Bruno Beltrão’s Critical, Creative Take on Hip-Hop Comes to BAM

Bruno Beltrão’s Inoah. Kerstin Behrendt

Warning: don’t try Bruno Beltrão’s dance moves at home.

A lord of the electric hybrid of street dance and hip-hop, Bruno Beltrão is one of Brazil’s freshest and most acclaimed choreographers. Now making his BAM debut, Beltrão brings his ten Grupo de Rua dancers to coincide with another artist’s auspicious premiere—David Binder has programmed this daring dance troupe as part of his first Next Wave Festival as BAM’s artistic director. To commemorate his ascension, all of the festival’s artists are also making their BAM debuts.

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Beltrão’s new show, Inoah, is eye-popping, jaw-dropping and gravity-defying. Running October 31 through November 2, this athletic performance is a 50-minute blitz of corporal feats as bodies bolt around and catapult across the stage, using nothing but the floor, their limbs, and each other as propulsive springboards. To learn more about his process—and the safety behind his dancers’ maximalist movements—we caught up with Beltrão to discuss his charged choreography and singular style.

Hip-hop and street-style dancing exist in the United States, but is there an element of your choreography that feels distinctly Brazilian?
I don’t know what defines being Brazilian. My country is like a continent, and we will find ways of living so different from each other that it is very difficult for one aspect to characterize the whole country. Brazil has a very strong and active contemporary dance scene, and it was this scene that helped us look at hip-hop critically, analytically, and creatively. Inoah is the result of this look, it is the result of the many questions we ask all the time about our doing. In our work hip-hop is not only celebrated, but problematized.

Your dancers’ athleticism is uncanny; it seems so injury-prone, but they exude such professionalism and precision. What does it mean to safely rehearse with these dancers?
I believe what we do is a very heavy dance for the body. It is, in practice, often, but not always, “against” the body. And I don’t say that with any pride. But one must consider that these are calculated risks. Some movements are based on gestures that the dancers have done, before, in other situations. That is, there is a more or less safe zone of action.

We were very anxious not to get hurt on a tour like this—with 20 performances at a time. For this we need to have a very calm pace in rehearsals and prevent something bad from happening to any dancer.

Dance, and especially yours, is a highly visual medium. How might you describe your style to audiences who have not encountered your work?
I believe our work moves between the extremes: meditation, fury, softness, strength, virtuosity, reflection. Without taking these as opposites.

If one is expecting just one of these aspects, it may come as a deception. Our work is the result of a concrete and continuous conversation between universes with very different values.

This performance features ten male dancers; is street-style a more masculine dance in Brazil, or was there a curiosity in exploring the male body through this choreography?
In our auditions, few women appear. That is why we do not have the female presence in the group. But who knows if this also has something to do with our need to work with the male body the issues that concern males and what we should overcome.

Is there a significance to the title of your piece, Inoah?
Inoã is the name of a town neighboring Niteroi, where the street group is based. We went there for financial reasons, because only in this area we could rent a huge warehouse to assemble our piece. It was more a sound question (it’s a beautiful Tupi word) than a specific meaning.

Inoa comes from the Tupi indigenous language and there are two main meanings: “high grass, high field.” And the other is abbreviation of NoNã, which means to taper, because it is a region that narrows when it comes across a very beautiful group of mountains of the region called Serra da Tiririca.

The last time we were in the U.S. with our H3 show we were extremely well-received by the American audience. It is a great joy to share with you the result of our research.

Bruno Beltrão’s Critical, Creative Take on Hip-Hop Comes to BAM