From 22 April to 6 May 2016, ICAF artistic director Eugene van Erven and producer Anamaria Cruz travel around Brazil to scout community art projects that have links to the ‘Movement’ theme of ICAF 2017. This is their journey.
Anamaria and I have now been back in Holland for three days, both of us suffering from a major cold and a spectacular jetlag that is undoubtedly enhanced by the intense and inspiring experiences we had in Brazil. But we still owe you a report on a last-minute visit to a very special arts organization. Last Friday, on our way to the airport for our return flight to The Netherlands we stopped in the Maré Favela. The evening before, we had we met internationally renowned choreographer Lia Rodrigues and her dramaturg Silvia Soter in a café near the Botanical Gardens. It seemed like both they and us wanted to first check whether a visit to Maré would be worth the effort. On Thursday night, Silvia and Lia were exhausted after a long day of rehearsals with their professional dance company with another rehearsal scheduled for the next day. Anxious about their imminent tour to Germany, they could do without extra work. Over a cold glass of fresh orange juice (a Brazilian favourite) they told us about their company, their move to Maré in 2003 and how that decision changed their lives and the community they found there. And we told them about ICAF and how different our event is from conventional performing arts festivals. It must have intrigued them sufficiently to make the effort to organize an on-site visit the next day. For us it turned out to be very worthwhile indeed.
Silvia picked us up in her car to drive us down to the Nova Holanda [‘New Holland’!] section of Maré around 1 PM. We passed a group of crack addicts living on the sidewalk of the main thoroughfare leading into the favela. The centro de artes de Maré is located at the beginning of a block in one of the side streets. It is actually housed in a converted abandoned indoor shipyard with enormously high ceilings with fans and two connected hangar-size halls. On the left is an improvised reception, an exhibition area, a public library and a performance space with a few lights and a gradient of piled-up wooden pallets for people to sit on. On the right is a big rehearsal space where Lia works with her professional dancers. She and Silvia had organized for us to get a taste of daily life in Maré and to meet with Redes de desinvolvemento de Maré [‘the Maré Development Network’], a consortium of social agencies that tries to make a difference in this highly troubled neighborhood and that works closely with the dance company. Guided by Daniel, one of the art center volunteers, we walked through the crowded alleys of Maré to the headquarters of Redes.
Photo by ELDM
There, Patricia, a leading figure in the organization, told us about the many things they do, ranging from adult education and political lobbying to improving infrastructure, public security and counseling. Art and culture constitute a major aspect of their work and she particularly emphasizes the positive impact the Escola de dança libre de Maré [the free dance school of Maré] has had. Just imagine a major, internationally renowned contemporary dance company suddenly settling in one of Rio’s most violent areas. Needless to say, it immediately provoked curiosity from the locals to come watch open rehearsals followed very soon by requests for free dance workshops. The rest, as they say, is history. The Lia Rodrigues Dance Company has by now become fully accepted by the Maré residents, including the four competing gangs that operate there in different sub-divisions. The professional artists perform for their neighbors, but there is now also a company of highly talented aspiring dancers that have come up through the workshops that cater to a sheer endless pool of novices.
In 2007, the dance company decided to combine its community outreach work under the new name of the Maré Arts Center. Collaborating closely with Redes, this center coordinates the free dance classes, cultural education activities, community festivals, talks and lectures, film screenings, and photo and other visual arts exhibits. The dance classes themselves annually cater to more than 300 children, teenagers and adults from all over the Maré (which has a total of 150,000 inhabitants). A handful of these have now become professional dancers, but the impact of the dance company and the arts centers can be felt throughout the crowded and noisy streets of the Maré. In 2014, Lia Rodrigues was deservedly awarded the Prince Claus Award for her bold move and vision to challenge her own work and the professionals she works with to explore the genuine social relevance of contemporary dance right in the midst of the messy, complicated and ever-changing but oh so inspiring and vital context of Maré.