By Katia Moraes
Alexandre is here in front of me talking passionately about what he loves to do in life. We met at a Panera Bread Café in Studio City and talked about his experiences from being a dancer at Carlota Portela’s Dance Company in Rio to choreographing for Madonna. Alexandre enjoys telling his story and I can feel a strong and joyful energy vibrating.
A Dancer and Choreographer Story: “My family is very simple and I grew up at Vila Kennedy, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. When I was a kid I did capoeira and karate.” He also had a group of friends that used to perform at parties during the 70’s. It was ‘Saturday Night Fever’ time, and they copied all the choreographies they could lay their eyes on.
It was in one dance context that a professional dancer saw one of their routines, recognized their talent and introduced them to a dance academy in Cascadura (also in the suburbs of Rio.) It was there that Alexandre learned his first basic lesson: counting the steps. “It helped us to clean the act, add costumes and we inspired more kids to dance. It was a great time because the soap opera ‘Baila Comigo’ (Dance With Me) from TV Globo was happening and everybody wanted to learn.” “When I mentioned to my father that I wanted to dance he got a little apprehensive. I think he thought I was gay.”
A lot happened since that year… The real decision about being a dancer came when he was 16. He heard about a show called ‘Caos do Porto’ (Port Chaos) by Carlota Portela Dance Company. “I strongly felt that that’s what I wanted to do in my life, and was especially touched by Renato Vieira’s choreography.” Alexandre found out that Renato’s dance space was in Jardim Botanico.
Just so you understand, from Villa Kennedy neighborhood to Jardim Botanico, you have to catch a bus, take a train ride and catch another bus. It’s a minimum of 2 hours to get there. But it was worth it. After the class Renato brought him aside and said he had a gift. Alexandre was offered a scholarship and started a daily schedule of dance classes, from ballet to samba, from jazz to modern. After six months of hard work, Alexandre Magno became part of the ‘Carlota Portela’s Dance Company,’ one of the most prestigious companies in Rio. After a year, Alexandre changed from a chorus dancer to a soloist. “My process was very fast.”
In 1986 Alexandre won a choreography contest put together by Paramount Pictures. Each competitor had to choreograph a song from one of the Paramount movies. He chose a tune called ‘Never’ from ‘Footloose.’ His award was a trip to Los Angeles and a special appearance at a TV program called ‘Solid Gold.’ It was Alexandre’s first plane trip. “It was pure culture clash. I spoke broken English and was received with a limo and people calling me Mr. Magno.”
“I decided to take advantage of being here and got a scholarship in one of the best dance studios in Los Angeles. After a week of being treated like a king by the Paramount staff, I moved to a Brazilian friend’s house and slept on the sofa for about two weeks. I moved from house to house until I could afford my own place. My first job was washing dishes in a restaurant.” Alexandre eventually married and had a daughter.
He got his papers and started working more frequently as a dancer and teaching his own unique style. One of the dance studios he taught at was the Debbie Reynolds Studio managed by Joe Bennett who loved Brazilian culture. Joe gave Alexandre the opportunity to attract dancers looking for a different approach to dance. Some of those dancers became part of the show ‘AllColors of Persona’, created and choreographed by Alexandre. Carrie Ann Enaba, who is now one of the judges on the TV program ‘Dance with the Stars’ helped him produce the show with her father’s help.
One thing led to another and soon Alexandre began working for Kenny Ortega who was the choreographer for many American Music Awards Shows. He performed in videos and work with Gloria Stephan and The Miami Sound Machine, Cher, Paula Abdul, and finally met Michael Jackson. “Michael Jackson is my idol. It was because of Michael that so many boys all over the world decided to be dancers. Just like me. I could have become a drug dealer, but he inspired me and changed my life forever. I remember that his first daughter was born on the day we were filming the music video ‘Blood on the Dance Floor.’ “I grew up surrounded by music and dance, always celebrating life. Just like any average Brazilian. Two of my aunties used to be Chacretes (dancers from ‘Chacrinha,’ an old variety show at Brazilian TV Globo,) and every week my family and friends would play guitar and percussion and sing and dance. I guess dance is in our blood and this tradition will continue with my Daughter. She is a classic ballerina.”
His recent work is ‘Nights of Fire’ with guitarist Benise. Alexandre choreographed and co-directed this Flamenco inspired performance and is in the middle of its American Tour right now. “What’s your dream? “I asked him. “My ultimate dream is to make a movie called “O Vendedor de Sonhos” (The Dream Seller) written by a Brazilian friend called Douglas Whites (Tourinho). I’m translating it into English to sell it here in the U.S. It’s based on my life and will take place in both countries. To know more about Alexandre visit www.magnodance.com.
*Katia Moraes has lived in Los Angeles since 1990 and was part of the team of collaborating writers of Soul Brasil in the early years of the magazine. To know more about his work, visit www.katiamoraes.com