Sustaining the sky | Cibele Forjaz

Since I can think I have always wanted to do theatre…
As a child I wanted to ‘play theatre’ like anybody who wants to be an astronaut to land on the moon and, who knows, instead of putting there a Brazilian, American or Soviet flag dance for everybody on earth to see it in a full moon night. ‘Playing theatre’ was like being a traveler and being able to go around the world to know all the peoples there are or will be there, all of them very different from each other. The world is diverse and we are obliged to choose to be some ONE, a person with an identity and coherence. I wanted to ‘do theatre’ in order to be everything I wanted to be. It was a way of also being a historian, a dancer, an anthropologist, an educator, a scientist or a hippie, even if out of time, howl at the moon and be the dream of a mandarin or the very mandarin himself who dreams of other possible worlds. In short, it was a way of building a life full of transformations. There are many ways of theatre in a single Theatre.

Later, in college, came the passion for light … For the editorial function of the light-design which articulates time and space: the point of view, the dramaturgy of seeing, the writing of a scene, the weaving of languages … I dedicated myself to the techne of theatre. I became a lighting designer and director. I learned ways and means of telling stories. Theatre is also a craft. There are many ways of theatre in a single Theatre.

A few years later, in 1990, I saw Zé Celso on stage for the first time. The director of As Boas, (The Maids) by Jean Genet spoke directly to the audience, he actually did not speak, but screamed, presenting the ‘Society of the Spectacle’, tearing down the mask of cordiality to rub the violence of the Brazilian inequality in the faces of the audience… a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country which only recognises itself through a neo-liberal representation of a court of an enslaving class in their luxury penthouses in Rio de Janeiro.

There, in the Teat(r)o Oficina, I received a punch in my stomach and I understood the transforming power of theatre to pierce the armour not only of the actors but also of the audience. Theatre makes the contradictions of our times visible, provoking critical reflection and revealing deep scars of a civilisation built on the foundations of class, sex or race violence. Theatre is a Molotov cocktail for the polis. As Hamlet says to his actors, the play‘s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. There are many forms of theatre in a single Theatre.

So, thinking I had finally discovered the reason to do theatre, I joined Teat(r)o Oficina Uzyna Uzona. I stayed there for more than ten years and worked as a lighting designer, assistant director, electrician, art director, cleaning lady and whatever was necessary for ‘theatre’ to take place. There were many radical experiences. For example, during the staging of Bacantes, a Dionysian rite which had an important influence on many generations, we drank Ayahuasca for three months to officiate the shows and experienced telepathy on the stage among ourselves and with the audience. At the end of these three months I was pregnant. The fragile membrane between life and theatre which still existed was broken and life imposed itself. There, in company, I learned the intrinsic relationship between the political and the ritual dimension of theatre. There are many ways of theatre in a single Theatre.

In 2000 we founded the company Cia.Livre. Together, we did research exploring the Amerindian universe and performed several shows on the basis of free recreations of myths, songs and narratives of different indigenous peoples. While we were looking for a translation of the concept of the Amerindian perspectivism into a theatrical language, we invented an epic Brazilian theatre through interdisciplinarity between social anthropology, indigenous ethnography and the performing arts which relates to other, non occidental models. Anthropophagy becomes both a theme and a working procedure. There are many ways of theatre in a single Theatre.

In 2018, tired of devouring theory and anthropologists, we decided to leave for the countryside to get to know another Brazil which has got over 300 peoples and 274 languages. We went on a journey along the Rio Xingu, from the mouth to the headwaters, together with doing ethnographic studies of the Araweté, Kayapó-Mebengokré, Kamayurá and Juruna/Yudjá peoples. We discovered other worlds and ways of life, and in every village or community I got to know I looked for the theatre and did not find it.

For the first time in 53 years (39 dedicated to theatre) I discovered that it is possible to live without a theatre and that there are societies that do not know what we call theatre and that they live very well. And if you had asked me “Why theatre?” then, I could no longer have given an answer. The myths are truths and the oral narratives are at the same time history and science. It is completely unlike our concepts of representation or fiction. On the other hand there is no ritual or daily action that has not got its conventional form, its aesthetic way of being. If there is no theatre, the theatricality is ingrained in life itself, where there is no border between existence and art, whether you are a jaguar, a capybara or the tiniest leech.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, a serious ethical crisis of the country is promoting the genocide of the indigenous peoples and aggravating the environmental collapse of the planet, putting the very existence of humanity in check. At this intolerable historical moment a collective art of presence is more important than ever, because it has got the power of transformation and of proving that everything can be transformed. Thus, I do no longer invoke theatre here but the theatricality of our human and extra human existences to reflect if there is any possibility of a great transformation of the world, away from the capitalist system that devours the planet at an absolutely unsustainable speed. It is in ‘be-coming another’, no longer as a representation but in a transfiguration of our own bodies, to be a collective body.

Therefore, in order to survive we must learn from the people who sing and dance to sustain the sky. As the activist and indigenous intellectual Ailton Krenak says, as long as we can tell one more story we will be postponing the end of the world.

Cibele Forjaz is a theatre director, light designer and researcher from são Paulo. she is the artistic director of the theatre group Cia.Livre, working with themes related to Brazilian culture since 2004, with a focus on the cosmologies and narratives of indigenous peoples. she has won several awards, including the shell Award Brasil for Best direction.

1 Krenak, Ailton. O Eterno retorno do Encontro in Novaes, Adauto (org) A Outra Margem do Ocidente, Companhia das Letras, 1999.