Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Ismael Ivo studied acting and dance there, winning an award as best solo dancer in 1979, 1981, and 1982. In 1983 he accepted an invitation from Alvin Ailey to move to New York, where he became a member Alvin Ailey Dance Center. From 1985 to 1996 Ivo lived in Berlin. He collaborated closely with Johann Kresnik, the German Dance Theatre choreograph and Ushiu Amagatsu, the Japanese director and choreograph of the world famous Sankai Juku ensemble.
Ivo has made guest appearances all over the world with his numerous solo performances. In 1992 he went on tour with Apocalypse, accompanied by the Japanese pianist Takashi Kako. Labyrintos, his first group choreography, was premiered at the Theaterhaus Stuttgart early in 1993. Ivo's collaboration with Johann Kresnik include Phoenix, 1985, Mars (Theater Basel and later Schauspielhaus Hamburg), Francis Bacon, which was acclaimed as the Dance Theatre success story of 1994, and most recently Othello in 1995. The later two productions were subsequently performed in many countries around the globe.
In 1994 Ivo worked with George Tabori in Leibzig on Schoenberg's opera Moses und Aaron. For more than ten years he had been the artistic director of the International Tanzwochen Wien festival in Vienna. To mark the start of the 1996/1997 season, he was appointed Dance Theatre director at the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar, where he produced The Brief History of Hell in 1997, Artaud 1997, Kuss im Rinnstein´, directed by Marcio Aurelio, ´98, Michelangelo, coproduced with Schaubühne Berlin and directed by George Tabori in 1998. At the opening of the Cultural Capital of Europe Weimar in 1999 Mephisto, based on the text Faust from Goethe, also collaborated with the Brazilian director Marcio Aurelio. In 1998/1999 he also directed and choreographed Medea-Material from Heiner Müller, which combined actors and dancers, a solo evening for female dancer, Ariadne, a group piece inspired on three short stories of Garcia Marquez, The Funeral of the Big Mama, and a new solo piece for himself, Dionysos.