Note from BBT: Over the course of my work sharing the experience, history, achievements and struggles of black Brazilians, one of my regrets is that, even as I’ve devoted a significant amount of time creating content for the blog in the near decade of its existence, I feel as if I’ve still only scratched the surface of this topic. As much as I’ve been to present, there’s far more that I simply haven’t been able to get to. This was my thought when I learned of the recent passing of the dancer/choreographer Ismael Ivo.
I’ve come across Ivo’s name numerous times in the past five years, but there was always another story I was working on which would cause me think, I’ll get to his story one of these days. Of course, when someone prominent passes away, their work will always be around to admire as is the case with athletes, musicians, actors, etc.
This is certainly the case of Ismael Ivo, who has been the subject of numerous reports and at least a few documentaries. I’m sure with his recent passing, more of his work will be made available. Ismael’s death comes almost exactly one year after the passing of Marlena Silva, a pioneer in African dance in the state of Minas Gerais. Silva passed away at age 83 on April 13th of last year.
When you look into Ivo’s career trajectory, you have to ask why it is that more Brazilians don’t know who he is. But then again, when you consider the way that black Brazilians are treated, often completely ignored in their own country, it makes total sense. I’ve lost count of how many Afro-Brazilians whose works and stories I’ve come to know who saw it necessary to leave Brazil to be able to achieve their goals.
In some ways, this is slowly changing, but we still continue to see numerous examples where this situation remains the same. The case of ballerina Ingrid Silva is another recent example of this. As Brazil continues to see classic dance as area not meant for black bodies, Silva made a name for herself in the United States. Yes, the same United States that Brazil sees itself as being superior to in terms of the treatment of black people. I would never ignore the horrific historic treatment of African-Americans in the US, as this continues today, but at the same time, in comparison to Brazil, the United States offers FAR more opportunities to black people.
As it turns out, Ismael Ivo also got his big break due to a connection to the United States. You see, it was in 1983, when Ivo was performing the solo piece “O Rito do Corpo em Lua” at the Oficinas Nacionais de Dança Contemporânea (National Workshops of Contemporary Dance) at the Federal University of Bahia, that the famed African-American dancer/choreographer Alvin Ailey happened see Ivo’s performance while on vacation in Salvador, Bahia.
“Who would imagine that an American choreographer would come to Brazil, spend a vacation in Salvador, watch a performance of yours, and then invite you to the company? This is magic!”, said Ivo about that chance meeting in 1983. At the invitation of Ailey, Ivo went to New York to study at an American school which led to his solo performances at the famed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, founded by African-American theater director/producer Ellen Stewart. The rest, as is often said, is history. Or in Brazil’s case, a history that most don’t know.
Last week, I posted a story on the passing of three well-known Afro-Brazilians due to complications of the devastating Coronavirus and unfortunately, the spread of the virus continues to claim the lives of ten of thousands of Brazilians as it has in other countries. It’s sad to say, but it was also Covid-19 that has claimed the life of Ismael Ivo.
Dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo dies at 66 from Covid-19 complications
São Paulo dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo, a reference in contemporary dance, died last Thursday night at the age of 66 from complications of Covid-19.
He was admitted to the Sírio-Libanês Hospital, in São Paulo. According to his staff, he was admitted to the hospital a month ago and was intubated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He got better and was transferred to a room, but his condition worsened early Thursday morning and Ivo succumbed to the virus.
Of humble origin, born in Vila Ema, in the East Zone of São Paulo, Ismael Ivo made a living through dance. A dancer and choreographer, he performed for more than three decades in Europe. To be more exact, 33 years, during which time he was the director of the Venice Biennale and the first black foreigner to direct the German National Theater in Weimar.
Back in Brazil, he took over the direction of the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo in 2017 and was currently vice president of the State Council of Culture of the Government of São Paulo.
São Paulo Governor João Dória announced that he will create the SP Escola de Dança Ismael Ivo (Ismael Ivo School of Dance), which “will offer technical and artistic training, with a 100% focus on the formation and training of professionals in choreography and performance.”
Encouragement from his mother and support from renowned choreographers
Encouraged by his mother, the teenager interested in dance started his artistic training through scholarships in contemporary dance schools, and followed through the dancers corps of the Teatro de Dança Galpão in São Paulo. After he stood out, he was invited by the choreographer Klauss Vianna to join the experimental dance group of the Teatro Municipal, where he stayed for one year.
The bridge to the outside world came in 1983, when, during a solo performance in Bahia, he met American choreographer Alvin Ailey. Impacted by Ismael Ivo’s performance, he was responsible for opening the doors to the artist’s international career. The following year, he was already founding, alongside artistic director Karl Regensburger, the contemporary dance festival ImPulsTanz, in Vienna, considered one of the most prestigious in Europe.
Also outside of Brazil, he has accumulated partnerships with German choreographer and ballet director Pina Bausch, American choreographer William Forsythe, and Serbian performer Marina Abramović.
Recently, in October 2019, Ivo gave an interview to TV Globo’s Conversa com Bial program, where he summarized his successful trajectory in contemporary dance. Ingrid Silva appeared with Ivo.
Ismael Ivo: The ebony black god that Brazil didn’t know and the world revered
By Kauê Vieira
Ismael Ivo has left us. The celebrated dancer and choreographer left the scene, discreetly, at the age of 66. The ambassador of dance in the country where culture is still, unfortunately, treated as a kind of second-line product, passed away a victim of covid-19.
Ivo joins the pantheon of thinking heads plucked from the conviviality of a country increasingly lacking in culture. Of Ismael Ivo. It was the same with Aldir Blanc, with the actors João Acaiabe and Gésio Amadeu; Nicette Bruno and Ubirany Félix, and so many others who succumb to victims of a denialist government that insists in minimizing the effects of a pandemic that has already killed almost 400 thousand people.
Few people knew, but Ismael Ivo had been in the ICU of the Sírio-Libanês Hospital for about a month.
Ismael Ivo was a great representative of the black race
The color of the night
Ismael Ivo had the color of the night. A black man, with muscles defined by the work of a career of over 30 years abroad, Ivo was the perfect definition of an Deus do Ébano (Ebony God), as Ilê Aiyê sang so well.
Like every representative of the race, his life was hard. Ismael Ivo was born in the outskirts of the East Zone of São Paulo, Vila Ema to be exact. Son of a maid, he was raised only by his mother, and from an early age faced the difficulties imposed on those born with the color of night skin.
Brazil didn’t know Ismael Ivo. As it happens with representatives from various artistic segments, the dancer had his talent recognized abroad, where he went in 1984.
He landed in Vienna, where he founded, together with artistic director Karl Regensburger, the contemporary dance festival “ImPulsTanz”, in Austria’s capital. Brazil, meanwhile, was taking its first steps out of a bloody dictatorship that affected art in particular. Exile became commonplace for exponents of our culture such as Gilberto Gil and Geraldo Vandré.
Ismael Ivo lived 33 years dancing and making history abroad
At the head of one of the largest dance festivals in Europe, Ismael Ivo saw his life transformed through dance. In the early 2000s, Ivo became the director of the “Venice Biennale.”
“Brazil is already a Babylon of races and cultures. You can’t live here without intuition; intuition we eat with beans and rice”, Ivo declared in an interview to Cult Magazine.
The steps of this black man to meet history followed. Ismael Ivo landed in Germany, where he became the first black foreigner to head the German National Theater, in the city of Weimar.
“Delusions of a Childhood”
Ismael Ivo spent 12 years in Germany, but always maintained a connection to his homeland. He brought William Shakespeare’s “Othello” to São Paulo and performed alongside the dance group of the German National Theater.
For many, “Delírios de uma Infância” (“Deliriums of a Childhood”) was his best work. The show premiered in Berlin in 1989 and brings together, through dance, the impressions of a black child born on the outskirts of a Brazilian city. Ismael Ivo condenses affective memories from his personal life, such as his black ancestry and the impact of slavery in the history of one of the most racist countries in the world.
Ismael Ivo talked about “Delírios de uma Infância” in a recent participation in the program Conversa com Bial, from TV Globo.
It was an association of ideas, and as until today I choreograph associating different elements and converging ideas, so in the delirium I see my surroundings, where I was born, what I am seeing and living, and at the same time associating it with Gustav Mahler’s song, “Songs for a Dead Child”.
The reapproximation with Brazil happened late, precisely in 2017 when he finally took over the direction of the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo. Ismael and history met again, as he became the first black man at the head of one of the most important dance companies in the country. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the country is 54% pretos e pardos (black and brown)
Ismael Ivo’s administration brought the city of São Paulo closer to one of its symbols. Teatro Municipal, an icon of beauty and segregation. The dancer directed “Corpo Cidade”, which used dance to talk about the relationship between the metropolis and the people who live in it. It was a success, especially for the tickets starting at R$20.
Structural racism, however, was always in Ismael Ivo’s glue. The dancer ended up fired from the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo after accusations of moral harassment, vehemently denied by him.
“My artistic and professional career is immaculate. Wherever I have been in the world, I have always respected and been respected as a human being and as an artist. Tarnishing my image has become a real obsession. So much so that even after I have been acquitted by the special commission I continue to be attacked and prevented from returning to the position I held,” he said in a note at the time.
Ismael Ivo was the first black man to lead the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo
Brazil didn’t know Ismael Ivo, who left us too soon. His work, however, impacted tens of thousands of young blacks with the dream of making a career in dance. Let’s blacken the stages!
This is the case of Ingrid Silva, the first black dancer from Brazil to reach the Dance Theatre of Harlem, in New York, in the United States.
I started in ballet in a community near my home, in the Vila Olímpica da Mangueira, in a social project called Dançando para não Dançar (Dancing not to Dance). Until then everyone looked like me and the rest of the world. When I went to other schools and won scholarships, I was in the south zone of Rio. It was very elitist. I was a minority, I never understood nor questioned, I always thought it was normal until I got to the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where everyone looked like me, said Ingrid in an interview to Hypeness.
May the memory and trajectory of Ismael Ivo serve to inspire Brazil to understand that there is no evolutionary possibility without art. But art that includes and fights against historical prejudices, such as racism. The rest, dear readers, is a sham and has a commitment to oppression.
“Culture is an element that transforms life,” Ismael Ivo.