coletivA ocupação’s When it Breaks it Burns is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. There is a power in this performance, a heartbeat, and once it starts there is absolutely no stopping it. Directed by Martha Kiss Perrone, the show features a performance group of 15 young people from Brazil (the collective). Although not all of them speak English they communicate with us through the use of projectors, dance, and music. When they do address us directly, some performers help interpret for their friends. The overall effect is a moving closeness that makes this incredible true story all the more intimate.
This piece centres on the political turmoil in Brazil in 2015 when the government planned to shut down the majority of schools in an area. In protest thousands of young people (these 15 performers included) staged a defiant occupation, and the show uncovers all the passion, fear, joy and danger that these performers faced.
The setup of the room was striking, with black plastic chairs all in clusters, facing every which way. As the mystified audience looked around at each it began. There was no dimming, no darkness. One by one the performers came to life around us, erupting into dance. The collective swept through, dodging between chairs, ducking, weaving, whooping and screaming. I was surprised by how much I wanted to join them, and I’m not usually a fan of audience participation! Thankfully as the night went on I got my wish. We helped to create a barricade out of the chairs. They took us aside into small groups and showed us pictures of themselves before the protests and explained, looking deeply into our faces, how the events had changed them both physically and emotionally. We were asked to imagine being in their shoes and then we scribbled a list of student demands onto a long scroll.
The close proximity between audience and performers created a dizzyingly surreal experience: I could smell their sweat as they danced and feel them brush past me. It seemed that many of us lost ourselves in the piece and there was a sense that the Battersea Arts Centre really was in the middle of revolution. More than once I thought that at any minute the police would come knocking on the doors.
The performance didn’t stop at the exit door either. Oh, no. One dancer rushed us out of the council chamber venue and into the halls of the BAC itself where we chanted and marched into the foyer, eventually being led outside! The performers held up signs for us to read and suddenly we were transformed into screaming protestors on the streets of Clapham. As I chanted at the top of my lungs I looked up to see quiet people in their flats observing us, wondering just what on Earth was going on. If the performance had allowed, I would have kept on marching well into the night. The whole experience was absolutely exhilarating and many of the audience seemed reluctant to leave once it ended.
To quote one of the performers, “I feel something that comes from below and rushes up” and that describes exactly how it felt to be in this room. coletivA ocupação did something very special with When It Breaks it Burns, proffering a perfect example of the power we all hold to change things as a crowd. By exploding the boundaries of theatre, space, and language, coletivA ocupação have created a show that is truly bigger than itself.
Created and performed by: coletivA ocupação
Directed by: Martha Kiss Perrone
Produced by: coletivA ocupação as part of BAC’s Going Global Festival
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/45649/whats_on/whats_on/shows/when_it_breaks_it_burns
Booking Until: 29 February 2020