I'll never forget the piece you're talking about, Velox, from 2006. The dancers are suspended on a vertical plane the entire time. The dance for an hour, without ever touching the floor. The plane looks like a giant peg board—some kind of board game. You used to be a volleyball player. Do you get your inspiration from sports?

Sports gave me energy and physical discipline. Sports are a competition. You play to win. Art is different. Art is discovery. You have to feel and to contemplate. But the idea of wanting to conquer obstacles—sports gave me the discipline for that.

You recently directed a Cirque de Soleil production, which is now being showcased in Toronto. What was it like to choreograph for a circus? Obviously, it's quite different from contemporary dance.

Vase space: Colker's "4 x 4"
Courtesy Cia de Dança Deborah Colker
Vase space: Colker's "4 x 4"

The circus was incredible. It's marvelous. Cirque de Soleil is not just a circus. It's the world's circus. The people who work there are from all over the world. I worked with artists from Russia, from Brazil, from Japan. They were all circus artists, but it was a mix of languages: of dance, circus, and of theater. The name of the show is Ovo—egg. The director originally wanted me to do something about biodiversity and nature. So I chose the insect world. I felt like insects have a fascinating relationship with acrobatics. Insects and acrobats are the same to me. They can walk on the ceiling, on the floor, they can jump, do everything.

You were the first Brazilian artist to win Britain's Laurence Olivier Award. Do you feel that sometimes you're showcasing Brazil to the outside world? Do you feel a certain responsibility because of that?

I feel a great responsibility to represent Brazil. A lot of people arrive in Brazil and think they've arrived in the Third World. The world that doesn't do the right things, that has no order, no education, that just copies from the outside. As everyone says, Brazil is the country of beautiful women, of the mulatta, of the beach, of Carnival. But we also have electronic music, jazz, blues. We also have a contemporary dance. People think of Brazilian dance as samba and capoeira. I do contemporary dance. I have a strong, classical technique. I'm showing Brazil as we do it. As we want. Not as they see us.

In the final part of 4 x 4, 90 ceramic vases, created by a Rio-based artist collective, Gringo Cardia, are placed throughout the stage. Is that also a purposeful limitation?

Each vase is one meter apart, so it's a very restricted space. It's a new law: They have to dance without breaking the vases. Yet they must still dance with purity, fluidity, intensity. They must spin and jump—do everything. In each new space, the ballerina discovers a new body, a new dance. With every new question that is proposed, you are forced to encounter an answer. It's like life. There's also a magnet inside every vase, and, at the last moment, magnetic lines that come down from the ceiling catch the vases and suspend them, and we dance below the vases. So it's all about how you can relate to the same object in different ways.

One dance in 4 x 4 involves dancers moving in front of a giant, cartoonish painting by the artist Victor Arruda. It's full of body parts. It's very strange. What were you thinking about?

This painting is about holes. The mouth hole. The armpit hole. The belly. My idea here was: How does a child or an adolescent discover her body? Like, when the breasts begin to grow, or the butt, or the hairs begin to grow and change. How does the child begin to see her body growing, becoming a sensual body, a body that desires. A body with personality. But we also play in this child space. You know—how a child will put her hand in her nose, pull out a booger, and then put it in her mouth. There's the curiosity of the child when the body begins to change and grows.

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