Travel to Basilia and Cena Contemporanea International Festival

August 1, 2016  •  5 minute read

Travel to Brasilia and Cena Contemporanea International Festival

From August 31 – September 5, 2016 the Performing Americas delegation of NPN/VAN’s International Program visited Brasilia, Brazil to attend the Cena Contemporanea International Theater Festival. This multidisciplinary festival celebrated over two decades of presenting contemporary performance in the capital, and annually hosts two weeks of activities in Brasilia and neighboring municipalities. Their mission is to develop a vibrant arts ecology in the Federal District region, while exposing audiences to pioneering tendencies in performing arts nationally and internationally. The 2016 festival programming featured around twenty companies—local artists from Brasilia, other national companies from various regions of Brazil, and international works from Chile, France, Portugal, Spain and Uruguay.  Cena also hosted three days of talks and panels, which stimulated conversation among artists, presenters and producers to share information and to think critically about contemporary arts practice. The NPN/VAN delegation was invited to be part of a panel that discussed performing arts networks with NPN/VAN as a model.

National Museum of the Republic in Brasilia, designed by Oscar Niemeyer

Brasilia, Brazil has long been called The City of the Future (yes—even before Reggie Watt’s weirdly hilarious video) because of its modernist vision and centralized design, and was a historically conceived urbanization project that finally got traction in the 1950s under the presidential administration of Juscelino Kubitschek.  The 41 month-long construction of the city was brought to fruition with the brilliance and engineering of modernist architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, among many other talented landscapers and designers, and the hard labor of thousands of Brazilian workers who migrated to the nascent city from poorer regions of the country in search of work. The urban center was founded officially in 1960, and Brazil’s capital was moved from Rio de Janeiro to take up residence in the futuristic layout that is reminiscent of a palatial modernist theme park, or scenes from early Star Trek episodes, because of the unusual buildings, spatial relationships and striking visual designs. Driving through the streets of downtown Brasilia, you have the feeling you might be cruising through a suburban office park in Virginia, which stands in stark contrast to many other urban centers in Brazil. The city layout lends itself to this organization and control. On one of our excursions, a member of our delegation asked, “Where are all the poor people?”  Our host replied that they live on the outskirts of the city, where housing is more affordable as the center of the capital has high rent for the average person. Artists living in Brasilia in the early days of the city had to create its cultural fabric from the ground up.  Many still struggle to have thriving companies and to circulate their work even though there is healthy support for the arts from local arts agencies compared to other cities nationwide. We had the privilege of meeting local artists and seeing their work. We met with the Director of the Federal District’s Cultural Affairs Department, Guilherme Reis, an actor who comes from a long history of festival producing, and is a former member of La RED, Performing Americas’ partner network in Latin America. It was truly a pleasure to meet an old friend and artist in such a key policy making role, and we celebrated his efforts in support of commissioning new work in Brasilia and the internationalization of Brazilian performing arts. Occupying larger geography than the continental United States, Brazil is as fascinating and diverse as the U.S., with many parallels and juxtapositions. The country is also no stranger to political unrest, having long suffered from many ills brought on by colonialism’s legacies, military regimes and most recently, neo-liberalism on the rise. Recent presidential affairs have been very chaotic with a growing and bitter split between the majority worker’s party administration that has been in place for almost 15 years and the conservative, more neo-liberal leaning opposition. The impeachment of sitting president, Dilma Rouseauv, was confirmed and announced while we were there, and there was a grim mood among the artist class and many more nationwide who regarded this ousting of the county’s first female president as a golpe (i.e. coup). Early in the impeachment process, the sitting Vice President, who took over, eliminated—in one stroke—the Ministry of Culture (supposedly for ”austerity measures”), reducing it to an ”agency” within the Ministry of Education. People were outraged and, after a couple weeks, it was reinstated to calm down what was turning into a major occupy movement. No one knows to what degree the Ministry will continue to be funded and how it will support progressive cultural policies that were instituted over the last decade.

PAP Delegation with Sergio Bacelar

The National Network of Theater Festivals of Brazil (Rede de Festivais de Teatro do Brasil) is an organizing body that unites the interests and leaders of a thriving cohort of festivals throughout the country. One of the Network’s representatives, Sergio Barcelar, is a friend and colleague based in Brasilia. Our group met with him to discuss cultural policy in Brazil and understand how festival organizers were joining together to present a series of demands to the Ministry of Culture that would insure support for festivals nationwide. Brazil’s festivals sustain much of the country’s commissioning, presenting, touring support and public access to the performing arts. The artists we met reported that they are rethinking site-specific work as a way to gain access to public space for performance and creative action. Hybridism and ensemble-based production is a common thread for many artists, and there’s a sense that project funding, while available some years, is now more fragile and fleeting than ever. Of more than a dozen works that we saw, two were remarkable for their strength and universality, being regionally significant yet able to reach across class, race and national boundaries. The works of artists Silvero Pereira in BR Trans and Giselle Rodrigues and Édi Oliveira in Fio Fio were completely different, yet showed the scenic and symbolic sophistication, emotional vulnerability and social astuteness that is a trademark of contemporary Brazilian performance. As in the United States, the awareness around violence and unequal treatment of transgendered individuals in Brazil has been a subject of more widespread and deep social inquiry in recent years. For this reason, BR Trans is a particularly timely piece as it addresses universal themes of social prejudice and discrimination against transgendered members of our societies, and peels back the veil on under-investigated violence against trans people in a way that is provocative and hilarious, yet personal and humanizing. Fio a Fio, a choreography for two dancers, poetically looks into a stage of life when we need to deal with the impact of the years on the body: Aging. What does it mean to live in a body that loses its capabilities and, at the same time, gains wisdom we need to live well? How do we struggle or accept the idea that when we feel we are ready for life, our body needs to rest the most? The work exposes the intuition of dying, the loss of memory, the loneliness of physical frailty, but also affection, companionship and serenity permeate the work whose physicality narrates the aging process as an emotional and physical dance. For more information on these projects, follow their links. The Performing Americas Program supports peer learning, international exchange and transnational creativity. We annually host trips to Latin American and Caribbean countries to attend festivals, arts markets and other meetings where NPN/VAN Partners, artists and associated U.S.-based colleagues can connect with our peers throughout the hemisphere. If you would like to join in on one of our trips, please contact