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With Despois do Silencio, Christiane Jatahy commands deep respect at the Holland Festival

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That's where Christiane Jatahy had me for a moment. When during her directed and devised story 'Despois do Silencio', one of the actresses falls into a Winti-like delirium, and her colleagues try to keep her from colliding unceremoniously with spectators in the front row, I briefly think it is real. That's how used to reality on stage we are by now. But then, after a few minutes, the surtitles pick up the thread and the illusion is broken. The fiction had been restored. It only made the performance stronger. 

Jatahy, this year's Holland Festival 'associate artist', is a master at playing with fantasy and reality. She uses all means for her theatre, from live music and dance to film. In 'Despois do Silencio' (After the Silence), film footage shot in Brazil's Bahia region not only forms a colourful and meaning-enhancing backdrop, they also end up being the performance venue. This happens when they show a stage-wide, precisely actor-sized projected village party, which the live actors at Amsterdam's Frascati theatre seamlessly blend into. 

Horace

The images of the people, combined with overwhelmingly rousing drums, effortlessly transport you across thousands of kilometres of ocean to another world. Brazil, where slavery was officially abolished in 1888, still has a form of exploitation. Landless peasants live in serfdom under the yoke of large landowners who pocket regional authority. Those who protest meet their end under dubious conditions. 

Source for this show are a documentary about one of those murders, and a book written about it a few years ago. 

On stage three actresses and a musician, on the back wall an entire village. The style is documentary and everything starts off remarkably light. That tone is what touches you most in this performance. No matter how terrible the injustice described is, no matter how powerless the actors feel, everything revolves around vitality. 

Nearby

For us, spectators in a comfortable country where we only taste the benefits of the coffee they grow, it at least offers the opportunity to feel something of what they experience there, in that overwhelming nature. 

The performance comes close, which also makes you realise how far away Brazil is. That gives a feeling of powerlessness, but above all of deep respect. It made me realise how stupid it would be to go there with our clog feet and play the social worker, because we would destroy more than we would heal. Enough misery has already been caused in our name.

Shame

Last year, Swiss playwright Milo Rau screened a show that had much in common in content and form with Despois do Silencio. He had travelled to the Brazilian Amazon with a couple of very white actors from his company NTGent. The aim was to perform the Greek classical play Antigone at the place where the murder of one of them is commemorated every year by landless peasants. With their play and camera crew, they disrupted entire lives, then returned to the comfort of their Flemish theatre. Without further aftercare. 

Rau thought he was thus establishing a connection, but the result was mostly distance, incomprehension and shame. Neither the classical Sophocles nor NTGent had anything to add. They stood in the way, and so did the activists who wanted to come to their aid.

Christiane Jatahy makes it clear why. Go see it and be transported.  

Despois do Silencio can still be seen at the Holland Festival. Information and maps.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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