Obit – Django, the dancer

Django, the well-known Brazilian choreographer, died yesterday of emphysema, killed by air pollution in his beloved city of Rio de Janeiro, pictured in his masterpiece “Ciudades/Cities”. He was 61.

Revelled or abhorred, his work left nobody indifferent. I interviewed him in his heyday, in a café in Rio. He was 5 years my senior and had just had his major success, “Ciudades/Cities” performed in New York. I was fumbling with my questions and he, ever patient, was taking his time to answer, as though he had nothing better to do. He told me he was grateful for the breather. He said he loved to “study people’s expressions as they talked or waited, were bored or hopeful. The dance of the eyebrows, the eyes, the mouth a fascinating choreography of desire.”

He observed everything, from the fretful moves of pigeons in a park fighting over crumbs, to the longing pose of a vagrant just before he brought his lips to the neck of the bottle. The brilliance of emotions contained or unleashed dazzled him and inspired his best work.

I asked him about his latest choreography. He explained passionately that traffic lights lived to their own rhythms, repeated street after street, obeying a higher will. His piece was an ordered chaos ruled by syncopated graffiti. Garbage had its place, discarded papers were thrown in the air and floated on the breeze, or glass bottles were exploded on a wall, the forceful clash releasing coloured fragments in the light. He told me about the rain in the city, umbrellas dotting a busy street, the slow pace of people safe under them compared to the race for cover of the exposed ones. Everything was a joy to the eye – he stored millions of movements which he disgorged on the scene through the pliant bodies of his troupe. I sat mesmerized by his vision, enthralled by his movements as he mimicked the rain and the people running for cover. He called the rain “urban guerilla”. He laughed a lot.

He was a poet and a dancer at heart.

I asked him what his plans were, for his next work. He talked about sounds. He said he was interested in the rhythm of people coughing at the opera house. One cough started another, followed by a third, each bolder than the first. He revelled in the myriad of expressions the body revealed even though its bearer was unaware.  The whole was always greater than the sum of its part. He wrote feverishly, captured what he saw by any means. He turned to nature for inspiration and produced more dazzling work.

Then one day he called it quits. He had said all he had to say, was now happy to absorb and retain instead of constantly creating for others. He sought to transform himself. He was called selfish by the same people who claimed to hate his work. He paid them no mind. He turned to meditation, looking for stillness as another way to understand the world. He watched his thoughts, searching for patterns in their flow and colours. The quiet was bursting with energy, he was overjoyed by his findings.

He laughed his way into death as he had into life, capturing his essence as he danced into the next state, exuberant and free.

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