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Founded in 1990, in Rio de Janeiro, Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Danças (Lia Rodrigues Dance Company) is a project built by many hands and spearheaded by the dancer and choreographer Lia Rodrigues. With strong international presence and renown, the Company remains active the year round, with classes, rehearsals of its repertoire and research and creation work, always in close collaboration with its artist-dancers, having already performed and worked on the most part of the Brazilian territory and in more than 20 countries.
The Company maintains a long-standing partnership with the non-governmental organization Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré (Redes da Maré), working directly in the Complexo de Favelas da Maré, and helping to build and ensure the maintenance of an adequate place for the practice of dance in different projects. From the meeting of Lia Rodrigues and Silvia Soter, choreographer and playwright, and Eliana Sousa Silva, Director of Redes da Maré, the Centro de Artes da Maré (Maré Arts Center, CAM) was born, and requalifies a large abandoned industrial building in the community of Nova Holanda. Conceived as a space for coexistence and knowledge exchange, the center is structured in three activity axes: training, creation, and production and dissemination of the arts, with a focus on dance. CAM is the headquarters of the Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Dança, and since 2011 houses the Escola Livre de Dança da Maré (Maré Free School of Dance, ELDM).
Committed to citizenship and understanding the artistic practice as a vector for individual and collective development, ELDM is divided into two groups, one open to everyone, from children to adults and elderly people interested in taking free courses in different dance styles, with an average of 350 students enrolled. The other is the core of continuing education in dance, formed by groups of young people, pre-selected through auditions, who have in dance a central element in their trajectories. Important projects by the Company, including Fúria (Fury), Para que o Céu não Caia (So That the Sky Won’t Fall Down), Pindorama, Pororoca and Piracema were created in this space and later toured the world, participating in the main international dance and arts festivals.
We were suddenly taken by surprise. We were in Europe, with 10 dancers, on a big tour to celebrate the Company’s 30th anniversary, and right at the beginning, in March, everything here started shutting down. Also, I was working with two Brazilian artists on another project in France, and we had a series of teaching projects at universities and schools, which is a professional activity that I carry out alongside my work at the Company. I managed to put all the dancers on a flight back to Brazil and came to Amsterdam, where my partner lives. What a great year to be turning 30, isn’t it?
I was very happy because it was the first time in my life that I could breathe financially and organize things. We had a lot of work in Europe and Brazil. Lots of performances, and a schedule that is busy until 2022, with creative work and tours.
I’ve been grinding for years and I was loving to be able to have this comfort. But life is wonderful, but all of a sudden it knocks you down. Eventually many things were canceled or adapted—all at the same time.
I didn’t imagine, however, that it would be like that for two months. We were in the middle of everything, then all started to fall apart. Now I’m striving to make a financial advance for the Company’s future works in Europe, together with the partners from a network that I have built and with whom I have worked for many years, so that I can support the project in Rio de Janeiro. There are 15 people on the payroll, and at this moment I have to get money so that these professionals can continue to be supported. I’m in a great battle in this midfield, trying to articulate different fronts and coming up with solutions.
When asked how I can stand, I reply that I’m never standing. I’m always squatting. It’s the best way to be, because you can’t fall. If something happens, you lie on the floor, jump, run . . . I’m never standing up, so I think the fall is never that bad. I try to be ready to act. I always tried to go to places that would challenge me. First, as a person and as a citizen. I am a white, cis-gender, middle-class woman. It means a great deal to be born like this in a country like Brazil. We can never shy away from the place where we are born and grow up, and from the structures that are within us and which we have to deal with and seek to break from. I could be an artist, I could make that choice. The question is how I can minimally share these privileges and also confront myself with this huge inequality, racism and everything that plagues this huge country.
I have no financing from Brazil, what I have are these European partners. I am an associate artist in two theaters in France, in Paris, the Centquatre-Paris and the Théâtre National de Chaillot, which means that I carry out long-term projects with these institutions, defining lines of action. In Europe, there is a whole network of subsidies and structures for culture, as well as a social base that is accessible to most of the population. This does not allow us to make a comparison between the situation of artists in Brazil and in countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Hardship among Brazilian artists is very different from that of the European artist—when you don’t get compensation or have a wage, you have nothing.
It is from these networks of supporters and co-producers that I am getting an advance to keep the Company alive, in order to keep people’s wages. After all, everyone has to pay for their rent and all the rest to survive, including myself. It is very rare for artists in Brazil to earn a monthly wage, like we are doing now, paying the Company’s dancers, and we all work as MEI (Individual Micro-entrepreneur). In dance, very few professionals have employment contracts. It is me, with another person who has worked with me for more than 20 years, who organizes the financial part, seeking to ensure the project’s continuity.
The institutions I work with in Europe are adapting to the situation of the pandemic all the time. Everyone is trying to understand what is happening. The projects were mostly delayed rather than canceled. So we have a new schedule, but we are not sure that it can be met. We are moving step by step, together with my production company. Everything is very unstable, but there is no other way to work.
In addition to the schedule of the Company’s international tours, there is also the agenda of Brazil, with Sesc, with the Ceará Dance Biennial and with our performances at Maré, which we don’t know when will be done, as we are entering a terrible moment of the pandemic in Brazil. Even if here in Europe the measures are loosened, as it is beginning to happen now in May, we don’t know if we Brazilians, for instance, will be able to enter the Schengen Area in the European Union, precisely because of the evolution of the situation in Brazil. We don’t know what that relationship will be like.
The aim of the Social Service of Commerce is to create opportunities to advance human development through culture, education, health, sport, leisure and assistance. Part of what is called Sistema S (S System) in Brazil, operates through more than 580 units, and is today one of the main institutions for the promotion of culture in the country, acting as a strong supporter of the arts across its spectrum.
Created in 1942 during the Vargas Era, the S System comprises a series of institutions that represent a set of organizations and entities, supporting workers in industry, retail and commerce. Created with the main goal of offering training to the workforce in Brazil, the system is maintained through the compulsory contribution of companies, with varying rates.
The artists, however, were already going through difficult times. I have so many colleagues who were out of work before . . . The situation hasn’t changed much. This is a very serious public policy issue for culture and art. Artists have always been in crisis, especially in Rio de Janeiro, which is in absolute chaos with all projects halted, canceled or with pay suspended at the municipal and state level. Theaters are falling apart. This brings up the need to think, as a society, the way we have always related to it, and not just in emergencies.
A crise evidencia algo que faz parte da realidade brasileira e mundial. Antes não era bom, era muito problemático e complexo e as pessoas que estão agora The crisis highlights something that is part of the Brazilian and global reality. It wasn’t good before, it was very problematic and complex, and the people who are now suffering the most are the people who have always suffered from inequality. I think it’s very important to say that the situation was never ideal. For favela residents in Brazil, the situation is even more complex. There is action by militia, government inoperability, and even attacks by the public authorities on residents, as if they didn’t share the same value as those in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. I think that civil society tends to be more organized to help their neighbors, in all senses.
I’ve worked since 2002 with Silvia Soter, playwright, teacher and dance critic. She introduced me to the NGO Redes da Maré, and to Eliana Sousa, Director of the organization. Since 2011 the Maré Free School of Dance has been operating at the Maré Arts Center, where the Company is headquartered. Redes da Maré has been organizing a very important movement in order to alert the population to follow social isolation and prevention protocols, which are very difficult to be carried out in a favela. They are also making ample collection and distribution of basic food baskets, water and hygiene products. It is the most wonderful thing to see the Maré Arts Center filled with basic food baskets and more than 100 people working in the logistics. It is demanding work, an incredible thing, which also shows that non-governmental organizations, which have been and continue to be so badly attacked by this obtuse administration, are organized to act seriously at times like this. They are very well structured and make a difference. It is something to pay attention to and reflect on.
Officially created in 2007, Redes da Maré is a civil society institution working to improve the quality of life and secure basic rights among the 140,000 residents of the 16 communities of the Complexo de Favelas da Maré. Moving around three axes—Art, culture, memories and identities; Territorial development; Right to public security and access to justice and education—the organization’s central element is the structuring of a comprehensive and procedural project for the exercise of citizenship.
There are very important issues that cannot be overshadowed by the coronavirus. A governor who celebrated the destruction of the plaque honoring the murdered city councillor Marielle Franco cannot, suddenly, become a hero fighting the virus. This is serious and we have to be very alert to people working in politics and to know their past and present.
Since isolation was instituted in Brazil and in the Maré favela, the School’s activities have been suspended. We are currently working on an emergency project with the Moreira Salles Institute, to make a kind of living journal with the students, of how they and their community are experiencing this situation with the pandemic. It is very important that we help them mobilize, and the teachers are working on it.
The students in the continuing education group are still getting their scholarships, and we are developing some more theoretical work with them. But we do it all very carefully. It is important to keep our perspective and remember that the conditions and possibilities at the moment are very different. The lives of each of them can be very diverse, and many find themselves having to take care of their parents and family in very small homes, or with very poor internet access. We try to understand this whole dimension and we are working so that they don’t disconnect. This is very important so that we can work together in another way. Our pedagogical coordinators are very mindful of this, and we are constantly communicating. However, our school is also on-site, and I think it’s good that we keep that up. We have to wait and continue on our path, because that is not replaceable.
I am not very good with technology. Everything I do has a very important physical, in-person work. I’m used to working eye to eye, watching bodies move.
With the work of the Dance Company, we were also trying to devise a way to keep up. Thankfully, there are young people—increasingly younger, in fact—who really help me not to get stuck in the past. I learn a lot. My proposal was to hold meetings around topics that were important for us to study. This is already happening, and for now we hold meetings twice a week. I also proposed that each student choose a year in the company’s history and survey everything that was produced, such as texts, images and records. We rehearse so much, dance, travel and we don’t usually have the time to do that. There was also the idea that each one could write things about themselves and their experience within the Company, which is very important, because people complete their whole training there. We are discovering ways, but for us there is no such thing as rehearsing online, taking dance classes at home—it doesn’t work. There are millions of ways, and we are figuring out our own. I also use the internet to organize a lot of things and make the necessary contacts and articulations. In fact, I have been able to attend many more meetings than before. I’ve been meeting more people than I had before, and this is great.
The Projeto Pixinguinha was a cultural event whose aim was to promote popular Brazilian music throughout the country. It was created in 1977 by Funarte in partnership with the country’s Municipal and State Secretariats of Culture.
Circulation is the basis of an artist’s work. We have to think about how to create this circulation network once again, of possibilities to travel, from North to South and South to North, so everyone can meet. It’s very important for us, and I want to be in contact with as many people as possible, so I can take the things we think about. What I always wanted was to be able to do this in Brazil. In the past, there was the Projeto Pixinguinha, when musicians circulated in the country, and today there is a nationwide project, carried out by Sesc, called Palco Giratório (Rotating Stage). Sesc São Paulo, in this sense, plays a crucial role in the circulation and survival of artists—we half-jokingly call it “Saint Sesc.”
In Europe things are different, as there have been policies in place for many years. Professionals complain, and rightly so, but there is very substantial policy in all these countries I work on. Even if at certain moments they are less efficient, the base is there. In France, mainly, there is a very large circuit and in each city, even in small towns, there is a theater and there is an audience. This is great for artists, because it allows us to circulate with our work and make a living out of it.
It is also important that institutions invest in artistic creation, so that there are financial contributions for this creation to occur before circulation because, after all, we also eat, pay for school and rent while we are creating, so it is essential to people understand what is necessary and allow it to happen.
My actions internationally were not something I anticipated, it just happened. It built up over many years, and now I have partners who really help. I don’t have these partners in Brazil, except Sesc and some festivals, such as the Curitiba Dance Festival and the Ceará Dance Biennial. In Europe I have much more practical recognition and investment in my work as an artist. This makes my work effective. Things are very connected, but I don’t know if it’s a way out for everyone. The money comes in through the Company and goes out through the Arts Center and the Maré Free School of Dance. The company’s dancers for the time being have their salaries secured because of these articulations. Most of my students at the School are the main breadwinners for their families. We’ve never had constant sponsorship in Brazil, I participated in some open calls, sometimes won, sometimes not. Brazilian investments in the Company were very intermittent.
In 2011, in France, I met the director of Fundação Hermès1, who got to know my work on one of our international tours. He reached out to me and told me that they were entering the Brazilian market and would like to associate it with a social project linked to training. Silvia Soter and I sat down and wrote a project that was well received by the Foundation, which has become a School partner since its foundation to this day.
The School is part of a story. There are many people working for it to exist. In addition to all management and administration positions, a school needs a well-structured space. We need people to serve the public, to clean the space, do the maintenance, and these are essential people, without whom the existence of the School would be impossible.
1 Fondation d’entreprise Hermès.
First of all, we think about training for citizenship. We work together with Redes da Maré so that young people in the community can get to the university and have a broader education. I really believe that you can’t be an artist without being a citizen. We address issues of gender, race and inequality. The School is constantly changing too. It’s not a closed structure with a precise duration. It just goes on and on. I think this is the only way we can live in the world: surfing adversity. When I see how structures work in Europe, for instance, I think it only applies to that bubble. The rest of the world is not like that. The world’s mess does not always respond to these formulas.
We’ve had experiences with a group of ten students who spent six to seven years with us. Of these, four are in Belgium, four are in my Company, and all studied in Public Universities. I think the Free School of Dance project is a project that has achieved 100% of its goals. There has always been the need for actions in the city. What is this city I live in and how can contemporary art dialogue with a social project? When I directed the Festival Panorama I always asked myself who the audience was and who we were dialoguing with. I thought that, quite often, the majority were people who had read the same books and had the same artistic experiences, and the city of Rio de Janeiro is much bigger than that. It’s not possible, though, to simply arrive in a community, in a favela, saying that you have something to give and teach. You go there to learn a lot.
With its first edition held in 1992, the Festival Panorama is a dance festival organized by Associação Cultural Panorama, in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout 22 editions, it promoted national and international companies and artists, playing a vital role in fostering the memory of dance in Rio de Janeiro.
There’s a whole conception and training involved in building a school. I’m 64 and have been dancing professionally since I was 17. There’s a whole arc and experience of a very open pedagogy. I studied History at USP, in 1974, during the Military Dictatorship and this weighs heavily in my training. It was a very difficult period. We recently had the nefarious experience of having an actress of the last category talking about this terrible moment in Brazilian history. It feels like she hasn’t experienced the grievances of the dictatorship like the rest of us have. What the government is doing in all sectors is unspeakable. You can’t separate the artistic sector from the others. Brazil is in the hands of murderers at this moment, and this is reflected everywhere, including the artistic sector.
But I’m working with the possibility of things resuming, and see how things unfold and transform and invent myself. I don’t foresee the future and I can’t imagine another way of working. If necessary, I’ll probably reinvent myself. I don’t believe in a romantic idea that we are going to change after this crisis. I don’t believe in that at all. The system will be the same, rampant capitalism and extreme inequality.
The necessary transformation is not coming and the whole question of thinking about an ecology is not happening. We just surf through the crisis. There are wonderful and diverse ways of acting in the world, of making art and keeping Brazil moving along in some way. We learned this from the resilience of the indigenous peoples and the black population, especially black women. We have to be aware of this, but there is no model. I’m looking at things to learn. Let’s hear what Ailton Krenak has to say, what Davi Kopenawa has to say. Let’s hear the black women who have always carried Brazil on their backs, and still do. All of these issues will endure, and we cannot let our guard down. It is a fight that, at least for my generation, will be forever.