24 — 26.05.2023
MEXA São Paulo
theatre / performance — premiere
The story of the Greek hero, Odysseus, and his long journey home was passed down to us in a poem by Homer – The Odyssey. Today, the word odyssey evokes an arduous journey for any person. But where do you go back to when you have no home? MEXA is a collective founded in 2015 following outbreaks of violence in so-called homeless shelters in São Paulo. For several years, they have been working out of Casa do Povo (House of the People), a revolutionary Jewish cultural centre founded in São Paulo in 1946 to promote values of radical solidarity. In recent months, this space saw the birth of MEXA’s new performance, Pumpitopera Transatlantica. Together on stage, the members of MEXA merge text and songs to build an opera that revisits 90s dance music (above all, the song Pump Up the Jam), linking their personal stories and experiences to Homer’s epic poem. What if a new Odyssey was named after each MEXA artist? What trajectories would be described? Pumpitopera Transatlantica presents powerful content in an unexpected format, a transformative experience that starts out as theatre in a nightclub. In the spaces of club C12, the ten performers of MEXA share a new way of staging Greek mythology, constructing a new mythology for the present.
If you should happen to be in search of Ithaca, this is your chance to embark on an ecstatic journey to the end of the night. You risk being seized by involuntary movements, displaying a tearful grin or or letting out a Homeric laugh at four beats per bar. Anything can happen. The action unfolds according to the predefined plot of a libretto, but improvisation can cut-in at any moment in this transatlantic pop opera, much to the distress of the sleepless playwright. In this nocturnal jaunt, Ulysses is passing through, just another anonymous being among you. Some have taken care to wear sunglasses due to photophobia from the day after the night before. Others wear them so as not to be dazzled by the flashing lights that punctuate the epic tales being told. Don’t forget to stay well hydrated because the night will be long for those who want to reach their destination. You will meet mythical figures, heroes and heroines who have never stopped wandering in search of a distant horizon off the coast of a strobe light. Let’s go to the harbour and let the party begin. Tonight you are invited to the Ithaca of MEXA: the dance floor, this artificial island of pleasure and possibility.
The dance floor has often been a safe haven for the members of MEXA. The artists – a collective of mothers, racialized and LGBTQIA+ persons – have found support, refuge, and an outlet in the context of queer parties, concerts, and drag performances at some point in their individual trajectories. It was by embodying their own charac-ters, and thus lending themselves to role-playing, that the artists unveiled themselves and rose from the ashes of the night. Formed in 2015, after a series of episodes of racial and gender violence, the group was formed in the context of reception centres for the homeless and socially vulnerable, in the central districts of São Paulo, Brazil. Drawing on their previous performative experiences, the artists decided to come together and reinvent themselves as a collective while reappropriating their personal stories through a theatrical practice at once hybrid, festive, and disconcerting. In MEXA’s dance and music dramas, the participants’ megalomania and desire for grandeur rubs shoulders with the harsh reality of metropolitan marginality. With debauched and acidic brio, these meta-reflexive reveries accuse and parody the oppressive regimes of normalcy. Each performance is an invitation to share the experience of radical otherness under the bright spotlight of fiction.
Pumpitopera Transatlantica is the first piece MEXA has performed outside of Brazil, its composition reflecting the abysmal vertigo of an international tour and the prospect of a coveted transatlantic crossing. The focus of this new production is the odyssey – a direct reference to Homer’s literary work (late-7th century BCE) as well as to its common definition of any undertaking punctuated by unforeseen events and setbacks. The epic poem about Odysseus’s arduous return to his homeland, the island of Ithaca, is the medium for a creative process that was triggered at the beginning of the pandemic. Notwithstanding the cancellation of their show at the International Theatre Festival of São Paulo in March 2020, there emerged the possibility of a performance in Europe. Like the song of the sirens, this then improbable and fanciful opportunity nevertheless served as a driving force and leitmotif during the exchanges between group members spread over several months of confinement. When regular meetings and rehearsals were again permitted, the collective turned to the Odyssey, that monument of Western literature, dividing up the different chapters and characters and commenting on them freely in communal exchange sessions. Within the group, the idea of an odyssey became a metaphor for their time-dilated poly-phonic work, the result of constant negotiations of desires, of constraints, of flaws and of renunciations.
Homer’s ancestral and archetypal narrative – with its heroes, adventures, narrative units and myths – becomes the backdrop for the artists to understand and develop individual and collective narratives. On stage, backstage, or in everyday life, it’s a question of considering the mythical trajectory of the MEXA collective and the personal odysseys of each of these artists and performers. Between poignant testimonies, metaphysical ramblings and critical exercises of speculative imagination, the protagonists expose their dreams and aspirations: to become a famous singer, a capoeira star, or even officiate a transvestite mass. For a group marked by a history of discrimination, instability and precariousness, the dance floor and the stage are, once more, places where it is possible to accomplish these auto-fictional epics. At last, it’s this staging of their lives that allows them to accomplish the concrete odyssey of a performance in Europe – with all the difficulties and tribulations that such a displacement can imply in terms of bureaucracy, logistics, and organisation.
Based on these different meanings of ‘odyssey’, MEXA offers you an eccentric, sulphurous, and surprising multidisciplinary opera. In three acts, live performances, video recordings, and sound synchronisations gradually compose a synaesthetic journey in dance and music. Elegiac songs and melodramatic arias mingle with David Bowie riffs, romantic pop hits, deep bass and Technotronic beats. To the sound of choirs and turntables, you will discover the choreographic repertoire of each of these bodies and the collection of lived stories that are reactivated with each danced gesture, each statuary pose, each defensive position, each stasis in front of you, the informed public. Let yourself be overwhelmed by this mythology transfigured in the form of a ball and a profane epiphany that resounds like the synthetic insight of the most memorable soirées. Perhaps only a trance state can confront this question without a definitive answer: What does it mean to return to Ithaca when ‘home’ is not synonymous with a dwelling but rather with the feeling experienced in a safe space of self-expression?
- Text by Olivia Ardui
- April 2023
- Performativity and the intersection between the visual and performing arts are central to Olivia Ardui’s practice. She has worked as a curator at the Museo de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) in Brazil, and was part of the curatorial team for the 12th Cuenca Biennial in Ecuador. Ardui is currently a member of the Art History Department at UCLouvain in Belgium, while also developing independent exhibition projects.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, C12
Creation: MEXA | Dramaturgy: João Turchi | Original concept: Daniela Pinheiro | Performers and co-creators: Aivan, Alê Tradução, Anita Silvia, Bárbara Britto, Daniela Pinheiro, Dourado, Patrícia Borges, Tatiane Dell Campobello | Video performer and video creation: Laysa Elias | Production director and visual concept: Lu Mugayar | Executive production: Leonardo Birche | Light design: Luzco | Soundtrack and sound design: Podeserdesligado | Costume design: Anuro Anuro, Cacau Francisco | Creation assistant: Lucas Heymanns | Vocal coach: Mário Sevílio | Choreographic score and body tuning: Daniela Pinheiro | Stage direction: João Turchi | Special thanks to: Amy Letman, Alejandro Ahmed, Carol Mendonça, Duda Devassa, Dudu Quintanilha, Francesca Tedeschi, Gabi Gonçalves, Guilherme Giufrida, Mamba Negra, Olivia Ardui, Ricardo Frayha
Coproduced and commissioned by Casa do Povo and Transform
With the support of: LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture