Interview with Lia Rodrigues (2011)

There is no translation available.

[Interview edited and translated from Portuguese by Marcos Steuernagel]

Marcos Steuernagel: Lia, could you start by telling us about this place we are in, the Centro de Artes da Maré? 

Lia Rodrigues: The idea is a hypothesis: Is it possible to create a dialog, and what kind of dialog, between the contemporary dance I had been creating with my company for several years and a part of the population that is completely removed and has no access to any kind of cultural equipment, to modern art or contemporary art? This began eight years ago, when Silvia Soter introduced me to a project by Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré, our partners here. This OSCIP is distinct, because it is formed by members and former members of the community of Maré, and that makes all the difference. Because it’s not a project created from an outside view on the favela, it’s a project born with a point of view of people who were raised and lived here. I felt very close to REDES’ approach, the way they see the favela, the way they see the city of Rio de Janeiro. Because it’s not only about the favela; It’s how you see the city, how is this city constituted? It was from this encounter, which happened in 2003, that several different actions began to unfold. I think it’s important to say that Favela da Maré is a favela situated between the International Airport and the center of the city, the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. When you arrive, you cross the favela, but you can’t really see that it’s actually a huge favela with 140 thousand people, 16 different neighborhoods, currently controlled by two different gangs. The project began at Timbau, when REDES received a donation of an abandoned boat warehouse, and I suggested we move the company to this warehouse. In order to do that we needed to reform the warehouse, and that’s where we created encarnado, as fábulas de La Fontaine and hymnen, with music by Stockhausen for the Ballet de Lorraine, in France. After that, REDES relocated to a different part of Maré, Nova Holanda, where we are now, and I relocated with them. The idea is to create a cultural center, an arts center. Because here in the favela, with so many people, there is no theater, no cinema, nothing. The people who live here don’t have a life outside, they don’t go to the movies in the South Side, life is lived inside the favela. So the idea was that we needed to create an arts center, and to do that we needed to find a space. I walked around this favela for about eight months, until I found this warehouse, which had been closed and abandoned for twenty years. I located the owner, a 96-year-old man, who absolutely did not want to rent to anyone. Until I took him to see the REDES space and he was amazed, because it’s a very cool project, and he saw we were serious. So he rented it in my name, my personal name, do you realize? But it was really nasty, there were parts with no roof, it was rotten, rotten, rotten. But I came in and said: “Wow, this is beautiful, this will be amazing, it will be awesome,” but I didn’t know how. But Eliana, one of the directors of REDES said they could easily do it. They have a lot of construction experience. You see, the favela is always under construction. Since we needed money, I sent a project to Petrobras and got two years of support for the company. Since our day-to-day activities were paid for, whatever money I got from tours I saved and invested here, and REDES invested the same amount. We hired five guys here from the favela, there’s no architect, no engineer. I designed a plant, I drew it, I drew the lighting plan. We built from January to May, with no machines, and in May I was already rehearsing here. We built these giant wooden arches in here and we lifted them all by hand. Everything you see here was lifted by hand, all the tiles, absolutely everything. We had the stage built, we built the bathrooms. I had never had an experience like this, I think it was a fundamental experience. Five guys, in flip-flops. There’s no safety concerns, that doesn’t exist, it’s something else entirely.

Marcos Steuernagel: I wanted to talk more about this hypothesis, this idea of creating contemporary dance in the favela, which is very interesting for several reasons. But one of the reasons is that it goes against, perhaps, a set idea of what kind of art that can happen in the favela, that it has to be very simple so everyone can understand. And the company’s work goes somewhat against this, in the sense of saying: “This is the work we do, this is what we will do there.” Could you talk a little about the reasons for this other way of working inside the favela?

Lia Rodrigues: Well, I don’t know any other way. I couldn’t just invent a way other than the way I know, or that I think I know, or the way I do it. But there is a conflict I have inside even today: How do you reach people, how do you attract people, how do you make what we do important for someone? There were several years thinking what strategy this could be, and the strategy was to create free dance classes for the community. Because we were going to present pororoca here, but how could we get an audience, how do you create an audience, how does that work here? We had two years for pororoca, and in these two years we decided to offer classes. Because, I imagine—a new hypothesis—I imagine the students who come, when we dance, will probably want to come and bring their family and friends. So I got funds from the Prince Claus Foundation, a Dutch foundation. I went there with the idea of old Holland helping the New Holland, and I got some money to pay the instructors, the dancers from the company. Every day there was class after our rehearsal, from six thirty to eight, of body awareness, contemporary dance, and creative dance for children. The project lasted two years, until recently, and we had about 100 students, from 7 to 70 years old. I know that 100 compared to 140 thousand is zero. But do you think I would teach millions? We had to keep the quality of the work we do, within what we could humanly do. We have little space, few people, so we did what we thought we should do. When we premiered pororoca here, it was moving. First because people who live in the South Side, the rich part of town, don’t come to the favela. How could we make them come here? This place is exactly in the middle. The favela is inside and Avenida Brasil and the Linha Vermelha are on the other side. We aren’t inside the favela, but people from the South Side don’t come here. So we created a shuttle system with vans that would pick people up in Lagoa and bring them here, then take them back. And here we had a sound truck, we distributed free tickets. We performed our repertory here for a month, every Saturday and Sunday, two shows a day, one after the other. The dancers would perform and then they would shower while people would go to this bar, and then we called them when the next one would begin, and every one would come. There were about 200 people, 250 in each performance.

Marcos Steuernagel: And you did encarnando and pororoca...

Lia Rodrigues: encarnado, pororoca, aquilo de que somos feitos and formas breves. And people’s reactions were amazing. In the break between performances, sometimes people would come talk to me, and normally what I heard the most was: “I don’t understand. What do you mean?” So this is what I did... I know that in these theaters in Europe where I go people would be horrified at what I did. But I think each place has its needs. So I would say: “Many people tell me they don’t understand what we do, so I would like you to know that this is the place where you don’t need to understand, can you imagine? A place where you can be free. It’s a place where you can sit, receive something, where it’s OK to not like it—Can you imagine?—you can hate it, you can leave, stay, you can cry. That’s the interesting experience. It doesn’t really matter if I mean something; I don’t mean anything, I already created the work. Now it’s with you, and that’s the best part. So make yourselves at home and enjoy it however you like.” Because it’s important to talk about these things, it’s not a normal thing. And our students helped us a lot, because they watched Cunningham videos… These two women who do the cleaning here, they know Cunningham, they know contemporary dance, they know Pina Bausch, they know the work of the Brazilians who performed here. But she’s a cleaning lady, do you realize?

Marcos Steuernagel: And it seems to me that, beyond people being able to watch these performances, the purpose is also to show that as a possibility, to create a space of possibility. Because many times the favela seems to be the space of impossibility, where it’s very hard for anything to happen. In this context, to create this space in which it is possible to create contemporary dance in here is to create a space of possibility.

Lia Rodrigues: Because you know, Marcos, in the end the favela is not the place of lack. What the favela lacks are basic services. But the favela produces many things that are wonderful and different, that entice you. I don’t know if you felt it, but I do, it’s alive, there are a thousand things, there’s a different way of organizing. The issue of physical space, of urban space in the favela, is very different. You can see everything is narrow. Narrow houses, narrow streets. So I thought it was very important to preserve the amplitude of this space. The physical experience of being in a place like this in which we are now is very rare today. It’s rare even for us, but I think here in the favela it’s even more rare. It’s an experience you have in a temple, a church, a large theater. People would walk into the space, they would step in and something would happen in their body when entering this space. It has something ritual. All this creates a place that promotes this encounter, it allows you to change your perspective. And everyone wanted to build something here, something there, but we didn’t build anything, we kept it empty. Because then you have space to think, without pollution.

Marcos Steuernagel: An interesting thing you mentioned now is this attitude of learning with the favela as the place of construction of positive things. Because, many times, art in the favela is seen as “bringing culture” to those who have none. What are some of the things you learned with Favela da Maré and that transformed or formed specifically pororoca, which was created after you had been in the favela for a few years?

Lia Rodrigues: One thing I learned, and that I am learning, is a way of dealing with impossibility, since you mentioned this word. That doesn’t exist, you make things happen. Like the library we saw. There was nothing there, and suddenly some money comes from somewhere, and you get three guys, and you start to build. There’s a production of possibility in the favela. That hit me and made me think there was something there that I had to follow, to learn, to be together. It’s a way of thinking the city. It’s not a divided city, as they say, but a city that find’s itself, that weaves itself together, that is built together. This idea that I learned with the REDES people, I think was fundamental: How can we build? How can we organize ourselves in different ways? There’s not one way of working, there are other ways of talking, other ways of communicating, other ways. The knowledges are different, and there’s an exchange of knowledges. You move differently here, you walk different, because the rules to walk down the street are different. I feel that pororoca was the piece in which it seems we somehow entered into some way of being in the favela. I feel that when I see the piece. Also because pororoca was created when we were still building here, cleaning up, so it was all mixed up. The painter painted the walls, Carlos fixed things, there were very nice encounters. Carlos would say: “Lia, I didn’t know artists worked so hard.” Because there is this idea of the artist as someone who is a celebrity, who has an acquired knowledge, that comes from God, who suddenly does something. I was surprised by that comment, because for me it’s so much work. I don’t have this idea of the artists that wanders, I do everything, I produce. Since I directed a festival for many years, I have the idea of the totality, of all that needs to happen to be here now.

Marcos Steuernagel: I wanted to come back to this idea of the hypothesis. After eight years, are there things that changed between what you thought would happen and what happened?

Lia Rodrigues: Actually I came with a very loose hypothesis. I don’t know if that even exists, but it was something like this: I wonder if… I wonder how… So I will stay here, part still, part doing some things, to see if I can understand. Because I didn’t know anything, I had to learn everything. I think the hypothesis transforms into other hypotheses, because the needs change. Now I tested offering classes and I saw it worked; now I need to fix this space because Silvia has the project for the school. How will this project be written, how will it communicate with the company? What physical space does the company need in order to work? All these things, I don’t know if they are different hypotheses or if they unfold from the same hypothesis.

Marcos Steuernagel: And there’s one thing specific to the company, which is the fact that you premiere or tour almost all your works in festivals, especially in France, in the European contemporary dance circuit, and also present them here in the favela, and also in festivals in Brazil. How is this contrast of living in between France, who many times also sponsors the production, and Brazil, and how do you live in both places at once?

Lia Rodrigues: I think I’m used to it. Usually the shock is when… Since we created pororoca in its entirety here, it was very hard to walk into a place that was quiet, clean, a black box. It’s a very difficult change for me. And I always think those people don’t realize everything they have, and I try to enjoy it as much as I can. But I also love it here, I love to be here, I love to come here, I don’t mind at all cleaning up, taking care. Because it’s something that I can watch as it transforms, you know? Like a creation. It appears, like that.

Marcos Steuernagel: Could you talk about the importance of maintaining a stable company? Because so many groups in Brazil end up gravitating around specific projects, because of how funding happens here. The first time I saw your work was in 2000, it was aquilo de que somos feitos, and at that time you already talked about the importance of maintaining a company, of paying the dancers, and how this was more important than the specific projects.

Lia Rodrigues: I always believed, and still believe, that being a dancer, an artist, is a job like any other. We need money to pay rent, to pay for our kid’s school, to eat. And that is harder and harder in our times. Relationships are more and more unstable, more “liquid,” if we want to use these terms. So in this world of liquid and unstable relationships, it becomes harder and harder to keep a project that lasts a year, twelve months a year. Beyond the fact that you have to make a living from your work, you need to be able to devote yourself to what you do in a different way. How can you create a different body because you can afford to be together so much time? To take classes together, to create together, to improvise together, over the duration of time? I find that to be a privilege, also because the company is a kind of school. It serves as training for the dancers who join the company, many times with no experience of dancing, of creating a piece, or even of traveling, of keeping a repertoire. So I feel, and I think that’s pretty cool, that the company is also a place of training. Many people join the company without ever having danced professionally. Most of them, almost. And it’s very cool to see them, after some years, creating their own work. There’s Marcela Levi, Micheline, Denise. So I like to think about it like that, an open school, a place where people spend some time and we learn together, we read things, we watch things.

Marcos Steuernagel: I wanted to ask you about the relationship between your work and politics. Your work is many times called political dance, especially aquilo de que somos feitos and encarnado. Is that something you would agree with? Or do you disagree?

Lia Rodrigues: I don’t even know how to talk about this… Maybe it’s something like this: Sometimes people say that, for example aquilo de que somos feitos is politically committed, the second half is a kind of manifesto. But that’s because that work needed that, we were talking about that issue. But I don’t think it’s limited to that, to being political, it’s not a political pamphlet. I think there are other actions that are also political. When you can offer the opportunity to deal with your own sensibility differently, I believe that’s deeply political. And maybe that’s what I think. How can we, with the body—because usually our works don’t have sets, lighting, those things—how can we through this encounter, how can we by moving, how can we create this zone of sensibility between people who are watching and what we are doing? I believe this encounter is political. When we are here, together, that’s political.

Marcos Steuernagel: And do you think the fact of being in the favela creating contemporary dance, is that a political action in itself? Or not necessarily?

Lia Rodrigues: I don’t know if that’s political, but I feel alive and participating in public life. And you have to consider I created a dance festival that opened space for everyone. During 14 years I directed a festival, invited people, thought about it. Opening this space is also political, creating this space, but I felt it was still small. What about the city of Rio de Janeiro? How is it, how is it articulated? I travel and I meet the same people who were there in my festival, whom I invited, the curators. It’s all kind of a circle, in which people meet, give beautiful talks, we talk about things I love, we read the same books, talk about “liquid world” and “partition of the sensible,” we can talk about many wonderful things. But I felt I was gravitating around one single thing. I wanted to break that; I had to expand this circle. I think that, by coming here, I feel I am doing that, somehow.

Marcos Steuernagel: I still wanted to ask about the idea of political efficacy. I mean, you look outside, see the whole situation—the violence, the problems—and the idea, first of all, that it is possible and necessary to do something about it, and second that art has anything to do with that. In some way, do you see encarnado and pororoca as political actions, in this sense?

Lia Rodrigues: When you say pororoca, encarnado, I can’t see that. I can see what’s around them. Because to create encarnado and to create pororoca, I had to move differently, I had to participate in a different way of the life in the city. I don’t know if that’s there, in this work, but I know that what’s around the work, what creates the environment for the work to exist, I feel that’s a political action. It’s an action that moves something. What I feel is that, by doing this, I don’t feel powerless. Because usually we think that everything is violent, everything is bad, but there’s no way out for the world. And, because I’m here, I don’t feel that. I feel there is a way out. I don’t know what it is, but I know it is built in the making. So I don’t feel depotentialized. I feel an affect that increases my potency. Very Spinozian, right?

Marcos Steuernagel: And do you think encarnado and pororoca somehow reflect the place from which they come, is there a dialog with this place?

Lia Rodrigues: I believe so. It’s not something I can say, this is that, or this is this, I can’t describe it like that. But now with the distance I can see that, for example, encarnado was the piece I created as soon as I arrived here, and I was still under the impact of the arrival, which was huge for me. Encarnado creates something like a shock, for me. And I feel pororoca is the work that mixes, after eight years. I believe they are works that brought different things. But of course that’s not all, I think in both pieces there are several other issues. Otherwise the piece becomes too dull, it becomes flat, there are other dimensions to it. How can we move now? How can we create a way of moving? There are other issues which belong to the nature of dance, that I am also interested in discussing, and that are there, in both works.


Additional Info

  • Título: Interview with Lia Rodrigues
  • Data da performance: 2011 July 15
  • Lugar: Rio de Janeiro
  • Interviewee: Lia Rodrigues
  • Interviewer: Marcos Steuernagel
  • Idioma: português