Zona Franca by Alice Ripoll defines Brazil of today

Words by Inês Carvalho.

An ensemble of performers jam with live percussion as audiences find their way into the auditorium of the Southbank Centre. There is something going on, and it takes an extra effort to focus on the stage between hectic heads looking for their seats and noisy chats. A sense of Rio’s Carnival glitter fills the space, matching with silver trousers and shinny leggings. This is how Alice Ripoll invites audiences into the world of Zona Franca, her first work being presented in the UK as part of a world tour.

The circular hip circles and funky twerks define the choreographic tone, contrasting with some contact-improvisation floor slides and capoeira twists. The catchy, hypnotising sequences quickly grab audience’s attention, who enthusiastically clap to this sweaty dance crew taking the dance floor with mesmerising funk sequences. An euphoric feeling takes over the space beyond the stage. Zona Franca is indeed a Carnival – but that does not mean that it is a party.

Alice Ripoll’s Zona Franca, performed by Cia Suave, incorporates a wide range of popular dances and music as an attempt to illustrate a Brazil in a post Bolsonaro presidency. A country in transformation, with Lula da Silva as president, this work brilliantly portrays the euphoria, hope, uncertainty and chaos of a society on its way to understand itself and its roots, diversity, social and economic inequalities.

This abstract take on such a dense topic creates a cocktail of boiling points and tension moments throughout the whole performance. Shiny balloons are frenetically blown up, releasing colourful confetti that glues to the dancers’ skins. A trio falls down heavily to get back up in a blink of an eye, in a physically demanding scene. A male silhouette balances a yoga tree position in the back of the stage – is he trying to keep the balance amidst the chaos? 

A playlist of Brazilian funk shuffles the whole performance, opposing to moments of electronic soundscapes, live percussion and silence. Zona Franca is undoubtedly a loudly, messy place. Even without entirely following all the layers that Ripoll tried to add to this work, this is a strong statement made of contemporary dances embodied in contemporary bodies, wondering how to define the Brazil of today: a volcanic eruption of rhythms and identities trying to figure out what comes next.

Header image: Pete Woodhead.