Note from BW of Brazil: The personality, myth and life of the 18th century former slave known as Chica (or Xica) da Silva continues to inspire fresh interpretations even today. Living in the state of Minas Gerais, Chica da Silva became rich and climbed the social ladder due to her relationship as a concubine of a rich, white diamond contractor and her alleged sexual prowess. The imagery of Chica da Silva no doubt continues to attach itself to modern ideologies and stereotypes about the black female body and its place in Brazilian society. This historic personality recently inspired a new dance spectacular that seeks to approach the topics of race, sexuality and bodily movements of the black feminine body. Follow the report below as well as photos and short teaser of the show.
Chica da Silva inspires show about prejudice
“Chica” debut in the month we commemorate the abolition of slavery and presents different images from the myth produced over time
By Mariana Pitasse, Carmen Luz and Agenda Cultural RJ
In 2013, during a joke/hazing produced by students of the Law School of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), a freshman was painted black and with his hands chained. On his or her neck, was a plate with the words “Caloura Chica da Silva” (Freshman Chica da Silva). The image, which circulated on social networks and generated controversy, was the starting point that the choreographer Carmen Lúcia (Luz) found to produce the show “Chica” with the Companhia Étnica.
Poetically inspired by the myth of Chica da Silva, the presentation was constructed by a crossing between dance and the visual arts, in order to address the different stereotypes and imaginary about the black female body. “I pursued the myth of Chica long ago, but I never thought I was prepared to invest in choreography about her story. So I put it off. When I came across this lurid episode on the internet, I thought that I could give a response to it through art. I needed to create a dialogue on this body, this history and racist traces that still remain in our daily lives,” explains Carmen Lúcia. Awarded the Prêmio Afro (award) 2014, sponsored by Petrobras, “Chica” debuted Thursday, the 21st, at the Teatro Cacilda Becker in Rio, with production and direction by Sara Calaza.
“Chica”, with the Companhia Étnica, arrived in theaters May 21 at the Teatro Cacilda Becker in Rio. The show debuts in the month we commemorate the abolition of slavery and presents different images of Chica da Silva produced over time. To compose the plot, the choreographer was also inspired by the everyday gestures of women. “The piece draws from Chica’s story to tell our own story. We reproduced the female gesticulation at home, on the train, at work. Every Brazilian women is a little Chica da Silva,” said Carmen Luz, who is also a documentary filmmaker and produced a series of videos that will be projected at certain times of the presentation.
The show, which starts the celebration of 21 years of Cia Étnica, was fueled by extensive research with the support of the professor of the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Liv Sovik. Alongside the presentations, the researcher administers on the 29th, at 4pm, in the Teatro Cacilda Becker, the lecture “Gênero e política em Chica da Silva” (Gender and Politics in Chica da Silva), which touches on how Chica da Silva appears and reappears in Brazilian culture, spreads and unfolds in several versions, comments, images and figurations. “Chica remained in Brazil’s history over the centuries by her character of exception. She was one of the few black women who ascended the social ladder because she married a white man, however she was always portrayed with prejudice. Her image is of an arrogant, imposing woman, with an animalized sexuality. The film and the novela (soap opera) corroborate this version of her story,” adds Carmen.
The “Chica” play is part of a larger project, divided into three parts: the first is the play in question, the second is the realization of a documentary, and the third part is a video installation in Chica da Silva’s house, in Diamantina, that aggregates the show and the documentary. “In the documentary, it tells the story of the choreography that Mercedes Batista created for Salgueiro (samba school), in 1963, for the prized enredo (Carnaval theme) ‘Chica da Silva’. In it, she revolutionized the mixing of classical ballet with samba. I also decided to tell this story through the vision of the dancers, who are still alive today,” she continued.
“For a long time Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, Chica da Silva, has haunted me. The legends and stereotypes stuck to her black body continue to fuel the imagination of the Brazilian woman. From the eighteenth to twenty-first century, all of us, black, mulatto and white African descents, when punished, demoralized sexualized, successful, powerful and murdered, we are part Chica da Silva and our stories follow on the fringes. Fueled by extensive research, this piece, which starts the celebration of 21 years of Cia Étnica, took the history and the ghosts of “Imperatriz do Tijuco, a Dona de Diamantina” (Empress of Tijuco, the Lady of Diamantina) as a map so that we dance as ourselves, we dance Chica that we are and also those Chicas whose stories intersect daily, either in the palaces, in the streets, in our affections or, as Carolina Maria de Jesus said, our room of expulsion of our city.” says Carmen Luz.
Carmen Luz is a choreographer, filmmaker, theater director and researcher in dance. Her main focus is the black body: its forms of movement and its history. She acts professionally in the fields of performance, staging, interpretation, drama, audiovisual realization and choreography. She writes and performs documentary films and dance videos. With special interest she deals with the gesticulations of Afro-Brazilian women and the embodiment of youth, residents of large urban centers and their peripheries. She has been the choreographer and artistic director of Cia. Étnica de Dança e Teatro (Ethnic Dance and Theatre Company) since its foundation in 1994.
Cia. Étnica de Dança e Teatro was established in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1994 by a desire to intervene in Rio’s contemporary dance scene: to bring into focus the subjects and objects of the African diaspora. Her creations translate, in a singular form, research and reflection on African ancestry in Brazil and Brazilian multiculturalism. Throughout its trajectory – which turns 21 on October 2015 – the company has created and performed choreographies, performances, dance and theater pieces, choreographic installations, recitals, videos, documentaries and partnerships with artists and cultural institutions in Brazil and abroad. These works have been seen by a wide audience in theaters, galleries, parks, favelas (slums), movie theaters, universities and other cultural and educational equipment in several Brazilian regions. In 1997, Cia Étnica moved to Morro do Andarai, on Rio’s North Zone, where it maintained its base until 2010. Backed by its awards in public procurement projects for professional training of young people, its own resources and personnel strength, Cia Étnica can concretize and radiate from the center that Rio slum, its main premises. It has devoted itself to research and the creation of language in contemporary dance.
Thus, continuing the research of her Cia Étnica about the entry of the black body into dance, Carmen Luz encouraged her dancers to look at the movement of blacks in the streets, in various places, in different activities, seeking the Chicas that intersected the story and that are in their own bodies, dancers of Cia Étnica, that come from the north and west zones, territories of Rio de Janeiro.
Liv Sovik possesses a degree in English Language Arts from Yale University, with a doctorate in Communication Sciences from University of São Paulo and post doctorate at Goldsmiths College – University of London. She organized the collection of Stuart Hall’s work, Da diáspora (UFMG, 2003) and is the author of Aqui ninguém é branco (Aeroplano, 2009). She is professor at the School of Communication at UFRJ, her research and the courses she administers examine theories of communication, culture and power.
In addition, at the invitation of Carmen Luz, Sovik, will give the lecture “Gênero e política em Chica da Silva” (Gender and Politics in Chica da Silva) that deals with how Chica da Silva appears and reappears in Brazilian culture, spreads and unfolds in several versions, words, images, figurations. She will discuss some recurring traits, seen in a negative and positive way, coinciding with stereotypes of the Brazilian woman: mulata, seductive, haughty, perhaps too much. What can we understand from the recurrence of Chica in the imagination of different eras? What do the readings of Chica tell us about how the ordinary and extraordinary woman that arouses reactions of admiration and rejection?
The Chica da Silva myth
Chica da Silva inspired many stories, some incomprehensible by today’s vision. The first report about her, written by a lawyer of Chica’s descendants, Joaquim Felício dos Santos, was published in a newspaper between 1862 and 1864. In this report, Chica was overbearing, ugly and unattractive. Nine decades later, in the Romanceiro da Inconfidência (1953) by Cecília Meireles, Chica appears as a natural beauty, similar to that of the landscape. She is associated with the lights, the brightness and diamonds, ” Nem Santa Ifigênia / Toda em festa acesa / Brilha mais que a negra / Na sua riqueza” (Not even Saint Ifigênia/ All in an illuminated party / shines more than the negra / In her wealth.” Only in 1963, with the champion parade of the enredo (theme) “Chica da Silva” Acadêmicos do Salgueiro samba school, was seen the first report about her in her subjectivity appears:
“O contratador João Fernandes de Oliveira / A comprou para ser sua companheira / E a mulata, que era escrava, / Sentiu forte transformação / Trocando o gemido da senzala / Pela fidalguia do salão”
“The contractor João Fernandes de Oliveira /bought her to be his partner / And the mulatto woman who was a slave /felt a strong transformation/ trading the moaning of the slave quarters / For the nobility of the lounge.”
It was the Salgueiro parade that inspired Carlos Diegues to do the eponymous film in 1976, with still another approach, closer to the version of the nineteenth century, but with a dose of pornochanchada. Chica was still the subject of plays, novels, a 1985 success of Boney M., an Afro-Caribbean disco band based in Germany, and a novela (soap opera). So alive in the imagination, she reappeared in a college prank in 2013 at the Faculty of Law at UFMG, where a freshman was painted black and chained, with a sign that read “Freshman Chica da Silva” in the neck. But it was only in 2003 that Chica da Silva, who inspired these different stories, each with its values and understandings of the time, won the account based on historical documents, Chica da Silva and the diamond contractor, published by Companhia das Letras , authored by historian Júnia Ferreira Furtado. Chica da Silva was exceptional, according to Furtado, because she was released almost immediately after her purchase. She was exceptional because, as the samba says, she exchanged the moaning of the slave quarters for the nobility of the saloon, overcame the color barrier and the mocked captive. Chica da Silva died in 1796, in Diamantina, and was buried in the Igreja São Francisco de Assis (Saint Francis of Assisi Church). Her remains – naturally mummified – were discovered in the reform of the church, in 1917. On that occasion, the gravedigger was startled by what looked like a bag of bones, throwing it where the wild animal skeletons were thrown. The creation of more of this story is incomprehensible today and probably would be so during Chica’s life.