Academic journal article Chasqui

Sketches of Chica Da Silva: Fictional, Filmic, and Choreographic Accounts

Academic journal article Chasqui

Sketches of Chica Da Silva: Fictional, Filmic, and Choreographic Accounts

Article excerpt

Chica da Silva continues to fascinate Brazilian and foreign chroniclers, anthropologists, historians, as well as new generations of cultural studies scholars and artists. Da Silva's exploits as an 18th century Brazilian slave-woman who earned her own freedom and gained social status as a diamond-miner's lover has inspired novels, rock songs, and soap operas, as well as recent dance choreography.

I first learned of Chica da Silva through the Jorge Ben Jor song written for the Caca Diegues film, Xica da Silva (1976). Ben's repetitious chorus led me to investigate this fictional protagonist and examine the film representation of her life. As a historical figure and emblem of the Brazilian nation, she has not only stirred up great emotion across more than three centuries, but also sustains her place as an important symbol for the evolution of race relations in Brazil and beyond. In these pages I focus primarily on Eliana de Santana's embodied interpretation of Chica's life stoiy in her choreography "Chica da

Silva: Urn esbozo" (2012) but also integrate Caca Diegues's cinematic engagement, Puerto Rican author Mayra Santos Febres's fictional account (2009), and Junia Ferreira Furtado's historical chronicle (2009) to explore the role of Chica da Silva in twenty-first century Brazil. This range of representations allows me to trace recurring tropes across genres and to explore Chica's capacity for sustained impact.

My primary interest is in the ways that Chica/Xica as a figure has transcended the confines of the eighteenth century and emerged as a key figure in contemporary discussions of Afro-Brazilian and Affo-diasporic female identity. (1) I will trace the development of Chica as a leader and inventor of new racial paradigms, and Chica as a resource for explaining contemporary society. Each of the texts I examine engages and highlights different aspects of the myth and reality of Chica da Silva; I will draw out some of these stories and connect them to recent theoretical interventions in critical race studies and feminist and gender studies to explain how Chica went from, "escrava a amante." (2)

Twenty-First Century Chica

Brazilian dancer and choreographer Eliana de Santana resurrects the legend of Francisca da Silva de Oliveira through her bodily exploration of the "other side of the myth" in her choreography. (3) The piece begins with an exaggeratedly slow entrance and limited visual access to the approaching dancer. The air is filled with smoke and the lighting is dim, only five dangling light bulbs illuminate the scene as the dancer arrives at a slow walking pace wearing a long black tank-gown. Santana stands centered before the audience for some time and then dramatically falls to the floor. Once on the ground she cannot seem to stand; she strains to arch her back away from the ground and rolls backwards with restricted movements, each time trying to lift her torso but always falling back to the ground and then rolling further back toward the rear of the stage. Our introduction to Santana and her representation of Chica thus commences with discord; each moment that her body makes contact with the stage floor the audience is compelled to attend to this struggle. While Santana performs as a solo artist, her interaction with the audience is reminiscent of the complacency of members from all sections of society: there is a privileged set of onlookers as the toils and tensions are played out on a distant individual body. Sitting in the small theater of Funarte in 21st century Suo Paulo, Santana seems to hold audience members accountable for their symbiotic function in the formation of social roles as performed in the colonial period.

Santana's silent entrance calls the audience's attention to the communicative potential of the body and relies on what French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has described as "durable dispositions" and "bodily hexis" (89). These learned and ingrained embodied histories, argues Bourdieu, are held in the body like a repository and reside in the pre-conscious realm. …

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