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Body, games, and theory

The erudite and folksy Antônio Nóbrega has become a player with multiple specialties

Silvia Machado

Naturalmente, staged in 2009, with a rerun in December 2011 at the Fiesp-Sesi Cultural Center, is the performing artist´s version of a thesisSilvia Machado

The relationship with university is like a piece of fabric embroidered with wide stitches over the course of his career. Therefore, it is not surprising that Antônio Nóbrega, born in the city of Recife in 1952, named his latest artistic creation “thesis.” Naturalmente, teoria e jogo de uma dança brasileira [Naturally, theory and game of a Brazilian dance] was defended in 2009.

It took Nobrega nearly 40 years to consolidate the research work necessary to transform the little boy who had no link to folk culture into a player with multiple specialties. The university came and went several times in the course of this career. Antônio Nóbrega’s earliest artistic endeavor was playing the violin. At the age of 16, in 1968, when he was preparing for his university entrance exams, he was already a member of the Paraiba Chamber Orchestra and of the Recife Symphonic Orchestra. His first performance was held in 1963, when he played the violin at the Fine Arts School in Recife, while still studying music under Luis Soler.

Nobrega went to law school for two years and dropped out. He then tried literature, and gave up; he went on to study music, dropped out, but his time at Conservatory of the Federal University of Pernambuco changed his life. At the University, he met fellow musicians and together they started the Quinteto Armorial quintet. He remained with the quintet from 1971 to 1980. In 1980, he decided to switch from the violin to the fiddle. However, this was not only a case of switching from one musical instrument to another, a common occurrence among musicians. This was the beginning of the relationship between the erudite and the folksy, which would become object of his research work, underscored by the Proposta Armorial of Ariano Suassuna.

He discovered the antics of buffoons and the merrymakers of the reisado folk dance, the epic and rough songs of the troubadours and folk poets. He met captain Antônio Pereira, with whom he kept in close contact for 10 years and who taught him the steps of the tesoura rebatida dance until he was able to choose the best vine to make the Burra Calu (a character which many years later would be included in Boi castanho, a song he composed).

Nóbrega also studied under Mateus Guariba, Nascimento do Passo, Mestre Aldenir and Olímpio Boneca, an expert on reisado and a warrior from the town of Juazeiro, in the state of Ceará. Boneca taught Nobrega all the songs and histrionics of the Mateus. Another teacher was Mestre Zé Alfaiate, who lived on Bomba do Hemetério hill, and through whom he became acquainted with the caboclo Sete Flechas and the maneuvers and postures of what he was already referring to as “Brazilian ballet.” Like any good researcher, Nobrega has cultivated his obsession for a long time. “I have always wanted to find out why a country with such a wide variety of exuberant dances, whose repertoire of dance steps is impressive, had never incorporated this wealth into dancing on the stage. This assimilation only exists in the field of music.”

The glitter and embellishments that attracted him embroidered his artistic path. The armorial movement had become so ingrained that Nobrega turned it into a music and dance version of Ariano Suassuna. When he came to São Paulo in 1982 to perform A arte da cantoria [The art of singing], he had already staged A bandeira do divino [The banner of the divine] in 1978, having dedicated the performance to captain Antônio Pereira. He gave his first solo performance as a dancer in 1983, when he staged O maracatu misterioso [The mysterious maracatu].

He went back to the university in 1986, when he was invited to design a course on Brazilian folk dances at Unicamp; this course was to become part of the undergraduate course he had started. Three years, he presented his master’s dissertation: O reino do meio-dia [The reign of midday]. This was the first synthesis of what he considered, at the time, to be the native Brazilian, Negro, and Iberian components of our body language.

The combination of folk and erudition became his field of research. He is planning to produce one more event on what Peter Brook refers to as “the grand different theaters of the world.” He is going to systematize a lexicon that teaches dancing based on folk dances. In Naturalmente he shows how the steps of the maracatu dance are set to the music of Erick Satie; how capoeira can be performed to the sound of Bach; or how a suite from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker can be combined with Gaiata, a popular character. He executes the proposal of universal principles and local forms as preached by Eugênio Barba.

The case studies are recorded in the series of 10 shows that comprise Danças brasileiras [Brazilian dances], a project created and directed by Belisário França, in 2004, for Canal Futura TV channel. Instituto Brincante, the center at which Nobrega can test his hypotheses, was founded with his partner, Rosane Almeida.

Research work is validated by continuity. The research work of Nóbrega encountered Maria Eugênia Almeida and Marina Adib, two talented young dancers, who will fully execute the ideas that have guided Nobrega during his professional career: Maria Eugênia has a folk dance background while Marina has a classical dance background. Watching them perform on stage may be Nobregás first step towards a post-doctorate degree.