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October 3, 2023
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Adelson Carlos, on writing his own script

On the eve of his sixth season with the Grand Théâtre de Genève ballet, we meet Brazilian dancer Adelson Carlos, who talks about his tumultuous path to acceptance.

This interview was originally conducted by Celia Hofmann for 360° Magazine: Read the article in french here.

The lights suddenly come back on, taking us out of the fairytale blue atmosphere created by photographer Dany Niederhauser. Adelson rises gracefully to his feet, changes in a flash and greets me warmly. Only a few glitters on his luminous face bear witness to the photo shoot during our exchange. Coffee in hand, we sit outside in front of the Grand Théâtre, enjoying the fresh morning air. Radiant and brimming with quiet energy at the age of 27, he talks to us about his history and his life in Geneva.

Growing up without scripts

"When I see my fellow dancers at the Grand Théâtre de Genève ballet, I don't see gender, I just see bodies united by dance." Yet Adelson admits it's been a long and winding road to get here. He recalls his childhood in a favela in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, and how dance became both a passion and an escape during one of his mother's depressive episodes. He was six years old. A friend introduced him to dance lessons as part of a program run by a local church, which also distributes meals. He later joined Joinville's prestigious Bolshoi no Brasil dance school at the age of nine, where he studied until he graduated at eighteen.

These years of Russian-style classical dance studies were to shape his conception of gender relations and sexuality for years to come. The teaching conveyed strict norms that pushed Adelson to perform a masculinity that conformed to the heteronormative script, while repressing a large part of his identity. "Heterosexuality is based on a script. That script is certainly not ideal, but growing up without it can be a real nightmare." In addition to the homophobia conveyed through education, Adelson speaks of his shame at studying on a scholarship, while many of his peers come from affluent backgrounds. He also laments the lack of representation of racialized people in the dance world at the time.

A beautiful escape

Adelson discovered the Schaffhausen-based Cinevox Junior Company at a festival in Joinville and befriended one of the dancers, also Brazilian. From then on, he challenged himself to join the company in Switzerland. Since he couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket to Switzerland, he negotiated for months with several airlines to obtain a free one-way ticket to Europe. At the same time, he organized an Internet fund-raising campaign to finance his arrival in Switzerland. One airline finally responded positively to his request and offered him stand-by travel, meaning that he could fly as soon as a seat became available on a flight to Switzerland.

After a three-day wait at São Paulo airport, two stopovers in Porto and then Lisbon, Adelson arrives in Zurich in the middle of winter, knowing no language other than Portuguese and with no internet connection. Once again, his social conscience guides him, and he manages to find his airline friend thanks to the help of one of the passengers on his flight. In a bold move, he shows up at the airline pretending to have an appointment for an audition... but he's never made an appointment! Nevertheless, he managed to audition for the company a few days after his arrival and was immediately hired. A year and a half later, he made his debut with the Grand Théâtre de Genève ballet...

Writing your own script

Adelson notes that his life has changed a great deal since his arrival in Switzerland. This new Swiss chapter has enabled him to gradually assert all facets of his identity, and to have the courage to say where he came from. One day, a friend advised me to stop going to auditions wearing pink nail varnish, otherwise I'd never get any roles," he says. Later, Philippe Cohen (former director of the Grand Théâtre de Genève ballet) would tell me that it was precisely for my own qualities that he chose me, not to play someone else's role."

Among the positive changes, he cites the "flesh-colored" costumes of the Grand Théâtre ballet: "Here we don't have to wear costumes that are too light and don't match our skin color, the colors are automatically adapted". Having grown up without performances, he also welcomes the growing presence of racialized people in the dance world. "Choreographers like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (current director of the Grand Théâtre de Genève ballet) deeply value diversity and it shows."

Outside the walls of the institution, it's the Geneva queer community that allows him to be accepted and to accept himself as he is. Despite the barriers posed by language and the company's frequent tours, the dancer now feels fully integrated and has many friends in the community. He is also keen to build bridges between the institutional and alternative worlds. "Events such as the queer ball 'Late Night Extravaganza', organized by the Antigel festival within the walls of Geneva's Grand Théâtre, show that the institution is gradually opening up to the queer community." He regularly invites his friends from the community to ballet performances to reinforce this trend.

Shadows in the picture

Although he says he feels less discriminated against in Switzerland than he once did in Brazil, Adelson notes that his experience here hasn't been all rosy either. He recounts how he was recently confronted with some very direct racist remarks on a date in Geneva. He also notes that the internalization of discrimination remains a major problem to overcome. "Thanks to a friend, I realized the extent to which I had internalized homophobia without realizing it. It took me a long time to deconstruct these beliefs."

Perhaps tomorrow

Today, the dancer looks back on his journey with hindsight, serenity and a healthy dose of humor. He expresses his gratitude to the people who helped him, and notes that many things have changed for the better, not least the representation of racialized people in the classical dance world. He acknowledges, however, that there is still a long way to go, and hopes that everyone will become aware of their privilege and educate themselves. Finally, he insists on the importance of benevolence regardless of background. "Be yourself, as long as you don't hurt anyone," he concludes our interview.

Photographic credit goes to Nieders Dan.

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