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

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution