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DDD 2023: interview with Lia Rodrigues
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08


2022

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DDD 2023: interview with Lia Rodrigues
Sammi Landweer

Encantado is “one of the possible narratives on Brazil”

The Brazilian choreographer shares the creative process of Encantado, the opening performance of the DDD 2023, and talks about Brazil as the country celebrates 200 years of its Independence. A danced ode to Afro-indigenous culture, Encantando is, according to Rodrigues, “one of the possible narratives on Brazil”, set against the legacy of the colonisation process.


In your latest creation, Encantado, what is the connection between the “encantados” (literally “the enchanted ones”) and the environmental issue, which is so relevant nowadays, not only, but particularly in Brazil?
Encantado was born out of the desire to use magic and enchantment as guidelines for our creative process. How could we enchant our ideas and our bodies, transforming them into images, dances, and landscapes? In the Afro-indigenous culture of Brazil, “encantado” also refers to an entity which exists between the world of the living and the dead, an entity that can be found in nature. Encantado is another possible, non-western, non-eurocentric view of the world. It is one of the possible narratives on Brazil.

All of your dancers are also co-creators. How do you establish that dialogue between your own version for the play and everything they bring to it?
I start thinking and working on a new creation at least to 2 years in advance. It is a long solitary process of reading and research. I take notes; I write. From one creation to another there are always new discoveries, circumstances change, we have new “problems” to solve, and the experiences we live end up changing us. All this mobilizes me before I meet the artists which will be part of the creation. When we all met (the artists, my assistant, and I), back in April/May 2021, I already had some clues and paths I would like to follow; I had prepared some images and texts for us to work.
This was a very different creation because we had to follow distancing protocols and wear masks, besides the weekly tests. And we were all very worried about the enormous health crisis that Brazil was (still is) going through due to Covid 19. During the creation of Encantado, the Centro de Artes da Maré, where we rehearsed, was being used as a storage place for food, bottled water, hygiene and cleaning products, and personal protection equipment to be distributed to 17,000 families from the region who live in extreme poverty. At the same time, workers were changing our roof, and installing solar power as part of our plan to make the Arts Center a sustainable building. And only a thin curtain of fabric separated us from all those activities. It was a very intimate coexistence with those concrete actions during the pandemic. So, I guess Encantado was influenced by all that.
I see three parts in this performance that are somehow related to different moments of the pandemic: in the first part, the artists are separated and without any contact; in the second part they begin to form duos, trios, and quartets; and finally, towards the end, when everyone was vaccinated, it was a collective dance; they got together and were very close to each other.
The most important thing, I guess, is the capacity that a dance piece has to reveal impasses, to uncover sore spots – rather than healing them. Each artist creates their ideas, frames, dances, situations… It is a fragmentary process that gains its own body and meaning over time. In order to take shape, it is necessary to be mobilized, and immersed and in the issues that arise. The construction of each work has its own method and history, its own bibliography. A collage of images, conversations, improvisations, films, videos, photos, paintings, and texts. Different elements are placed over each other or set against each other in a flow of connections and associations. But shifting from that into the state of dance itself it’s not easy; it takes a while. I never follow a clear line. Everything is there, everything floats around us, and I look for ways to make an embroidery, which would be the performance itself.
Furthermore, I also work in partnership with dramatist Silvia Soter, since 2002, and with artistic consultant Sammi Landweer, who works on images, photos and films. Most of the research is a trigger for the creation. A small part of this is effectively incorporated into the scene, but the discoveries are up to the spectator. As an artist, you are never immune. Experience is a source of contamination.
It is important that the artists who are part of the creative process understand the project that I have been developing for almost 20 years in Maré, along with the association Redes da Maré. They need to understand that the creation happens in this place, and it is only possible as such because it is embedded in the long partnership and in the work of over 30 years of the company. I always try to make that very clear to all the artists who work with me.

Part of the music used in the performance is the record of an indigenous protest. How important was music in this creation?
In some previous works, like in Fúria (2008), I didn’t feel the need to use a song. I chose to work with sounds which were produced by the artists and the materials they manipulated. In Encantado, we improvised with many different tunes, including Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Then, the singing of 4 Huni Kuin women from Northern Brazil inspired us. Finally, I understood the piece needed some rhythmic support. Musician Alexandre Seabra and I looked for some sounds. He recorded the sound of a maraca (one of the best-known indigenous instruments) and we worked on some voices too. Then, while researching, we found excerpts of songs by the Guarani Mby people, which were sung and played during the March of indigenous people in Brasilia, in August and September 2021. They marched against the “time frame”, an unconstitutional measure that harms the present and the future of all generations of indigenous people. We used 30 seconds of it in loop. Alexandre mixed those excerpts.


Your company is based in a favela of Rio de Janeiro named Maré. What does the work with the Maré community bring you both as a citizen and as an artist?
My current position is, undoubtedly, the outcome of a whole history of choices and commitment as an artist and as a citizen. I have been working with dance since I was 17, that is, for almost 50 years, since I am nearly 67 years old. I have created and directed one of Brazil's main dance festivals, Panorama da Dança. I have created my own dance company in 1990. And, since 2004, that company has been based in the favela of Maré. That’s where I develop my artistic and pedagogical projects in partnership with an institution named Redes da Maré.
This partnership gave rise to the Centro de Artes da Maré (Maré Arts Center), in 2019, and to the Escola Livre de Dança da Maré (Maré Dance Free School), in 2011. I have learned a lot in these almost 20 years working with Redes da Maré. The reality of the place where you work has a decisive influence on your way of creating and producing. This applies to a favela in Rio as it does to anywhere else in the world. Working in one of Rio’s largest favelas (140,000 inhabitants), a place where precariousness and instability resulting from economic and social inequalities are always present, does certainly affect our bodies and the way we organise our ideas. How to respond aesthetically to all that? The stage is the place for our aesthetic and political discourses. I try to articulate the creation of a work of art with the construction of a territory and the conditions for its survival. We also try to create strategies so that our work can reach the inhabitants of Maré and the audiences from the other parts of the city. At the same time, the favela brings the possibility of interacting with very rich and different cultures and their ways of functioning, creating, organizing... I believe that all our actions in the world are political. In my actions as an artist and as a citizen, I try to balance a mixture of utopia and pragmatism. The projects I developed in partnership with Redes da Maré since 2004 are an integral part of my work, of my way of thinking, of my commitment and I cannot separate them from my process of making art. They transform me as a person, as an artist, as a citizen. That’s what makes sense, politically, to me. Over there, I find people and projects that give hope – but a combative hope.

When we think about Brazil’s current social situation, it is inevitable to see part of the problems as a legacy of colonization. Where do you stand about this issue now that your country is celebrating 200 years of Independence?
The European invasions of the Americas, since the 16th century, were harmful as it permitted the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavements and trafficking of African people. Brazil hasn’t yet managed to deal with the tragic legacy of colonization. Slavery and its resulting prejudices remain present and active in Brazilian society and generate some devastating effects. The Covid 19 health crisis has uncovered the precarious circumstances in which most Brazilians live. More than ever, we are now confronted with the profound social inequality and the violation of human rights that marked the country’s past and present. Brazil is an extremely racist country, where there is a genocide of black, transgender, and indigenous people, and an extremely high rate of femicide. The brutal government of our current President uses hateful speech and actions, fake news, violence, and destruction. It disrespects democratic values, and it promotes the destruction of the Amazon, the Pantanal, the Cerrado, and the killing of vulnerable population groups. They disrespect life. Besides, the situation is catastrophic for Brazilian artists. There have been many times in History when books were burned, works of art were deemed degenerate and artists got persecuted. We are now experiencing one of those dark moments. This government has declared war on Art and Culture. There is no investment or funding, and the artists are the government’s main target. Plays, dance performances, film, and exhibitions were censored. That’s the way fascism works: it intimidates, it censors, it kills free speech. But Art resists, artists resist; and they join their voices to the Civil Society that also resists. Just look at the aesthetic and political diversity which is happening in Brazil. Festivals and performing arts are very much alive and proactive. There is no doubt, however, that there’s an urgent need for effective and sustainable investment in artists, theatre, dance, circus, music, visual arts, and creative projects. Let’s hope Lula will be our next President!

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