Berlin-based Brazilian performer and choreographer Regina Rossi, trained in scenic arts and performance studies in Brazil and Hamburg, uses her country’s martial art capoeira to explore identity construction and kinaesthetic communication in her piece Tchi-Kudum: Zoon Politikon. Her intense piece is also the final instalment in her “Trilogy of Exhaustion”, which uses three different dance styles to explore the draining experience of shaping our identities. The final dance breaks out in its Berlin premiere on Tuesday, April 28 at Ballhaus Naunystraße.
What does Tchi-Kudum mean?
That’s a game of mine. If you read it, you might first think about something foreign. In Germany, people would probably think that it’s something from the Orient, very colonially, like: “Oh, this is not from here.” But actually, if you sing it, it’s simply the rhythm of samba. And the first part of my trilogy was a samba.
What was the first part like? How did this develop into a trilogy?
The first part was simply my solo about samba, the female role in Brazil, clichés about the image of women and Brazilian women. In my work, I always absorb everything that comes along the way and then develop it into a piece. Then I had the idea that this should be a trilogy because I was dealing with the three cultures of movement that have strongly shaped my physicalness. These are samba, couple dance and capoeira.
It’s called “Trilogy of Exhaustion”. What kind of exhaustion do you mean?
There are two levels. There is the exhaustion of the performers and of the audience, because it is about non-stop motion throughout the whole performance. And the other level is conceptual. This trilogy was about construction of identities. I was dealing with and criticising how identities are constructed through these movement cultures. The identity of woman, for example, by dancing the samba, the way you dance the samba, with the costumes you have to dance it with. Also, this heteronormativity of the couple dance – this is also an identity construct. And I experience any form of identity construction as very exhausting.
We understand the term “identity” as completely fixed and closed. That is something completely different, as if we were talking about subjectivities. You are born, you grow up, then you marry or you don’t marry and you make this or that decision and you walk your whole life in this way. There is not much room to move within the concept of identity – hence, my critique.
What do you find to criticize?
For example, within the construct of “woman”, there is not much room aside from the beauty, the nude, who dances samba and who “usually” is black – which is completely racist. I’ve experienced this a lot here. I was not considered Brazilian, for example, because I am white. These are topics that definitely are always in relation to Germany and Europe. But on the other side, I often hear Brazilians tell me I couldn’t possibly dance samba because I originate from the south of the country. To break open these kinds of closed identities, that was how the piece kicked off.
You developed Zoon Politikon with a group. How did that work?
Some of the concepts were fixed, like the performers being permanently in motion. Nevertheless, they were of course free to participate in the development of what was being chosen. The theme of capoeira dictated the movements – we only shifted the vocabulary and played a lot with it in search of meaning on the dramatic level. We also talked a lot about colonialism and the origin of capoeira – for example, it was forbidden for black Brazilians. We improvised a lot in the rehearsal, trying to carry the topics of racism and exclusion to extremes. But we couldn’t find a satisfactory point on the verbal level and, on the performative level, it’s also very hard to show something that is not already commonplace or a platitude.
Jean-Luc Nancy once described dance as thinking through the body and as a place of community. How do you see the political power of dance?
This encounter, yes, that happens in scenic arts in general; the stage being this room for encounter and sharing, where communication takes place in a kinaesthetic way and not through language. Especially with dance. And where the language is not the language of institutions, or the police and so on. This different manner of communication is a potential of dance.
A resistance to the structure of language?
Exactly. It’s a completely different form of perception, which is very important to train and nurture today, particularly if we talk about emancipation and political education. Otherwise, everyone is just chattering or engaged with their mobile phone or sitting in front of the computer. Many things are simply getting lost.
How is the audience involved?
In the second and third parts, the audience is on stage. I’m very excited to find out how the audience participates. I like to work very openly and I don’t want to tell a story on stage. The spectators shall build their own story. These last two pieces were definitely experiments in opening the stage and breaking that gap to the auditorium. It’s about finding out how a little bit of participation can take place without demanding the audience join in. How can I create spatial scenarios in which the audience feels comfortable enough to participate without there being instructions?
What is your goal with the piece?
To initiate a thought process. This is essential for me. That’s what I am doing it for. It’s not about self-expression, but definitely a thought process. That is my wish, but I don’t develop it pedagogically. Thus, it might rather happen in spectators who are trained in watching performances and dance, but maybe not so much in others. I don’t want to demonstrate a critical way of seeing the piece or the topic. I’m trying to find a way in between participating and observing scenery. The central question for me was: what actually constitutes the human being as a communal, playful being?
In your first piece, you wind up naked on stage, staring into audience members’ eyes. Can you say more about that confrontational approach?
In the first piece, it was exactly about breaking out of the role. In the second piece, it was about breaking with the two-party constellation of a couple. In this part, there is contact with the audience, but the performers always remain inside the group constellation – there is never a moment when the public could enter. And this is also true for capoeira: if you’re in, you are in. If you’re not in, you are also not allowed inside. In this sense, it is definitely about empowerment. But it also has a lot to do with my longstanding history of street theatre: you never have a fourth wall there, the audience always gets incorporated.
Tchi-Kudum: Zoon Politikon, April 28-30, 20:00. Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Naunystr. 27, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Kottbusser Tor