The Portuguese term corpo quebrada literally translates as “bent body.” However, in this conversation the participants unpack this term as a name used to represent a philosophy and ecopoetic approach to using arts in a community engagement context. The human bodies in peripheral communities of Brazil, whose populations are marginalized by the local and national resource structures, are bodies that have been impacted by systems of colonization. But they also have a specific resilience and adaptability that is bendable, but unbreakable. This body may offer models for future growth. The corpo quebrada finds the openings for new ways and maps past structural deficiencies. The corpo quebrada is the body within the meta-body, Gaia. This conversation uses this term to speak of many bodies and many kinds of breaking points and healing systems.
Adilson Siqueira: It’s a pleasure to be with you and talk a little about the work we’ve been doing for a few years now at the Laboratory of Ecopoetics—the ECOLAB— here at the Federal University of São João del-Rei. We’ll be talking a little about our investigation into corpo quebrada in the context of poetic performance of climate change and the commons.
Aneliza Rodrigues Prado: We’ve been thinking of this discussion for a long time now. It’s so great being able to open our project to others, being able to leave the confines of the research group and allow others in.
Patrick Veniali da Silva: Very happy that corpo quebrada is taking flight, traveling to different areas of the world. So, let’s get to it because we have a lot to cover.
Gabriel Augusto Liparini Queiroz: Perfect. So, Adilson, to get started I’d like to know how we can understand corpo quebrada. Could you say a few words about it?
Adilson: A great question, Gabriel, thank you. I’m trained as an actor. After I finished my bachelors, my very first job was a performance based on the anthropological theatre of author and director Eugenio Barba, heavily focused on training and preparing the actor. So, this first project as a professional actor was very reliant on the body and working with the body. I’ve always been involved with employing the body as an expression.
Because of that, I went on to do a masters in performing arts and dance. Following that I did a PhD in human movement studies, where I got to better understand the methodology of movement, and how movement works. I did my post-doctoral research, also in human movement studies, at the Universität Musik und Darstellende Kunst-Wien while teaching at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg: Orff Institut für Elementare Musik -und Tanzpädagogik
in Austria. That is, an entire career focusing on working with the body. And in 2009, when I became a professor at the Federal University of São João del-Rei, I needed to develop a project. That was the first time I connected the body with the concept of sustainability.
As soon as I thought of working with sustainability, I knew I wanted to focus on community work—as in working with communities. We started by going into different neighborhoods of São João del-Rei and Santa Cruz de Minas. The slums, right? Basically, made up of underprivileged people in terms of income, with the conditions you find in Brazilian slums like gentrification and exploitation. And we started working within this context of the slums, how they are impacting the body, and the matter of sustainability in slums, or underprivileged communities.
One of the first things we noticed working in these communities was that there was no such thing as social justice. Concepts such as peace and anti-violence were also complicated. We went into extremely violent neighborhoods. In fact, we went into a city, Santa Cruz de Minas, considered, for some time, the most dangerous and violent city in Brazil. There was no nurturing of peace or social justice for the people living there.
The way democracy works is extremely complicated in our Brazilian history. What we see here is something that we unfortunately can’t translate to the audio transcription: how bodies move. When we went into a place like that, approached a member of this community, and spoke of democracy, they’d move their body in a swaying way—wary, as if uncertain. And that was something we started recognizing. We noticed that democracy itself wasn’t very clear, like I mentioned.
So, I started to investigate the bodies placed in São João del-Rei—bodies and their locations, that is: the body in the slums, the body in the community, the body inserted into a context of violence, somewhere without social justice, where the residents’ autonomy wasn’t cultivated. I don’t mean to say we went into these communities to encourage their autonomy and fix everything, but that was part of the evidence we used in doing this project. Part of collecting this material was participating in everything and, as we did that, we started to notice the presence of the body in these spaces. There was a right way to do it. To be part of this community was to act a certain way and, as southerners from the countryside of Minas Gerais, it wasn’t a way we were used to.
It was from this interaction of the body with the environment that, over time, we started working and developing the corpo quebrada. We did several trainings in the communities, we participated in activities with the residents, and we stayed there for a long time. Sometimes, we used to spend days in the same community, just to understand the process of the body in these places, until we started developing the early ideas of corpo quebrada in 2016 and 2017. I invited Patrick and Aneliza, who are here today, to start working directly on the concept of corpo quebrada and thinking about how sustainability fits into it. Patrick and Aneliza, if you want to add anything…
When we talk about corpo quebrada, we say it’s knowing how to enter, to leave, how to act in certain scenarios.
Patrick: I’ll start talking about how I first came about this term. In those days, we were talking about this concept, the corpo quebrada, and how it’s not just a “body in movement”; It’s so much more!
So I come from an underprivileged community where you need to know how to walk, how to move, how to be aware of your surroundings to deal with what you encounter every day. It’s not easy. When I go to another city in Minas Gerais, I notice the reactions of the body there. I also noticed it in São João del-Rei because there are similar situations there that I recognize: an underprivileged community of Black people, impoverished people, a low quality of life.
When this concept of the corpo quebrada came to me, it was somewhat shocking. My head was flooded with information and possibilities: the body itself, the body within this space, this space that is already broken—physically broken, mentally, psychologically, geographically broken—“a fractured body space.” When this concept came to me, it came with so many ideas. It’s everything we did at the ECOLAB, all these exercises, these processes, these digressions, these trips to the locations, the conversations we had with the residents…
I think corpo quebrada is more than a concept. It’s a question: what is a body? What is a body within a specific context and location?
Aneliza: While we were living through this process of coming up with the concept, we were doing so many things. It was the walk of a wanderer, the body that wanders in search of knowledge, without a destination in mind. However, we were doing all of this without knowing exactly what we were doing.
After we established the name corpo quebrada and my body returned to that community, now with the feeling of corpo quebrada, knowing now what we were doing, with intention, it made so much sense to me. Knowing how to be there with a different outlook, with a different tone of voice, a different approach that I wouldn’t have with other people. We built it all by being there.
For example, at Ouro street, sometimes it was sunny, but we had to go there considering that maybe it was going to rain. So we had to be prepared to get there at the meeting point, and maybe it was pouring rain and no one else was there. Or we made our way there while it was raining and, when we got there, it was sunny and filled with people. We had to be ready for that specific situation, and we became ready for it because we were familiar with that place now. Then, we can correlate it with living, with permanence, all of that.
I think that corpo quebrada is more than a concept. It’s a way of thinking, a philosophy of life. We choose to live this way… Well, we don’t choose, we adapt… Or not!
Patrick: This theory is that art, on its own, is already a form of knowledge, something apart from other ways of knowling. Throughout this process, we developed knowledge through performance and art, through performing art. And we gave a name to this knowledge: corpo quebrada. When we talk about corpo quebrada, we say it’s knowing how to enter, to leave, how to act in certain scenarios…We do this in our lives already. We perform in different contexts, all the time.
When we give corpo quebrada a name, there is a greater emphasis and awareness, a mindfulness to our actions. This mindfulness is very important. Bringing this concept of corpo quebrada into a community that performs so much, all the time, in so many contexts… Bringing it to these communities–and I consider myself part of this idea of community–is to bring awareness to these bodies. It was amazing.
Adilson: I just want to add something. The goal wasn’t so much to bring awareness to people’s bodies. I perceive corpo quebrada as something you already know because you live there. No one needs to teach you. It’s like playing an instrument in a band. You’re there in the band, listening, etc., and you realize you’re already playing with the others. Corpo quebrada is like that. You go into these communities, and it comes over you. You incorporate what is already established in these communities.
Members of these communities already have their bodies on the edge; they have their bodies dilapidated. We weren’t so much in the same situation because we were the “other bodies,” inserting ourselves in these places. We were the ones garnering this mindfulness because we went into places where the corpo quebrada was already established. I always perceived corpo quebrada as location-based. It was already there. What was lacking was the approach of combining the body with all its possibilities for change, to work towards a change in benefit of the common good. That’s what I saw as the ultimate correlation between the corpo quebrada and sustainability and, more recently, with the idea of climate change. That’s where I see the connection. I think that’s how we introduce the next point, which is the corpo quebrada and the common good.
How can we make people reflect on the issues we’re generating in the Anthropocene? By the immersion and participation of the audience with the artistic work, so that this audience may become mindful of how they act in the world.
Gabriel: Very good. Now we’d like to know about how the project interacts with or expands concepts of ecology, environmental debates, climate, and the impact between the human and non-human. It could be an example of a project, a philosophy of life, a platform…
Adilson: I think we’re an approach, a way of seeing the world, an epistemology, a theory of knowledge. That’s what I call ecopoetic knowledge: it understands the world as being Gaia, Mother Nature, Pachamama. The Earth is one large living organism, and we are part of it. From there, I’m concerned with how we can, artistically, take note of our actions to cause less impact on the world. How can we make people reflect on the issues we’re generating in the Anthropocene? By the immersion and participation of the audience with the artistic work, so that this audience may become mindful of how they act in the world and seek to diminish their impact on the human ecosystem and the ecosystem of Gaia. Within this philosophy of life, we need to understand Gaia as an ecosystem as much as a commons.
But this human body—these people belonging to the Global South, as professor of economics Boaventura de Sousa Santos and anthropologist Maria Paula Meneses have identified it—these people have a very unique characteristic which led me to recognize corpo quebrada. From there, we created a platform to invite people, get them involved, so that they may spread the word.
Gabriel: Fantastic! Now, I would love to know some more about this correlation between the human and non-human within the idea of environmental impact.
Adilson: As southern Brazilian intellectuals, we can’t disregard the great professor and anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. To me, his approach fits perfectly with this idea of the universal good. In this idea of the universal good, there are global universals, particular universals, etc. And within the concept of the universal we conceive the epistemology of this thought process, which contributes to creating this platform. One of the concepts which fits perfectly with this thought process is what Viveiros calls multinaturalism—that is, one culture, many natures. It’s a fascinating way to consider human grouping practices. We think so much about this concept of the multicultural, but it usually separates cultures, so the only thing it achieves is separating the universals—to each their own little universal. Viveiros’s philosophy is “actually, we have to think of a way that is multinaturalistic.” That is, a multiplicity of natures sharing our space as a human and non-human society.
So, when I think from a performance perspective, I think of a short story from author Guimarães Rosa called “My Uncle the Jaguar.” It’s about a jaguar hunter. In this story, the main character is telling us how to hunt a jaguar, how he needs to be sly, patient. And do you know what’s fascinating? The hunter, in this process of hunting and preparing for the hunt, becomes the jaguar. His strategy to hunt the jaguar is to be the jaguar. I love this idea. I’ve seen something like it before in a play by Cacá Carvalho, where he would slowly turn into a jaguar in front of the audience. He would create the jaguar in his own performative way, imitating the claws, etc. At the end, I don’t even remember if he killed the jaguar or not. The question was: who did he hunt, the jaguar or himself? That’s something I perceive as highly multinaturalistic.
This example emphasizes the body. That’s where I see corpo quebrada. I’m thinking of this body that’s completely connected to the entire ecosystem surrounding it.
Patrick: I love this story about the hunter becoming the jaguar, the jaguar being the hunter, who is hunting who. This idea of hunting the body… I always think of this concept of the body, of this ecosystem that, at first, can’t handle all the multinaturalism around it simply because of physical limitations. It’s so much information and so many possibilities. So we go into this mindset—preparing these bodies, no matter where they’re going, allowing ourselves to feel, becoming aware and mindful of the vastness of that moment—in the same way we understand the story of the hunter and the jaguar. We end up becoming the jaguar from the moment we expose our bodies to this proximity; we become the jaguar, become sly so we may notice any movement using our sight and hearing. The movement on the street, the movement in this environment that’s affecting us.
Adilson: Can I say one more thing about Viveiros de Castro? I think this corpo quebrada in nature is a body that doesn’t fit into this theological idea of development. That’s from Viveiros, this idea about theology in terms of nature. When you’re in nature—that is, when you’re actually “out in the wild,” let’s just use the expression—something ceases to exist. The theology of expansion: It’s an endless and insatiable hunger for that which you don’t have. And the body, when placed in this situation of being in nature, a desire that needs to be satiated. Have you satisfied it? You don’t need to keep desiring it; you need to work on that desire. That’s where I come in, and where I see the correlation with corpo quebrada.
Working on the concept of this corpo quebrada allows us to work on matters of desire, of wanting all the time. It comes from this idea of the Anthropocene going towards a pragmatic sufficiency. What do you need? You need enough to live. If you have enough to live for the next couple of days, you don’t need to hoard it. You escape this idea that capitalism has mastered us, that makes us endlessly desire things we don’t need.
I think part of this artistic project is to make us reflect about what the body can achieve, as a performing body, to bring forth this theory of being part of an ecosystem that’s made up of so much more than cars, nails, internet, steel. It is to place oneself in nature, to seek pragmatic sufficiency, as Viveiros de Castro would say. Corpo quebrada leads us to reflect on pragmatic sufficiency. To me, that’s a project, a concept.
We need to work on nature deficiency and become aware that this deficiency is fabricating something that we don’t need. The desire to have, to own, to have, have, expand, expand. You don’t need these things. What we do have is nature, right next door, but people want what they don’t have. And the worst now is that “what I don’t have” comes from a digital world. The body no longer needs to be “quebrada”; it needs to be digital.
Patrick: The crazy thing is that corpo quebrada really is an antithesis to consumerism. It’s very clear to me. I think it’s relevant to say “for me” because the people who participated in this project went through the most changes. It led us to consider so many things, especially when it comes to consumerism. One of the most important things corpo quebrada offered me in this process was allowing me to consider how much we are a society built on consumerism... We were just talking about theatre and how it works these days. Theatre also becomes advertisement for video performances and such. It fits into this category of consumerism. You don’t see a video performance these days to think and reflect on what you’re watching. No! You watch because you need to consume something.
Adilson: We start to become to others just a means for a “like button.” It’s interesting to recognize how theatre will be susceptible to this trap of digital theatre, these new media…. To what point will theatre become incorporeal? In my twelve years as a university professor, if there’s one thing I noticed, it is that it’s becoming more difficult for students to work with the body. The body becomes increasingly less present. This is why I think we need to bring forth the body. We need to bring people’s bodies—not this specific desired, idealized body.
Gabriel: What does the eco-theatre look like in this decade? And what do you make of eco-theatre in the next decade? In the future?
Adilson: To me, this eco-theatre, eco-performance, eco-scenics, this ecopoetic theatre… There is only one goal: to treat the wounds, pains, and agony that people feel when facing climate change. Here in Brazil, changes happen to the climate as a whole, but most of what contributes to it is mining. They blame the “old lady citizen.” I think our performance needs to show the torment of this “old lady citizen,” who says, “Oh, but I can’t save more electricity and water than I already am. More than that means I can’t shower! More than that, I can’t eat.” Meanwhile, the industries—the agronomy and mining businesses—consume so much water. I think the performance we need to put together must show the body of this impacted woman or man, this person who suffers the consequences.
Aneliza: Mainly, I always wonder about the place: knowing how to leave, how to enter, how to leave, how to enter. I think the “leaving” and “entering” are not as complicated as staying. Staying is really complicated. As you stay, you figure out ways of staying there… And then I would start whimpering, like, “Oh, I can’t, I can’t…” Ways of staying, adapting. The house is burning down, you know? And we’re still here.
To me, this eco-theatre, eco-performance, eco-scenics, this ecopoetic theatre… There is only one goal: to treat the wounds, pains, and agony that people feel when facing climate change.
Adilson: This approach of remaining that you introduce is so interesting because we’re already part of this commons, which is the commons that I spoke of: Gaia, Pachamama, Mother Earth. This house of ours, and we’re temporary. At least, as long as the “we” we perceive is only ourselves, we’re all temporary.
Since we were little kids, we were taught how to come into the world with the intention of devouring it. We were taught to see the world as something to consume. We see the world as a place where we can take from to satisfy our needs, and we never stop to consider the needs of the other bodies who inhabit the world with us. We learn that this way of thinking is normal.
And it becomes normal to earn as much money as possible, just like it was normal to consume as much as possible. That’s what capitalism taught us. We need to detach ourselves so we can remain. That’s another element of the corpo quebrada: knowing how to leave. And knowing that, when we die, we hope to leave behind something for the next generations.
You know, in the olden days there was that saying, “Every man should have a child, write a book, and plant a tree.” I don’t know if we need more children in the world, that’s up to each of us, but writing a book is always good. Now, planting a tree, I think we should all do. At least ten trees, so we can make it up to nature. I planted a tree the other day, a Paraná pine, and the person that was helping me said: “But why are you planting this if the first crops will only come in twenty or thirty years from now?”
I said, “In twenty years I might not be here, but someone will. So I’ll leave behind a Paraná pine.”
It’s more or less like “whoever plants a date palm won’t live to eat dates.” But if no one plants date palms, then no one will eat dates. So the analogy, like that you said, Aneliza, is that the knowing how to leave is also knowing how to die and intending for our death to contribute to the ecosystem. In the same way, when we die, we take something with us… May we take a little of this ecosystem, of our Gaia, our Mother Earth. That’s what I think. It resonates with the corpo quebrada.
Aneliza: Yes, I think so, too. It makes sense to me. Remaining is difficult but we have to… Ah, it’s hard.
Adilson: The way I see it, corpo quebrada has this concept of knowing how to enter, how to remain, how to leave. The bodies of the people who live on the edge, on these underprivileged neighborhoods… Only the people who walk in the wilderness or the people who walk somewhere unknown at night know what it’s like to walk corpo quebrada. That’s the walk I reflect on. That’s our walk, the walk of the southern folk. The walk of people who live under difficult conditions, of the people who are targeted by the police because of how they look. Those are the people closer to climate change. The tendency is usually the following: if a Black guy, for example, can’t get a good job, he won’t get some opportunities. He might end up living at the edge of a hill or below a rock that could fall at any moment, or living in a shanty town, near a lake that can overflow. He might end up somewhere with terrible life conditions, where he will suffer because of heat or cold. He’s the biggest victim. He’s one of the biggest victims affected by climate change.
Gabriel: As artists from Minas Gerais, from Brazil and South America, what is the urgency, or the desire, for a movement of eco-performance or eco-theatre?
Adilson: People start to disassociate from this universal place and developing instead a neo-capitalistic mindset, lacking respect for common good like rivers, mountains… The tragedies we’ve lived through were created the shareholders of industries that don’t care about the place where they make their money. So, the only thing that remains is the god of trade. This god who exists for so many southerners is a god who doesn’t care about Gaia, who isn’t concerned with Mother Earth.
I think we perform ecopoetics, in a way, to reflect on this allure, too. Mother Earth is our god because there’s only one. It’s tough what I’m about to say, but there’s only one life and we live this life here. No one has even been able to prove otherwise. Therefore, I think our greatest god needs to be Gaia, Mother Earth, above all else. We need to see nature as a common good that we all belong to. If nature survives, then all our beliefs, ideals, and deities can also survive. This is why we do ecopoetics here, because there’s an urgency in spreading the message. If it’s bad now, it can get worse… And it won’t make a difference if you plead “my God, my God, my God!” and run inside the church. The only place is nature. For that, we need to believe we can start making a different type of living. We can make symbols with art and produce fantasies, build other worlds, and it’s a great space to allow the audience to get involved and reflect.
Patrick: I believe one of the roles of art is to ask more questions than give answers. And maybe just making us think about life, the way we relate to each other, how we perceive the world.
Aneliza: It’s so gratifying to be here, today, talking about our process, in a moment when it’s so difficult for art to be recognized as form of communication. Having our work recognized is so amazing. It was so many years of research... Three, four years now with the pandemic. Even during the pandemic, we continued to research ourselves. And we’ll keep doing it because that’s the way we survive and find strength to keep going.