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Rosangela Silvestre and Deep Human Memory

- In a forest studio in Brazil open to the elements

(Originally published in Dance International Magazine - Winter 2018) 

It is 6 a.m. and Rosangela Silvestre is watering the terraced landscape with a hose, her tiny frame dressed in soft lavender and grey sweats. Tropical trees tower above the four-story studio built into the hillside behind her. Nestled in the forest, here in the island town of Morro de Sau Paulo, off the coast of Salvador, Brazil, is Silvestre's open-air studio. With sleek wooden floors and no walls or locks, it is called the Silvestre Temple. It is a place of meditation, spirit, community and nature - all integral parts of the dance technique that the Brazilian dancer and choreographer has developed over the last 20 years.

Initially trained in ballet, Silvestre pursued post-secondary studies in modern dance at the Federal University of Bahia. In 1985, she witnessed a performance by a local dance troupe led by Raimundo Bispo dos Santos, Mestre King, says Silvestre, who was to become her greatest teacher. mestre Kings, says Silvestre, "brought a body with African memory to modern dance." He valued African ancestral memory, deeply embedded in the social and sacred dances of Brazil, and trained generations of dancers until his death in January 2018.

Through his teachings, Silvestre also experienced the embodiment and expression of universal human memories found in the elements of nature.

Silvestre is deeply philosophical, drawing inspiration from many spiritual traditions, including Buddhism and African religions brought years ago to the Americas by enslaved Africans. Most of these systems reference the four directions and their associated elements (North - Earth, East - Air, South - Fire, West - Water). She is also influenced by hr Caboclo (Indigenous to Brazil) great-grandfather and his reverence for nature. Silvestre made this universal kowledge an integral part of her technique. For her, dance "is a cosmic communication, every day, all day. It is guidance for life that we should be aware of."

Her goal is to invite dancers to be present, connected with nature and with universal energies available to support movement. During a recent workshop on Morro de Sao Paulo, she led seven dancers, including myself, in a trek through the island, where we danced in the ocean and under a waterfall. We danced at the mud cliffs of Gamboa Beach, covering ourselves in wet earth. We revelled in exploring movement in close physical contact with water and earth. We danced while the tropical breezes dried our skin, the essence of the element air supporting our arms and breath.

Many who study with Silvestre go on to choreograph using this movement vocabulary that incorporates explorations of ballet, modern and "movements that activate African ancestral memories. You don't have to be from Brazil to allow those particular expressions to come alive," she says. "The seeds of those gestures are in all of us."

When not in her island studio, Silvestre lives in the United States. She does not stay still for long, through. Her technique has resonance worldwide, and she tours constantly, teaching in Europe and all over the Americas. In addition, she holds two dance intensives a year in Brazil. Her choreography hs been commissioned by numerous companies, including Brazil's Balé Folclórico da Bahia and Viver Brasil. In New York, she has choreographed for Ballet Hispànico and the American Academy of Ballet, among others. She has also toured with American jazz musician Steve Coleman, improving onstage as another instrument.

Silvestre also sings and composes, and in 2011 released a full-length album, Voices of Nature. She sees no separation between art, music, dance and regular life.

"I am always dancing. When watering the plants, I am training the body. I am in meditation. I am doing my puja [prayers]. No separation. Everything that I manifest is an extenson of my reality, my spirituality and is connecting to everything that I do. I dance life."

© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer

      Photo: David Terry 

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