Colorado Ballet Dancer Fernanda Oliveira's New Ballet About Longing

Fernanda Oliveira rehearses dancers for her new ballet, Saudade.
Fernanda Oliveira rehearses dancers for her new ballet, Saudade. Colorado Ballet
Once a year, Colorado Ballet gives its dancers an opportunity to choreograph their own works. This Friday, March 10, performances will be held at the Armstrong Center for Dance. Audience members will be treated to works in an intimate setting in the Black Box Theater, right next to where the dancers train and rehearse.

This year, the performance, dubbed Attitude on Santa Fe, will feature dances created by company members Sean Omandam and Fernanda Oliveira, as well as internationally renowned choreographer Jairo Heli. Oliveira, who hails from Rio de Janeiro, is in her second season with the company. Her piece, Saudade, is a ballet in four movements. "Saudade" is a Portuguese word that means a deep feeling of longing or nostalgia for something or someone. Each movement will represent situations that might evoke this feeling — for example, death, childhood naïveté and past romance.

Westword sat down with Oliveira to find out more about her inspiration for the piece and her creative process.

Westword: What made you choose the theme for Saudade? Was there a specific event that made you want to focus your work on this feeling?

I always knew that I wanted to choreograph to Brazilian music, so that thought came first. After choosing a couple of the songs, it became clear to me that the theme had to be saudade, which is a recurring theme in most bossa nova songs. There wasn’t one specific event that inspired the piece, but I guess I’m very familiar with that feeling of longing and nostalgia, being away from my home country and my family.

How do you find balance between being in the studio as a dancer and working on your own pieces?

How do these two roles influence one another? Having a chance to choreograph, and in a professional company nonetheless, is a thrilling opportunity that I am very thankful for. I remember working on my piece during every break and in the evenings, as well, as soon as I decided to do it. Unfortunately, very early in the season, I had a major injury that required surgery and six months off of dancing, so I haven’t been dancing full-time this season. But that actually gave me a lot more time to work on my ideas and choreography. I believe that choreographing is helping me as a dancer to become more aware of the meaning behind every single step, just as being a dancer helps me understand the dancers I’m choreographing on a little better, which I believe makes the process more enjoyable for everyone.

Why did you choose the musical selections that you did?

In this piece, the music is what really inspired me. I am a huge fan of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the famous Brazilian bossa nova composer, and I love hearing different covers of his songs. The idea for the piece was to use songs that might be recognizable to the audience, but not at first. The first two songs are performed by Damian Rice and Lisa Hannigan; the third is an acoustic-guitar version performed by Baden Powell [a Brazilian music legend], and the last one is performed by Yo Yo Ma and Rosa Passos. All of the songs have a nice stringed-instrument section that sort of ties the piece together.

How do you think this work will be a different experience for audiences? It's much closer and more casual.

The Black Box Theater is fantastic. We are performing only a few feet from the audience, so the gap between dancer and audience member is a lot smaller. It makes it easier to notice every small detail in the dance, and it also gives a more approachable, more human view of the dancers. It is easier to understand and relate to the themes and the stories being told, making it an incredible experience for the audienc as well as for the performers.

You've been with Colorado Ballet two seasons. What are things that you particularly like about Denver? Anything that you've found here - a restaurant, a hike, a new interest or hobby?

I love the people of Denver. Moving here from the East Coast, that’s probably my favorite thing about it – the warm, laid-back attitude of the people here. Of course, the beautiful weather and mountains make this such a special city. I started doing a lot more yoga and hiking since I moved here. Hiking the Flatirons in Boulder is always fun. Riding my bike in Cheesman or Washington Park is also great. Even better if you follow it with a delicious meal at True Food Kitchen in Cherry Creek or Devil’s Food in Wash Park.

Attitude on Santa Fe runs on March 10, at 7:30 p.m. at 1075 Santa Fe. The March 11 event includes dinner. Cocktails start at 5 p.m., dinner starts at 6, and the performance is at 7:30. Tickets are $85, and seating is limited. To register, visit
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