Backstage in Brazil with Deborah Colker

A week in the life of Deborah Colker, founder, director and choreographer of Companhia De Dança Deborah Colker, Brazil


I start the day on the treadmill whilst reading the newspaper. There is a lot planned for today including a ballet class and contemporary dance class. It’s an important day: we will undertake a run-through of Belle, which will premiere at Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro on 13 June, followed by a South American tour.

I started the creation process of Belle more than two years ago, and since then the script has become more accurate. We have adapted the music and reassessed the repertoire of movement created for the piece, and worked on each character’s unique strength. I’m considering changing the second act, which takes place in a brothel. Co-director of the company, João Elias, who worked with me on the dramaturgy of this performance, has previously mentioned it, as has my brother Flavio Colker. Flavio takes all the company photos and has worked alongside me on several performances. He came to see a rehearsal and we talked a lot about Belle, which is still in process.


I wake up and go to my daughter’s house to visit my big love – my grandson Theo. I spend the morning with him and take him to school. It’s much later that morning when I arrive at the company. This afternoon is given over to the technical matters of Belle: costumes, set and music. I give a class to the company dancers, who have already had their daily ballet class first thing this morning. I then discuss my concerns regarding the brothel scene, my thoughts on the staging of eroticism, and the needs of the cast – especially in the first act, which is to be performed on pointe shoes.


At the treadmill I work on Belle’s text. The protagonist is married to a distinguished professional, and they have a complex relationship. What she needs most, he cannot give her; and what he wants most, she cannot reach. After an acquaintance visits a brothel, she begins to have visions of herself with other men. When the curtain opens, I want to include a small text with information that I find relevant to the audience, which will help them freely relate to the piece. It takes time to get to the heart of it and to portray that intersection of instinct, reason, flesh, love, sex and soulfulness. The characters, locations and intent of the dancers will combine to create a rich performance. I think that bringing feelings, memory, eroticism and imagination to movement, greatly enhances the possibilities of dance.

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I begin the day early by reading a newspaper whilst walking on the treadmill, followed by a visit to the dentist. In the 30-minute taxi ride to the company, I concentrate on my 11am meeting about a tree project, a piece we are developing with the Barbican – it’s been in progress since 2005. In my vision I see the two cities of Rio and London, populated with urban trees, bucolic scenes, fury, eroticism, and stories of death, life and love. Within this we are working with Shakespeare’s sonnets and the dialogue between art and reality. Later in the day, I give the company a 40-minute class in contemporary dance with floor work, balance, flow and volume. By the end of the day, the set for Belle (designed by Gringo Cardia) has been sent for performance adjustments, and we are one step closer to the premiere – and still working hard to finish the choreography and the music.


I arrive early at the company to teach a class and hold a school meeting with João and my daughter Clara Colker, then watch some dancers who hope to join our company. I see them perform during the rehearsals with my dancers: choosing who might join us is always a sensitive subject. I also receive news that I will receive a prize from one of the major radio stations in Rio. It’s for my work for Samba School Imperatriz – during December, January and February, I was pushed to my limits putting that project together.

Read: How to build a dance company – Shaun Parker & Company


This morning I’m up early to spend time with my dogs at my house in the mountains, which is two hours drive from Rio. The incredible forest there is heavenly: I like to hike, climb rocks, search for flowers and take my chances in cold waters. I also like to have a drink! It amuses me and I also get more creative. Here I can drink without worry and recover from a week of work with a swim in the river.Though there is never a real day off; there is always business to take care of here too.


I return to Rio early to meet with music director Berna Ceppas in his studio to talk about the score for Belle. Back at home, I run through the latest video of the last run through of Belle and prepare notes for Monday’s rehearsals. The Belle previews across four small cities are drawing closer.

Image © Flavio Colker