Note from BW of Brazil: Wow! All I can say is that I wish I could be there! The photos and background to this spectacular look inspiring. As we’ve seen in numerous other articles, theater is an area in which black Brazilians are increasingly using their talents to bring Afro-Brazilian culture, history, dance, aesthetic and presence to audiences throughout the country. Along with musicals and the usage of a popular online outlets such as You Tube, the stage is bringing a black presence and perspective as an alternative to the almost complete ‘black-out’ in areas such as television, film and literature.
Also worthy of note in this story is that it is taking place in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of three Brazilian states to the south of the country that boast the largest percentages of the persons who classify themselves as branca, or white. The population of this state is about 80% white and along with Paraná and Santa Catarina, it is one of the states in Brazil which people often say reminds them most of Europe. Due to the strong German, Italian and Polish immigration starting late in the 19th century, the black presence in this region is often ignored or conveniently left out/forgotten in the museums and textbooks that recount the history of these states. All the more reason why these types of events, along with museums such as Treze de Maio in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul are so important in ensuring the place of Afro-Brazilians in this history.
Spectacular considers the history of Rio Grande do Sul state from the perspective of black women
By Patric Chagas and the newsroom of idança.net
Premiering on May 22nd in the Teatro Treze de Maio in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, will be the show Negressencia: Mulheres cujos filhos são peixes (Black women’s essence: Women whose children are fish). The project, conceived by producer Marta Nunes and directed by Manoel Luthiery was developed with funding from the Bolsa Funarte de Fomento para Artistas e Produtores Negros (Funarte Scholarship of Promotion for Black Artists and Producers).
With this funding, an artistic process of immersion with the nine black dancers who make up the cast – Jaine Barcellos, Karen Tolentino, Letícia Ignácio, Amanda Silveira, Lenora Consales Shimit, Vinicio do Carmo, Venir Xavier, Gabrielle Barcelos was made possible. In this process, they sought to re-think the story of the women who were part of their ancestry and, from there, also thinking of other black women of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Nourished by the stories of struggle and resistance of 15 black women of (the cities of) Santa Maria, Porto Alegre and Pelotas, heard for an ethnographic research conducted by Andrea dos Santos, the group developed a dance performance with strong feminine and feminist bias.
The name Iemanjá (or Yemanja) derives from the Yoruba expression Yèyé Omo Ejá, meaning “mother whose children are fish”. That was one of Pierre Verger’s considerations when he addressed the process of popularization and consequent embranquecimento (whitening) of this black divinity in Brazil. It was based on the etymological and social depth of this reflection and with the intent of going through the opposite path to that revealed by the autodidactic French-Brazilian ethnologist, that Negressencia arose.
“In the classroom, I assisted in the conduction of this process, which was to seek elements of the stories of these women, that were also in the stories of the dancers. This would make us understand how we could tout all this and be able to create dance and theater scenes,” says director Luthiery.
Luthiery argues that dance popularized in Rio Grande do Sul, especially within Centros de Tradições Gaúchas (CTGs or Gaúcha Traditions Centers), tell stories of white men and their heroic deeds. Thus, Negressencia is an alternative to understanding the place of dance as a powerful tool to reconstruct, retell or even update the story and the role of these women.
As they were appropriating the words of these yalorixás (1), practitioners of African origin religion, community leaders and heads of families whose children are black, mestiços (mixed) and whites, the dancers experienced a reunion with their own ancestry. According Luthiery, during the research, it was found that the respondents descended from Bahian migration, quilombo communities, or had their histories linked to the black people of the interior of the Charqueadas (another city in the state of Rio Grande do Sul).
“When these commentaries, from out there, came to the dancers, we realized that stories of racism and sexism are also in the lives of these black bodies that are in the classroom. So we made counterpoints thinking of specific performances and scenes that mix these two histories. In dance, we try to bring the energy of these bodies and we propose certain scenes. Everything takes place in a process of translation and these dancers also enter a little in this system to inspire, to drink in the histories of these women, to be able to rethink themselves,” says the director.
The song of Iemanjá
Specially composed for the show, the soundtrack also deserves mention. Inspired by compositions such as “Canto de Iemanjá” by Baden Powell, it will be performed live by the musicians Rafael Teixeira, Ediana Larruscain and Pedro Issler. But the costumes are done by Jaine Barcellos and Flávia Nascimento, a Fashion student from UNIFRA and creator of the Criolando brand.
Luthiery does not hide his joy in being able to present, in Santa Maria, a show funded by Funarte, which according to him, is doomed to go extinct along with the end of the Ministry of Culture.
“Given all this political crisis we are currently experiencing, going to the theater is an act of resistance, and putting this in a poetic way. Somehow, for more than being an explicit discourse, we also place ourselves as militants of the Movimento Negro and culture as a whole,” he concludes.
And if the desire of the director was that the occupation of the theater premises sound like a political manifesto, the act will be of great support. After all, it is not often that a show has its tickets sold out days before the premiere.
The research that gave origin to the spectacle, was marked not only by choreographic elaboration, but mainly by the composition of a diverse team consisting of artists, producers and researchers to historicize and translate the information collected in the form of a dance spectacle in the language of contemporary art, about the mulher negra gaúcha (black woman from Rio Grande do Sul). Yalorixás, African-based religion practitioners, community leaders, heads of families, among other anonymous people that carry with them knowledge and peculiarities of black ancestry were interviewed and researched.
Karen Tolentino, with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, one of the women who was already interviewed for the project, says: “The project brought me a new perspective on black dance and helped in my black identity and my self-esteem. I consider this project important because of its proposal to have as inspiration for the execution of its work, experiences of mulheres negras gaúchas. A group of dancers dancing at the Federal University of Santa Maria that, until recently, was an area of limited access to blackness, is a breakthrough for our city,” says Karen.
- Mãe de santo (Holy Mother/priestess) of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé