Ballet Manguinhos, named for its favela in Rio de Janeiro, returns to the stage after a long absence during the COVID-19 pandemic. It counts 250 children and teenagers from the favela as its performers. The ballet group provides social support in a community where poverty, hunger and teen pregnancy are constant issues.
The group was galvanized by the loss of its founder, Daiana Ferreira, 32, to COVID-19. They chose to dive into prevention campaigns against the disease. They started leafleting the community, promoting mass testing and distributing masks. Recognizing further community needs, they engaged in campaigns to collect food, hygiene products, tampons, and electronic devices to stay in touch with ballet members.
The availability of vaccines allowed the group to resume performing. Ballet Manguinhos' administrative director, Carine Lopes, describes the group’s return as “tears, enthusiasm, anxiety, and the desire to assert the dance as resistance art.”
Ballet Manguinhos carried out mass testing campaigns in the Manguinhos favela complex and collected food to help students and their families. Photo courtesy Ana Silva/Ballet Manguinhos
Their first new performance, “Woman: Power and Resistance”, used choreography to tell the story of ten inspiring women. It featured Brazilian diplomat Bertha Lutz, who worked to insert gender equity into the drafting of the United Nations Charter.
“This is Daiana's legacy. Her memory and the desire to take kids out of idleness, and show a reality other than violence, is alive. We will not stop,” said Carine.
“This presentation was very different. We have already done 7 shows in almost 10 years of history, but this time the desire to reaffirm the art and return to performing gave us this magical feeling. The dancers were crying backstage,” added Carine.
“This is the only moment the students have to assert themselves as artists. We work with children and youths who do not access cultural spaces in their daily lives. So when they get to see themselves inside a thousand-seat theater, as protagonists, it’s exciting.”
Anna Júlia Martins da Silva, 14, performed the choreographies about the Brazilian singer Elza Soares, Anne Frank, and the Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova. She is a resident of Mandela’s Favela and a Ballet Manguinhos’ student for six years.
“The dance expresses what I feel. Thanks to it, I could meet new people and visit new places. So, returning to the stage, at this very important moment, where we would remember Daiana, was very emotional. I was anxious”, said Anna.
"I feel good when I think that we can be an inspiration to other girls and motivate people in our community,” added Anna Júlia.