5 min

From the people

Dance clubs to world stage

Credit: Paula Wilson

“As an artist I am very colourful, and I feel that it is absolutely necessary to live every part of my life as fully as I can,” says Brazilian-born choreographer and dancer Newton Moraes.

His arresting personal style, with his wild shock of bright fuscia and red hair, painted fingernails and multi-coloured clothes, is like an outward expression of his youthful spirit.

“Last week a friend asked, ‘Why do you colour your hair like that, Newton? Are you unhappy with yourself?'” he laughs. “And I told him that in this world of six billion people, I just want to look different!”

He explains that it’s almost a political expression. He loves testing people, challenging them and getting a response. “Of course, the way I dress is just one part of who I am, but it is an important part,” says Moraes. “I try to be completely open and not let anything hold me back, because I think that would somehow affect my artistic expression.”

And he must be doing something right. At 41, with a long list of performance and choreography credits, and as artistic director of his own dance company which frequently tours to international destinations, Moraes seems to have little trouble expressing his artistic vision.

To mark the fifth anniversary of Newton Moraes Dance Theatre, the Toronto-based company of eight dancers is presenting an evening of three works under the title The Ecstasy Of Time, which features two world premieres, The Ecstasy Of Time and O Pais do Futebol, and a remount of Xavantes, a piece which was first performed in Toronto in 2000.

“There has been a lot of angst in my work in the past,” says Moraes. “But with some of the world events that have taken place over the past year, I thought it was time to do something celebratory instead of sombre. Rather than dwelling on fear, I want to share some of the joy I have inside.”

For The Ecstasy Of Time, Moraes has collaborated with Toronto DJ Tim Patrick to create a piece that incorporates house music, electronica, techno and trance, as well as samples from Bach. And Patrick spins it all live on stage.

The piece is heavily inspired by Moraes’ own experiences at dance clubs, which he first started going to at age 19 in Brazil, where he also worked as a DJ. When he first came to Toronto in ’89, he spent three years as a regular at Industry.

“I loved the atmosphere and the friendly people,” Moraes remembers. “It didn’t matter what nationality you were, whether you were gay or straight or whatever. It was very open-minded.”

Newton still has a passion for the Toronto club scene, and the piece is a way for him to reach out to some of the people who dance at clubs but would never go to a theatre to see a dance performance.

“People dance differently in clubs than they would on stage, and I think that art should come from the people. I want to bring some ideas of how people move in the clubs together with how we move as contemporary dancers.”

He is bridging the gap between dance and what other people perceive as legit art.

“I don’t support a sense of snobbery for pure art forms,” says Moraes. “I try to find a connection to a wide variety of art on all kinds of levels, because that is going to enhance me as an artist and as a person. I hope this piece will reach out and break through.”

The second piece, O Pais do Futebol, is inspired by Moraes’ love of soccer, and is about as far away from the world of nightclubs as you can get.

“It’s funny that Brazilians are stereotyped as soccer fanatics,” laughs Moraes, “but I used to play a lot of soccer, and I still do.”

This is a comic solo piece for Moraes, who plays three characters: a soccer player, a fan who is supporting the team and a radio commentator. The piece also features a recording of some of Newton’s own poetry, played over an original musical score by New Zealand composer Ross Carrey, which Newton describes as “melancholy.”

“My friends were concerned that the music would make people sad but the contrast with the comedic physical movement of the piece makes it very funny. I think Ross has written a very strong piece of music.”

The third piece is a remounting of the critically acclaimed Xavantes, which was first performed two years ago at Harbourfront Centre. It is an homage to the native Amazon rainforest tribe that narrowly escaped the 15th-century Portuguese slave trade, and suffered hundreds of years of oppression.

“It is a metaphor for being a person, being alive, for being gay or just trying to survive in a society where there’s another culture against yours,” Moraes says. “It was originally created to celebrate Brazil’s 500th birthday in 2000, so it is fitting that we are bringing it back to the stage for our fifth anniversary.”

Moraes’ enthusiasm for his work and his city of choice is contagious. Although he has travelled the world, he loves living in Toronto with Robert Shirley, his partner and chief patron of 16 years.

“Strangely enough,” he says, “as far as life as a gay artist goes, Toronto is very similar in its spirit to Rio. Here we have the gay newspaper, the gay TV station and you can be whatever you want to be. And there are people from so many different cultures living together side by side without confrontation.”

Having had so much exposure to a number of different cultures, Moraes has observed that Torontonians suffer from the perception that the work of local artists is maybe not as legitimate as that of artists from somewhere else.

“I am very pleased with the way things are going for me here,” he says, “but somehow my work is much more appreciated in Germany, partly, I think, because the German culture is much older and I think there are more people in Germany who appreciate the arts in general.”

He feels that there is still plenty of cultural growth needed here, but is optimistic about being part of Toronto’s arts community. “To be an artist you must fight all the time for acceptance,” he says. “It’s clear that there is not enough support for the arts, but if we really want to see a huge change for the better, we need to fight as one.”

A long-term goal for Newton is to create some kind of a Brazilian cultural centre in Toronto, a place for art, books, theatre and music – and a home for his dance company.

In the near future, however, the company is already booked for a tour in Brazil, and will then travel to Germany again in December, May and July.

“I’d also like to tour as much as possible to some other very
exotic places, like Asia and Africa,” he muses. “I always want to keep learning new styles and meeting new people. It’s important to always find new information and motivation, so that I can grow and change.”

$20. 8pm. Thu, Oct 10-12.
Betty Oliphant Theatre.
404 Jarvis St.
(416) 204-1082