Former ballet dancer Cassi Abranches is the choreographer behind the stunning opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The Sept. 7 event at Maracanã Stadium featured a meticulously directed army of 2,000 performers and volunteers, as well as two dance companies uniting wheelchair and non-wheelchair dancers.

Coca-Cola Journey Brasil caught up with the São Paulo-based choreographer from the Grupo Corpo Dance Company a few days before the ceremony:

How will the ceremony capture the values of the Paralympic Games – courage, determination, inspiration and equality?

In mid-2015, when I joined the group producing the opening, the directors already had already completed the ceremony’s pre-work. What they told me back then made me fall in love with the project. Our goal in this ceremony is to give people who are watching live or at home the will to live, to allow themselves to do more, and to break boundaries. We all have visible or invisible disabilities. The big message we want to spread is that anyone is capable of doing what they really want; it’s just a matter of breaking self-limits.

'Our goal in this ceremony is to give people who are watching live or at home the will to live, to allow themselves to do more, and to break boundaries.' 

Indeed, the theme of the opening ceremony is ‘Breaking Boundaries’. In dance and movement, what does breaking boundaries mean for those with a disability?

Challenge for a dancer is always to seek the best, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. I always create from my body, proposing movements to the dancer, and it's always a challenge to see if it is possible to perform each movement I invent. In the case of dancers with any disability, the process has been the same. I am not wondering if they could or not perform what was created. After two or three attempts, we realized it really was possible to perform the requested movement. I believe limit is a personal matter. Who wants to overcome limit has great chance to succeed. The point is to believe. After this experience with Paralympic artists and athletes, I've been willing to increasingly do more difficult things. It's inspiring to see the lust for life from people with disabilities. We end up putting our own problems in greater perspective. Disabilities do not paralyze… people are happy and deal with their issues. It’s a will to live that inspires. These people train and beat records just like all other artists and athletes.

Rio Paralympic Games

You’ve said this will be a thrilling ceremony that will touch the heart without victimizing… something unfortunately too common when it comes to people with disabilities. Can you explain?

We’ll captivate them with beauty. If nobody talks about the dancer's disability, it will be impossible to realize. It's far away from victimization and closer to enjoying the moment of beauty it offers. When people find out certain artists have real limitation, they will be even more amazed. We are all equal. For us, victimization doesn’t exist. We didn't have to change any of the ideas. As a choreographer, my great feeling is to get from that professional the best their body can offer. And here again, I'm replicating this idea of exchange. The important thing is to understand the capabilities of each dancer and taking the best of them without putting the dancer in a victim’s position. My job is to bring out the best of each individual. The Paralympics opening ceremony will have many technological resources, but our biggest bet is in the people – in us, the artists.

Rio Paralympic Games

Grupo Corpo Dance Company from Minas Gerais, which you are part of, has designed a form of dance that drinks straight from the fountain of Brazilian culture. In the opening and closing ceremonies of Rio 2016 Olympic Games, there was a strong focus on Brazilian culture and, not by chance, Grupo Corpo was one of the attractions of the closing ceremony. Will this Brazilian-ness also be seen on September 7?

Brazil, of course, will be part of at our ceremony. We breathe Brazilian-ness, but we want to talk to the whole world. These are our people, our blood, united with outsiders, for everyone to identify themselves as one, regardless of disability, nationality or language. Our desire is for all people to have the same sensations.

Rio Paralympic Games

What legacy do you hope the ceremony will leave?

We wish for the greatest legacy to be the idea of overcoming challenges, and of equality. We want to show that we all have weaknesses and qualities. Our dream is for whoever is in Maracanã, in the northeast of Brazil or in the United States to be touched by their hearts, by the will to be part of a single world. I hope all of us can see ourselves as equals. We want to reach their hearts, regardless of geography.

Felipi Costa

What has it been like to lead a team of 2,000 people?

Apart from the main artists, we hired 78 dancers to brighten the ceremony along with the volunteers. We also count with two dance companies that work with social integration, with dancers that are wheelchairs users and nonusers –Corpo em Movimento from Niteroi Disabled Association (Andef), and Araxá Dance Company from Minas Gerais. I have 10 assistants, in addition to the experience of Dimitra Kitidrike, a beautiful Greek choreographer. This amazing team is working with about 2,000 people who will take turns on the field at Maracanã Stadium throughout the ceremony. I keep thinking that maybe never in my life I will have another experience like this. It has been very rewarding. I'm somebody else already!