the day. I had in mind to write up a new post for my blog, probably on the worldwide Nutcracker productions as Christmas time approaches.

Rather, I learned about the Companhia de Ballet de Niterói close-down by the Municipality of that city.

Moved and outraged by the news, I decided to investigate it further. According to the Rio’s newspaper O Globo , the decision to close down the Company arose from dancers’ and staff’s claims for better wages and more appreciation of by the municipal authorities. According to that newspaper, the Group was notified of the Company close-down last Thursday by an official bill signed by the Mayor Jorge Roberto Silveira. In addition,  O Fluminense  newspaper published a note saying that the Mayor would have justified his decision by stating that the Group would have lost their social character, since they were not willing to give lessons to children in need; and as a result, he would request the “cancellation  Company’s intangible heritage registration ” the resignation of the Company’s director and impose collective holidays to the dancers.

Since they became aware of such measures, the dancers have joint efforts to prevent the Company’s close-down from materialising. Demonstrations have been taking place throughout the City such as Praia de Icaraí and the City Council.

Photo via Encontro Niterói América do Sul

According to the O Globo newspaper, Mayor Jose Roberto Silveira said that he was initially motivated to create the Company in 1992 because of the following reasons:

“The recognition by the government of Niterói’s vocation for dance, the need for means of contributing to the city self-esteem, and maybe most importantly, to have a ballet company whose members could also teach dance in rough areas. “

And he further added:

“… The exclusive support to the ballet, in turn, no longer meets Niterói’s needs, where several dance groups have been created in the last two decades and deserve the City’s support just as much.”

By all means, the decision to close the Company down has caused major disruptions in the Niterói’s population, such as shows cancellations, imposition of collective vacations to employees, layoffs and financial losses to Rio de Janeiro’s taxpayers.  Not willing to limit myself to discussions on sanctions imposed on violations of labour and constitutional rights, in my view, these arguments are completely unfounded for the following reasons:

Well, if when Mr. Mayor created the Company he had in mind the need for means to  contribute to the city’s self-esteem, the Ballet of the Cidade de Niterói  has always fulfilled this role. Since the Company was created, it has not only been a reason of pride for the City but also for Brazil  as a whole. Following primarily the contemporary style, the Ballet has spoilt the public with shows choreographed by great Brazilian icons such as: Renato Vieira, Rodrigo Negri, Rodrigo Pederneiras, Henry Brill, Luiz Fernando Bongiovanni, among others. Always critically acclaimed, its works have always reflected the artistic and creative spirit of the Brazilian people, among which I would like to mention: Choros e Valsas – Tributo a Pixinguinha, Enquanto Dure…. e o Caixa de Cores.

The claim that “the exclusive support to ballet no longer meets Niterói’s needs” is even more revolting. In which case, it is not about exclusive support to ballet, but support to arts as a whole and the recognition of its rejuvenating social inclusion value. Instead of trying to deactivate the Company, Mr. Mayor should seek mechanisms to expand it further, in order to develop fund raising strategies as well as increase employment rates. Currently, the largest ballet companies in the world have sought to expand their dance repertoires by adding on various dance styles other than only classical dance, but also including neo-classical, modern and contemporary styles. Other initiatives include greater efforts to popularise ballet. For example, this year the London Royal Ballet  exhibited several ballets in a large screen at Trafalgar Square for free. In addition, they showed live performances of their repertoires in various cinema throughout the City, not to mention the  Romeo and Juliet mega production performed in the O2 Arena during the month of June. Also, the English National Ballet  has used other mechanisms to maintain the employment rates within the Company such as offering adult classical ballet classes, charity parties, fashion events, lectures given by the dancers, and the “Friends of the ENB “ system, which gives members access to masterclasses,  rehearsals and the inside world of ballet.

The Fórum Nacional de Dança e o Mobilização Dança (SP) and other supporting organisations have played a key role in fostering research and dance in Brazil. In addition, there are several social projects that have contributed to the expansion of arts in Brazil, such as  Dançando para Não Dançar  and the Balé Jovem de São Vicente project. The  Escola do Teatro Bolshoi do Brasil have exported out talented dancers due to the lack of a political-economic structure capable of keeping them there.

Therefore, it is crucial that we recognise that disengaged and authoritarian political positions that are based on the lack of legitimacy and knowledge of the topic can give rise to disastrous effects not only a country’s economy but also the people’s culture.

As an example of citizenship, I would like to invite Mr. Mayor Jorge Roberto Silveira to review his ideas and concepts and reverse his decision to close the Companhia de Ballet da Cidade de Niterói down. I also ask the people of Brasil, for the love of arts and dance, to express their solidarity to the members of the Company as together we can generate better working conditions for our dancers and thereby build up a better country.

Finally, I would add that one more demonstration is being organised for tomorrow at 11:00am at the Campo de São Bento in Niteroi. I would ask those who are interested in to get in touch with members of the Company to obtain further information about the event.

Come on folks! Unity is strength.

POST UPDATE: After I have published this post, I discovered that a public petition has been organised to prevent the Company close-down. Therefore, I would be grateful if you would sign it  and continue to disseminate the news. In order to access the public petition website, please click on here. The Companhia de Ballet da Cidade de Niterói can be directly contacted here.

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