marcela levi


Annette Embrechts
de Volkskrant
July 2019

INTERVIEW with Marcela Levi & Lucía Russo about Deixa Arder (Let it Burn)

1) Which prejudices about the black body in dance and the black identity, do you mean?
2) Where can they be traced?
3) What inspires you to make a performance about this subject?

We associate prejudice with an unbearability in dealing with difference, that is, with the Other, with who we do not understand, who does not speak our language - even speaking, apparently.

To think about identity we evoke here Nijinsky when he writes in his diary: "We are rhythms. Meaning is always located on the boundary, face to face with the proliferating wave of difference. There are no identities, only rhythms.

"Let it burn" is a solo, on stage a visible body is crossed by many other invisible ones. From the outset, this is what we ask ourselves: is this visible body a single one? What moves this body is really what we see? Is the visible what makes a body move?

"Let it burn" is an expression that means, at the same time, "damn it all" and "let it touch you, pierce you, blaze you". What really interests us is the "at the same time." We explain: we are interested in staging pieces that do not have a main discussion, that is, something dominant. We launch dirty questions, that is, full of contradictions, ambiguities and escape lines. We deliberately work so that the thing is not univocal, but opaque and, therefore, multifaceted, non captureable.

It is from this contradictory, dirty, ambiguous field that we speak. We are a black performer and co-creator and two white directors. We have been working together for almost 5 years. There is a lot of complexity in this relationship and we intend to let this complexity burn, to exist, to let the differences assure us the possibility of coexisting, that is, to be more than one. The fact that we are, Lucía and Marcela white and Tamires black is a fact, but there is much more than that. We think/practice the body as an "open source" something that is not de-fined (= finished), but something open, full of flaws, cracks and holes through which others enter.

4) How inspired the next examples (mentioned on your site) you to discuss the black identity? Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Josephine Baker, Valeska Gert, Macunaíma, Grande Otelo, Jorge Ben Jor, Mc Carol, Michael Jackson, Nina Simone an Woody Woodpecker? And specially: Valeska Gert??

Those "beings" (beings because among them there is a novel-rhapsody, Macunaíma, and a cartoon-bird, Woody Woodpecker) manifest themselves in very different ways in "Let it burn": as humors, intensities, beats, frequencies, vibrations, forces, affections, rhythms and sounds which invade and beat the performer Tamires Costa, as a hand beats a drum and a drum beats a hand. Tamires calls it a body-drum.

We exposed ourselves to them and they chose us, landed on us.

They are all people - entities, beings - fictional or not, including Valeska Gert - impertinent, excessive, insurgent, funky. We stayed here wondering why Valeska Gert seemed more dissonant to you, in relation to others, than Woody Woodpecker? Or even why all the other blacks are admitted as one group? Would the fact that they have black skin eliminate the difference between them? We are interested precisely in the difference between each one of them. We want to jump from one to the other without eliminating the distance that separates them, the challenge is to articulate that distance.

As a friend said: let's hold the gap together!

"Let it burn" starts with a solo drum by Thelonius Monk. Macunaíma, "a hero without a character," posseses strange abilities - as shapeshifting. Grande Otelo played one of Macunaíma roles in the film. Woody Woodpecker invades a funk song with its laughter. Mc Carol composes and sings irreverent funk music. If Marguerite Duras said: "I suck everything out of the world, Mc Carol said: "I'm gonna suck the lollipop of everyone". In the middle of a serious interview table, Valeska Gert bursts in, crying and laughing like a baby, radically subverting the atmosphere. Jorge Ben Jorge´s music "Mas que nada" is played by Dizzie Gillespies breath / wind. Obá, in Yoruba mythology, represents the turbulent encounter of waters of the river and the ocean. Obá also represents the male aspect of women and the transformation of raw food into cooked food.

5) What is the idea behind the expressive images that Tamires brings up during the performance?

We have ghosts behind Tamires' expressions, not ideas. They are: the crying of a baby from Valeska Gert, the expressions of Josephine Baker's mockery, the mischiefs of Macunaíma (our hero without a character") character of the novel-rapsody of the anthropophagic modernist writer Mário de Andrade, we have the burlesque expressions of pleasure from the funk singer Mc Carol, we have the inflated cheeks of Dizzy Gillespie blowing his instrument and so on. It is also necessary to leave behind what is behind, because if we discover much, there won't be much space/gap left for the public to place themselves, that is, to co-imagine.

6) How do you create this diabolical dance?

In candomblé - African matrix religion - Exú is the entity that represents the crossroads, the disagreement, the paradox, what is not affirmed as One. Exú was transformed into a devil by the Catholic religion, that is, the paradox and the disagreement were demonized. Perhaps it is in this (crossroaded and paradoxical) way that we approach a diabolical dance: when we see a body that is more than one, that incarnates paradox, that carries (electrifies) contradictions and ambiguities. That enjoys horrors and delights, at the same time.

7) What role does black identity play in your own life?

At the end of the creation process of "Let it burn", Tamires told us: "Dancing "Let it burn" causes me a huge crisis. On stage, I embody playful bodies, fools, cheerful, hyper sexualized bodies, powerful, funky, full of swing... in short, I put myself/move/show myself according to the cliché, historically built by the white people, of the black body. This makes me resistant to dance it, but at the same time I feel an enormous pleasure in dancing in this way, in giving back to me the right to be cheerful, to feel pleasure, to make fools, to be funky, to have swing. Why did acting in a way that is legitimate to me mix with a bitter taste of seeing me giving in to what the white people classified as an inferior existence?

Most of the times, we have an eminently white audience. A friend after watching the work said: "Wow, it's funny but it's uncomfortable, suddenly I found myself awkward to be laughing at it, I felt like a white man/sir being entertained by a black woman. But I also saw a baby. I felt like being the target of a joke ("Burla in Portuguese)."

The burlesque/grotesque humour, to make fun (Burla), is a beautiful weapon to subvert roles, to twist them. "Let it burn" uses this humour to reconfigure, to dislocate, to mess, to transtornate, to wound, to open, to let the environment burn in contradictory questions and sensations.

8) What do you see changing in the dance, regarding the black body?

In Rio de Janeiro (place where we live/work) there are many many dances that are related to black movement happening all around and being danced not only by black people: Funk, Samba, Passinho, Jongo, Hip Hop, Capoeira, Charme, Voguing, etc. Dance is a porous and infiltrating field, very different movements are contaminating it all the time. As bodies, it is unfinished, unknown, plastic and methamorphical.