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21 August 2000

The World Council of Churches is learning to dance
Interview with Lusmarina Campos Garcia
Producer of the "Peace to the City" dance drama

On Saturday, 2 September, a dance theatre troupe associated with the World Council of Churches (WCC) will perform a dance drama about overcoming violence. The world premiere, at EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany, will tell the story of a campaign that began in 1997. In that year, peace initiatives in seven cities - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Boston, USA; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Durban, South Africa; Kingston, Jamaica and Suva, Fiji - joined together in the "Peace to the City" Campaign.

Together with the Marzia Milhazes Dança Contemporânea and Trio Aquarius dancers, "Peace to the City" producer Lusmarina Campos Garcia has created a dynamic 40-minute dance drama that challenges churches and civil society to consider manifestations of violence in their various contexts worldwide.

Karin Achtelstetter talks with Brazilian theologian and artist Lusmarina Campos Garcia about the production.

KA: "Peace to the City" becomes a musical! Was it difficult to create a dramatic dance production about a campaign?
You need to understand the campaign and let yourself fall in love with it. You need to know how and why it was born and continues to thrive. You need to imagine the faces and bodies that gave birth to it, you need to hear its stories and move to its rhythms. You need to tune into the hopes and concrete efforts that suggest how the campaign goals might be realized. You need to submerge yourself in the campaign "spirit", and find a language to express and reveal it.

What was the greatest challenge for you?
Language. Finding a language to convey the central theme of the campaign was a big challenge, because you need to move between different cultures, languages and cosmic viewpoints, being local and universal at the same time.... How do you find a language that reaches people, and peoples, connected to the church but not only those people? How do you find an idiom that isn't blocked by spoken language, by customs or by local aesthetics, and reaches people at their deepest levels?

Art offers this possibility. But what type of art? When we began thinking about this project, we talked about theatre. But theatre needs spoken language. And we're going around the world! Translation wouldn't work. So we opted for an art that, in principle, doesn't need translation: music and dance.

The second challenge was finding a language that could be recognized as being an integral part of the campaign but, at the same time, would bring new elements. I'm talking about objectivity and subjectivity, being literal and not being literal. How to make certain that the experience of the partner cities is there and recognized but, at the same time, that this artwork is not just literal.

I think we've managed a good balance. The music - sometimes light and playful - gives the more literal and objective side in that it uses the rhythms of the seven partner cities in the form of a suite. The choreography is more subjective and much less literal in relation to the campaign. It presents movement and images that reflect the tension inherent in peace processes, and successive resurrections amidst situations of violence.

Whom do you want to reach?
I want to reach people who are sensitive to peace and to art - people within and outside the church who believe in the possibility of rebuilding broken relationships and fragmented realities. Young people, adults, the elderly, adolescents, children, men, women - people who might not be reachable by the books, conferences, speeches... I'd like to give the possibility of communicating with the local community through art back to the church and, in that way, help it move closer to its own culture. I'd like to help people who think that the church expresses itself in inadequate, non-contextualized and ugly ways to change their minds! I'd like to gather people who would find it hard to sit together anywhere - into one room, one temple, one theatre.

What is the Peace to the City dance drama's message?
That there are alternative ways to rebuild peoples' broken relationships and lives. That people on all sides of a conflict can find spaces to communicate. That we need to discover and create such spaces wherever we are. Art can be another way of linking people. It empowers and liberates us from the formal spaces that often require difficult negotiations. Peace is possible inasmuch as we are willing to move. Peace is possible inasmuch as we can be creative and risk different ways of making and expressing it. Peace is viable... and unrestrainedly beautiful.

Is there something special about creating a music and dance production for the World Council of Churches?
Almost everything is special ! This is the first time the World Council of Churches has commissioned something like this. Everyone involved is learning what it means to set up a professional artistic production. We're all assimilating new words and concepts, for example, the idea that the body is a dancer's instrument of expression. We're having to deal with unfamiliar theological-religious concepts and vocabulary. A new experience for me is to encounter a dialogue between theological-religious concepts and the arts; between a world in which the spoken word is the main form of expression and another where the spoken word is almost dispensable. The fact that we are creating a work coming out of a world that still partly sees the body as the locus of sin is also a novel experience! This is a delicate but challenging issue.

Let me conclude by saying that it is very, very special for a Brazilian like me to see the World Council of Churches learning to dance! This is an opportunity to see my own and other cultures redeemed - cultures that, historically, have been only partly (if that!) integrated within the religious-theological world of the Christian churches.

I firmly believe that WCC member churches around the world are gaining an opportunity to open up a new channel of communication with parts of the population to whom they normally have no access. They are also gaining a new form of expression through which the message of love and peace will be received, and deeply appreciated. Congratulations to the World Council of Churches!

Would you like to schedule a performance of "Peace to the City" in your city or region?
For more information, please contact:
Sara Speicher or Karin Achtelstetter, WCC Public Information Team
Photos of the dance drama as well as a project summary are available.

Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010)

At the Eighth Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates representing more than 300 WCC member churches brought the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) into being. The Assembly declared that on issues of non-violence and reconciliation, the WCC should "work strategically with the churches... to create a culture of non-violence". The Decade, which will be launched world-wide in February 2001, will build on already existing initiatives around the world, and will offer a forum for sharing experiences and establishing relationships so as to learn from one another.

For more information contact:
the Media Relations Office
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.