Interview: Alice Ripoll on Zona Franca and her London debut!

Alice Ripolli - Interview - Zona Franca - Southbank Centre - - Credit Renato Mangolin

Acclaimed Brazilian choreographer Alice Ripoll will make her London debut this November 2nd, with Zona Franca, described as ‘a vibrantly political and poetic experience, connecting eclectic Brazilian dance styles.’ Alice, currently on a world tour with company Cia Suave, was kind enough to chat to theQR from France. The internet had other ideas, but we battled through a barrage of technical obstacles, and the result was a fascinating conversation.

‘We’re in the middle of a very extensive two-month tour that began in Dublin,’ opened Alice, ‘and we’ve just returned from Kyoto. Currently, we’re in France, with our next stop being Brussels. The energy in Japan was particularly amazing, but we’re having to be very careful with our energy with the time zone differences and the overall length of our tour.’

Tiring or not, the Rio de Janeiro-based Ripoll couldn’t be happier with the international appetite for her work.

‘This tour marks a special milestone for me. I never imagined my work and art would take me from Brazil to the other side of the world. It’s incredible to witness how our performances resonate with diverse cultures, and I believe the themes we explore are truly universal.’

Asked about the origins of her work with Cia Sauva as a choreographer and director, she had this to say,

‘While some aspects of our work may connect to the reality in Brazil, I don’t expect the audience to comprehend every element fully. Our performances are intentionally abstract, leaving room for interpretation. Our current production is the third piece created by our group, Cia Suave. We specialize in blending urban dance styles from Brazil with modern dramaturgy, resulting in what we hope are unique and engaging performances.’

And how did Alice begin her life in dance? Possibly not how you expect!

‘My journey into dance began later in life; I didn’t come from an artistic family background. I initially pursued a career in psychology with the ambition of becoming a psychoanalyst. Dance became a way for me to explore the possibilities of body and movement as I transitioned from psychology.’

‘My dance journey started with attending free classes whilst I was studying at university. I went on to formal training in dance techniques at Angel Vianna’s school (an important centre for dance and motor rehabilitation) and started to work as a choreographer. For a period, I simultaneously pursued both dance and my psychology studies.’

But dance would win out in the end!

‘Transitioning into the world of dance was not a difficult process, it felt very natural. I started my own dance group, and though I continued my studies at university, opportunities in the field of dance kept emerging. I felt then, and now, a profound connection with the magic that happens in a theatre when I interact with the audience, creating special moments. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.’

Alice Ripolli - Interview - Zona Franca - Cia Suave - Southbank Centre - - Credit Renato Mangolin (1)
Zona Franca Alice Ripoll & Cia Suave © Renato Mangolin

So what does dance bring to Alice Ripoll’s life?

‘I’ve always had a deep sense of pain and confusion in my life. Dance has acted as a form of medicine, almost saving me. It has become a personal mission to bring this connection and healing power to others.’

Now, Alice will bring that mission to London…

‘I’m very excited for our first performance in London and am curious about how the audience will connect with our work. We always prepare meticulously, and every piece we create is distinct. Our upcoming production, Zona Franca has unique choreography and costumes that are integral to that show specifically. We consider where and how the audience is seated; every space we perform in is different, but our work is strong enough to survive these transitions.’

Cia Sauve’s last show, CRIA, drew strongly on the euphoric movement of dancinha, a mix of funk, samba, hip-hop, vogue and more. Zona Franca sees Alice pushing the company’s terms of reference even further through contact dance, Afrohouse, Sabala, TikTok, and dances from the north and northeast of Brazil, such as Pisadinha and Brega Funk.

Is there a message in Alice Ripoll’s work?

‘We intentionally avoid conveying specific messages; it’s a highly abstract form of art. I don’t start with preconceived ideas but aim to allow for multiple interpretations.’

However, no life in Brazil has gone untouched by political upheavals in the past decade or so…

‘The political climate in Brazil, under President Bolsonaro, had a significant impact on the prospects of artists. Connections with Europe were limited, and surviving through the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the professional climate was tough. It was a trying period, with almost a year passing without our group gathering. Rehearsing after such a long break felt like a reunion after a war.’

Recovering from life under Bolsinaro would be challenging too…

‘Within our group, there were questions about who was available and how we would proceed in this time of change. I’m 44 years old, and I’ve never seen my country in such a state of tension. It was nearly impossible to delve into a creative process, as our future was deeply uncertain. Our current production therefore explores themes of transformation and the choices facing our nation during a radical transition. The questions are present in the work, although they aren’t conveyed in a literal sense.’

It’s steeped in this charged atmosphere, that Zona Franca was developed…

‘The piece is about transformation. How could our nation choose such a radical direction as Bolsinaro represented? How do you survive? The questions are there, in Zona Franca, you can feel it, without it being literal. There’s nothing we are trying to say explicitly – the whole is very abstract – I definitely don’t begin a work with defined ideas – that is clear for me. So you can have many interpretations of the work, no matter how theatrical.’

‘This is a piece of 10 dancers, it’s wild, abstract, and intense.’

Alice Ripolli - Interview - Zona Franca - Cia Suave - Southbank Centre - - Credit Renato Mangolin
Zona Franca Alice Ripoll & Cia Suave © Renato Mangolin

So what goes into an Alice Ripoll production?…

‘I don’t work with traditional dances; our focus is on urban styles, particularly ‘Passinho’ (‘Little step’ in English). This style draws from a range of influences, traditional and new. There are elements of Afro-Dance, Samba, even break dancing. ‘Passinho’ is incredibly popular in Brazil, especially in less ‘colonized’ areas like the favelas. It’s primarily a dance of the youth, continually evolving with few rigid rules. It’s a unique form that combines diverse elements, and its origins trace back to the dancers themselves who come from these neighbourhoods.’

‘Cia Suave began as a neighbourhood educational initiative, years ago in 2014, which became so successful it was included in the main programme of the Panorama Festival which commissioned it. We found the dancers there, in the favelas. It’s been amazing since. Zona Franca is our company’s third show, after Suave and CRIA. The company is always developing, we bring in elements from social media, new music, new dances – it’s very free.’

This isn’t to say the works of Alice Ripoll aren’t her creative children, ‘I respect what the dancers bring, but I create a universe, make the connections and dramaturgy. They continually bring in these very new dance styles, then I take them where I think it’s interesting.

We have all worked together for many years now, so our association is growing deeper, and always building more trust. I’ve been able to urge them beyond dance alone, and into more theatrical scenes; even work with voice! Opportunities are opening with time.’

And what does the future hold for Alice Ripoll?

‘Bolsinaro destroyed a lot of things – the nation is recovering slowly, but we have very deep and old problems. We artists have some new support from the government, however. I think Lula is doing very well, I am confident that things will get better.’

Show Details – Southbank Centre, London

Dates: 2 –⁠ 4 Nov


Age Recommendation: 16+

Running Time: 1 hour – no interval


  • Wheelchair Accessible Venue
  • Wheelchair Accessible Toilet
  • Audio Description is available during the performance on Saturday 4 November. To use this service, please let a member of the team know when you arrive so that they can organise a headset for you.
  • There is a Touch Tour available before the event on Saturday 4 November. To attend the Touch Tour, please arrive at the Ticket Office, Queen Elizabeth Hall, at 6pm.

For tickets, and for more information on Alice Ripoll’s London Debut at the Southbank Centre, London, click here.