Bodies of Power. Teatro La Re-Sentida’s »Oasis de la Impunidad«
by Joseph Pearson
1 April 2022
One of the most memorable pieces of the (pre-pandemic) FIND 2019 was by the Chilean Teatro La Re-Sentida: »Paisajes para no colorear«, or » landscapes not to be colored«. Its unblinking investigation of femicide and gender-based violence was articulated on-stage by young Chilean women, 13 to 18-years old. Their raw emotionality was a tangible shockwave that passed through the audience.
The Venn diagram of state structures, capitalism, liminal groups, gendered violence, the body, and the stage, is the stuff of director Marco Layera’s theatre. He returns with his fourth FIND production this year––and world premiere––»Oasis de la Impunidad«. It is a production of Teatro La Re-Sentida and the Münchner Kammerspiele––with the Schaubühne and Matucana 100 in co-production. I also spoke with dramaturges Elisa Leroy and Martín Valdés-Stauber, who collaborated both in Chile and here in Germany.
Layera is affable and restrained, and at first keeps his ideas to himself before they froth and spill over articulately. He speaks emotionally about »Paisajes para no colorear« (»landscapes not to be colored«) as »the most beautiful theatrical experience he had ever had. It was an important moment to combine artistic with social practice, to create, transform, and relate to a community.«
After the completion of that theatrical project, and its close engagement with young people, La Re-Sentida experienced a convulsive political moment in Chile, beginning on 18 October 2019. It is known as the »Estallido Social«, or »social outburst«. Beginning with a reaction to something as basic as the rise of public transport prices in Santiago, the protests escalated to confront the country’s slide towards privatisation and social inequality. Millions took to the streets and the government responded brutally.
Layera recounts, »With these events, the mask fell in Chile. Everyone showed who they really were. As an artist too, it was a challenge. With all this effervescence in the street––the body on the street the protagonist––as an artist you are put into question. What do you do now? Do you repeat the recipes and strategies from before or do you harness impulses, energy that propels you? But even if we were to start from what happened in Chile, we were never interested in replicating what happened on the street. It would be impossible, even ethically unsound, to reproduce it semiotically or semantically. Since the masks had fallen, everything seemed already to have been openly said. So, we tried to do a more conceptual, abstract work, based on the body.«
The events of the »Estallido Social« will be remembered internationally for the widely reported incidents of violence by the Chilean national law enforcement police, or »Carabineros«. Human Rights Watch later reported that, between 18 October and 19 November 2019, 9 000 protesters were injured and 15 000 detailed. Many were blinded by anti-riot guns. Sexual abuse, homophobia, and rape were widely reported in detention.
Marco Layera tells me, »From those protests, a colleague on stage has the remains of a bullet in his leg. My left hand was broken––«
The events brought back memories of past abuses by Chilean officers during the 1973 to 1990 Pinochet dictatorship, and the aftermath brought Chile to a reckoning: it voted to change its constitution and ushered in a new government, with Gabriel Boric, a leftist, in power from March 2022.
Teatro La Re-Sentida, not wanting to draw exclusively on the experiences of its own artists, issued an open call. Two hundred young people––of five hundred who applied––took part in a theatre laboratory. They confirmed the human rights monitors’ findings that the experience of violence was not isolated but rather systemic, standard practice. Layera explains, »These very young people were the protagonists of this social unrest and 80% of them had experienced police violence. We also observed that this younger generation no longer perceived the police forces as legitimate representants of the state’s authority. The police were delegitimated for them in a way it was not in previous generations. All this related to the fact that security forces, military and police, were not reformed or re-established after the dictatorship. They remained authoritarian.«
One area for inquiry during the workshop was how democratic societies contain institutions within them responsible for violence. Layera elucidates, »Practices that are the extreme of barbarity are contained within democratic structures that project civility. In an event such as a protest, this barbarity manifests itself from behind the veneer. I can give you an image that summarises this: a police officer at a protest, in the first line of confrontation, is armed with a gun. All police officers are required to have name tags on their uniforms. But this officer had replaced his name tag and renamed himself »Superdick.« In what way do we understand this image? Someone who represents himself as »Superdick« is given a role with the capacity to do whatever he wants to us as civilians«.
»And yet, can you imagine a society without legal enforcement?« I ask.
Layera replies, »We know we need police forces. It’s a relationship between need and them also being enemies, part of a culture of fear and terror. There is not one of us who does not feel terrorised when a policeman approaches. When they stop your car, you know something bad will happen. The question is: are there other practices that a democracy can develop to channel this violence differently? So that the police are not an alien caste? For now, hegemonic masculinity is the parameter for being a good police officer. And the implied structure of the Chilean police––and I would even dare to say the police in the West––is racist, classist, and patriarchal.«
Dramaturge Elisa Leroy follows these observations to describe how this manifests itself on stage, »It’s very subtle, very implied. All the bodies on stage, both female and male, incarnate this hegemonic masculinity. You see how they strive for it, how this idea is present, but also how it doesn’t correspond to the bodies exactly and remains imagined. It is aspirational, adulating masculinity. Or a training for a masculinity that signifies power over others.«
The conceptual and abstract approach of La Re-Sentida is based on magic mimesis, but not of the victims of the street violence, but an imitation of the perpetrators: the police officers, an imitation through which, to use Layera’s words, »we might liberate ourselves, find catharsis, even expiate the police’s sins.«
I ask how important traditions of contemporary dance are to the production, and its desire to find a new language with which to confront the theme, and I’m told it is not a coincidence that there are two dancers on set. Neither is from contemporary dance: one is a street dancer and the other one a show dancer. Another fruitful collaboration in the production is clearly that of the various institutions––both Chilean and German––and their cooperation to bring this international premiere to Berlin as producers that acknowledge long-standing bonds and express their artistic trust by producing this company’s show and featuring it in their programme.
Layera turns to me finally and says, »I feel all artistic processes are transformative. Everyone is affected in distinct ways. For me, »Paisajes para no colorear« was very transformative, but also here there is transformation. This one is also an expiation, an atonement. A very painful one. It evokes enduring pain. When will this pain vanish? When will there be justice in my country? There’s a debt to be paid.«
(Santiago de Chile)
von Teatro La Resentida
Director: Marco Layera
Premiered on 1 April 2022