A new way to play the beautiful game

Can football be art? A show at the Southbank Centre aims to bring them together – and it works, says David Lister

One of the undoubted cultural highlights of this summer will be the three-month long festival of Brazilian culture at London's Southbank Centre. From samba to debates about gang culture, from the art of the drug-gang-controlled favelas to the mesmerising child drummers of AfroReggae and the acclaimed world music of Gilberto Gil and Maria Bethania.

But it is one of the opening events of the festival that particularly catches the eye. It is a show about football, not just about football but featuring football. Football in its most flowing, attacking, colourful and rhythmic style is synonymous with Brazil, of course. But this festival, under the artistic direction of the Southbank Centre's Jude Kelly, sees football not simply as sport, but as an art form.

Socrates, captain of the national side in the Eighties and a writer and social activist, will be talking about the beauty of the game with one of the country's leading composers, an event that makes one try to imagine John Terry or Rio Ferdinand chatting to Harrison Birtwistle at a British arts festival abroad. But more striking than a talk by Socrates is a show called Brazil! Brazil! that will be running for a month from 9 June in the Udderbelly space at the Southbank Centre. This show, opening just before the main festival, combines under the broad headings of dance and performance the music and movement of carnival, martial arts and the skills of street football. More technically, the latter is properly described as freestyle football.

I travelled with Jude Kelly to Brazil when she took a final look at some of the artists that would be appearing at the festival, and one of the real treats was to see some of the freestyle footballers who will be coming over. Their control, juggling and acrobatics with the ball conveyed both passion and romance, and though it may not have the poetry and narrative of dance, it certainly has technique and flair. As its practitioners made clear, freestyle football is not football. You can be an ace freestyler but a lousy team player, a brilliant footballer but a hopeless freestyler.

The British impresario Toby Gough, who is producing the Brazil! Brazil! show and has recruited its stars from Rio, Sao Paolo and Salvador, says: "The show will help us understand how Brazilian football is characterised by much swing and is infused with various rhythms and choreographies." It will also try to explain the secrets of Ginga, the sway of the great Brazilian footballers. Gough adds: "You can see Ginga in the way every Brazilian walks, talks, dances samba, and the way they play the game of football. More pertinently, Ronaldinho, one of the best-known Brazilian players, describes it thus: "Ginga flows with rhythm. It comes into football with dribbles, with changes of movements so you go on developing a different ginga. Everybody's got a different way to dance; dancing ginga you develop with time."

The performance will aim to prove that it's a small, if accomplished, step from the football field to the dance floor. But is sport, even at its most beautiful, art? If so, should not the spin bowling of Shane Warne or the backhand slice of Roger Federer be immortalised in an arts festival?

I'm inclined to side with the Southbank's view that the shared cultural history of Brazilian football and Brazilian dance sets it apart, if only because its practitioners and aficionados see something beyond skill and movement – something that takes it into the realms of the mystical and the territory of an artistic performance.

Perhaps it is best summed up by Gilberto Gil, not just an international world music star but a former Brazilian minister of culture. He says simply: "Every Brazilian understands the ball's soul."



Festival Brazil, sponsored by HSBC, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (0844 875 0073; Southbankcentre.co.uk/brazil), 19 June to 5 September

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent