COVID-19 has killed over 2 million people, but it hasn't killed Helbert Pimenta's creativity.
"For dancers, life is almost like a novel," says the Brazilian dancer and choreographer. "We go through many things, many adversities, many times of struggle—and we adapt and we change and we grow. So COVID is just one more thing we are dealing with as artists."
Pimenta is probably best known as a member of the Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, but he has also brought his talents to PDX Contemporary Ballet. When he was invited to choreograph a piece for the company, an unusual symbiosis was born. Communicating from Brazil with the dancers, Pimenta helped create A Morfose, a multipart film that translates the themes of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis into movement.
For Pimenta, who goes by Nem (pronounced like "name"), A Morfose is an ambitious new chapter in a life of adventure. Speaking through a translator, he revealed seven stories from his epic journeys as a choreographer, dancer and traveler.
1. My mother's participation in my work
Her influence was very important to me—and it was very important to have her supporting me. I would say to myself, "I will someday take my mom to watch me dance, and she will see that I am doing the right thing, that I am really working hard to become a dancer—and that all this work, all her trust in me, was worth it." And then the day came and she was coming to a show and all of the crew and all of the Grupo Corpo company were like, "Oh my God! Your mom is here!"
2. Maria Gabriela Correia
A friend of mine once said, "Let's go take this [dance] class." When I was in the studio I heard, "Five! Six! Seven! Eight!" It was Maria Gabriela's voice, and I said, "Oh my God, I want to take classes with this woman who sounds very crazy, but also exciting."
One time we were performing in a city in Lebanon. There was this woman who showed up in the afternoon or early evening in front of the hotel with a big, baby blue car. We drove, drove, drove. Then it was night and she said, "Lie down [on top of the car] and stare at the sky." The car rolled through the desert without a driver for a long time. And it was a very unusual, special occasion for me that I can't forget.
4. White Night in Paris
There's this night where the moon stays out longer in the night that they call White Night in Paris. They have many, many exhibitions and people doing art and performances in every corner, in every place that you can go in Paris. There is a church by a museum at the end of a street with very high ceilings. People would be hanging from the ceiling with this horn and they would whisper things…and people would go and listen to the whispering. People went so crazy because it was kind of angelical, like it was from heaven.
Right before COVID, we were here. We were doing Alaska, Canada, Seattle and Portland. But the place that's very special to me is Budapest, because that is a very crazy, beautiful and unique city. We climbed this mountain there. And then we decided to go down, but I couldn't because I got dizzy from being scared of the height. I said to myself, "Get it together, Nem!" I decided to come down doing zigzags so I wouldn't have to face straight down. So, I faced my fear of heights in Budapest.
6. Social work
I was invited many times to speak about being a Black male dancer. I gave a lot of talks to kids to show them that it's possible—that life is possible outside of violence, criminal acts and everything like that. The majority of the time, I'm not paid to do that kind of social work. But it's my pleasure to help those kids.
Many times, people are inside the train or the bus and watch through the window, and I'm walking and they're like, "Oh, look! It's Nem!" It's all about new experiences—how you see life, how you go through life without thinking too much about how you get there.
SEE IT: Chapters 1 through 3 of A Morfose stream at pdxcb.com/amorfose. Chapters 4 and 5 will be released in March. $5.