When It Breaks It Burns – Battersea Arts Centre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Creators: ColetivA Ocupação

Director: Martha Kiss Perrone

‘Occupy the schools!’, ColetivA Ocupação chant. ‘Occupy the universities! Occupy the theatres!’ And for the next week Battersea Arts Centre is occupied. But the occupiers want your help and all are welcome in their fight against poverty and state sponsored racism, sexism and homophobia. Blending dance and autobiography, this is a protest you won’t want to leave.

In 2015 the Governor of São Paulo in Brazil closed down over 100 schools, a decision that affected a disproportionate number of black students. But the students fought back by occupying the schools. They climbed walls and jumped barriers. They formed barricades from desks and chairs. While outside the military police gathered, inside the students threw a party. High on adrenalin and freedom, the teenagers danced and they talked and they loved.

In 2020 the same students, clutching photographs of their younger selves, have come to restage this protest in Battersea. And what a celebration it is. Taking place mainly in the Council Room – though it does spill out into other areas – When It Breaks It Burns is a humbling experience.

We sit initially on chairs, chaotically arranged on the floor, the cast among us. As the music starts up the performers jerk and writhe, before running rings around us, their – and by extension, our – political consciousness awakening. They re-enact the protest, joyfully and angrily. We’re not sat for long as our chairs are needed for the barricades, and soon we are in the middle of a dance party, a heady mix of jumpstyle, vogue and waacking.

The 15 performers work hard, with an incredible energy that never abates, and impressively the show refuses sentimentality, a route that it could have easily have taken. Performed in English and Portuguese (with English subtitles), ColetivA Ocupação make good use of the space, continually redefining it as we sit or lean against walls or, unsurprisingly, dance along with them. The lighting design by Alessandro Domingues and Beatriz Camelo, and the music are sympathetic to both the anger and the jubilation; so much so that the fire alarm that delayed the first few minutes was thought by most to be part of the performance.

Advertised as running for 75 minutes, When It Breaks It Burns (Quando Quebra Quiema, in the original) extends to nearly two hours, and while it is probably too long, it is impossible not to get swept away with the performers and their honesty. It was encouraging to see so many young people, school kids too, in the audience and we can only hope that this show will inspire them to recognise that change is possible. In a way this show is a rehearsal for future protest.

Let’s say it together: Black Lives Matter! Queer Lives Matter! Occupy! Occupy!

Runs until 29 February 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Children of the revolution

User Rating: 4.5 ( 1 votes)

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