Reinventing Desire

Pleasure, cosmoperception and black wandering, a choreographic essay

Introduction – Beatriz Lemos

If there is an erohistoriography of the dissident body, it is probably through movement and wandering. By refusing colonial imprisonment, we travel routes in order to share certain secrets. Thus, some exchanges are only possible between us. Only between us. Determined, we are.

The union of our desire is one of those secrets shared along the routes. And it is then that we understand that eroticism has to do with freedom.

To talk to Luiz de Abreu is to traverse this path, or rather, it is to walk while dancing, creating randomly precise or Cartesianly loose movements. It is to experience, between sensibility and reason, the challenge of the new, witnessing the reinvention of a body.

Our meeting starts with an editorial provocation made by Terremoto and, thus, it continued up to this point, dodging time, technology, deprivation, imagining for us the possibilities of wandering that have not yet been tested. Because if we are going to cross the tide, let it be with affection, let it be to meet again. And there is (almost) nothing more veiled, more taboo or silenced, than speaking and practicing autognosis on the autonomy of desire.

For many years, Luiz de Abreu’s art has been helping us to understand the fantasy of race from the perspective of the erotic and the traps that racism imposes on Black bodies. It is a body of work that confronts racist legacy head-on as a mechanism that exposes the codes of power structurally present in Brazilian society. Therefore, the conversation between Luiz and I arises in our lives as an invitation to reflect on pleasure beyond racial trauma. In doing so, I think we are able to imagine escape routes that make freedom possible.

If there is an erohistoriography of the dissident body, it is probably through movement and wandering.

  1. Beatriz Lemos
Your 2004 work O Samba do criolo doido [The Samba of the Crazy Creole], which is now touring internationally, was the subject of your master’s thesis and the accompaniment to your process with blindness. In order for the dancer Calixto Neto to take on the interpretation of the show, you developed your own methodology based on orality, in which other senses reverberate more strongly, allowing for another experience of choreography. I’m interested in thinking about learning practices that move away from the traps of control and standardization of knowledge, especially those that legitimize the body as a means of communication. What has it been like for you to choreograph through senses other than sight?
  1. Luiz de Abreu
I have been building a dance practice for over 40 years that has to do with my Black body, or with the construction of this Black body. In 2019, I become visually impaired, so my dance work also creates a new texture. Before it was issues of gender and the racialized body, and now it’s also about this blinded body. From there, I start working on this intersectionality.
My first dance experience with this blinded body was in 2020, with the revival of the show O Samba do criolo doido, when this piece was invited to participate in the 20th PanoramaFestival in Paris at the Centre National de la Danse. My proposal was to reprise the show in the body of another performer. The dancer Calixto Neto was chosen and we began a process of transmission of the work.
My first question was to think about the contradictions of having a dance created from my personal experience as a Black person exist in another Black body. And then, how I was going to transmit a dance piece without using traditional codes such as vision.
So necessity made us find a new language for this process. In that way, the first tool was touch, since I recognize which muscles are activated to produce certain movements. Another code used was hearing, since we connected through the noise of our feet on the floor and the dynamics of their breathing. And also through orality, always present.

Even in contemporary dance, where we aim to work in a non-colonial place of the body, the eye remains the leader of the creative process.

In some Black African cultures, knowledge is predominantly transmitted through orality. So I think it’s a bit like that, it’s trying to think about cosmoperception, that is, capturing reality through all the senses of the body. From this experience I begin to talk about a body that thinks beyond the brain and a body that sees beyond the eyes.

  1. Beatriz

This body that sees beyond the eyes, that thinks beyond reason and finds its own ways to escape the traps of manipulation, is the same body that carries a memory of times that are not ours. Times past and times to come. A memory that dwells among organs, arms, and legs. In the film Ô, historian Beatriz Nascimento says that the Black body in dance will always be the liberated body. And so in the candomblé ceremonies as well, because when the orisha[1] dances, they summon the freedom of an entire people. Do you believe in an ancestral memory of movement? I understand that escape is a latent state that guides our bodies. But is there something like an inheritance that goes from a gestural repertoire to respiratory frequencies or body temperatures, that drives or pulses racialized bodies?

  1. Luiz

All Black bodies in the diaspora come from the same experience of slavery. Transformed into an object and dehumanized, it creates forms of resistance, for it is a repository of memory, a library of Black knowledge. It is in this body that all our knowledge resides. It is this body, constantly translated and transformed, that creates other Africas. Thus, thinking in the field of African religions, which are made of dance, music, animism, and not only of a concept of the divine, the body is necessary in all its powers to connect with the orisha and the entities. And gestural memory is derived from there.

The Black body of the city is always alert and in a state of dilation. I have spoken of this body in a constant state of performance as a political action. This is how I situate myself in the world.

This gestural memory of escape is transmitted from generation to generation. To be a Black body walking down the street, for example, it is necessary to know certain strategies and codes that show through appropriate clothing, the slowest and most harmonious gestures, good looks, haircuts, and  nowadays, walking with a Bible under your arm. Everything is like a choreographic composition of daily life that has as dramaturgy a survival manual for the Black body.

This body that sees beyond the eyes, that thinks beyond reason and finds its own ways to escape the traps of manipulation, is the same body that carries a memory of times that are not ours. Times past and times to come.

  1. Beatriz
Your work narrates the social construction of the Black body in Brazil. When this body is materialized on stage—whether by you in movement or the one you have choreographed—this medium carries the language of desire.  Now the blind body drives the narrative; one more layer of signifiers is added to the discourse.  In your study of society, can we say that the erotic nature of the racialized body can achieve autonomy?  That is to say, although historically the Black body has been read as an object of pleasure and property, is it possible, through the reflections generated by your work, to conceive of an experience of the erotic that dissolves or at best is not prey to racial trauma?
  1. Luiz
I think our mentality is very much built on the notion of Apollo, of beauty and balance, which is iconic in Michelangelo’s David sculpture. When I remove Apollo and present Exu, I work with other notions of beauty and imbalance. When this Greek god is imposed on our culture, reason is also imposed, and this reason is the heterosexual cis white male. So when I bring in Exu to think about life and creation, I also begin to understand that this body is beautiful, this Black body is beautiful.
Throughout my life, I have been reconstructing and recognizing this Black body as protagonist and power. And then I go blind. In this new configuration of the body and from the circularity of Exu, who is the lord of movement—since he kills a bird from yesterday with a stone he throws today, and so effect becomes cause in time—I reinvent this body’s experiences of desire. And that is acting with autonomy and authority.
In this sense, O Samba is a dismantling, a methodological procedure that I have been developing together with others based on the ideas of Ileana Diéguez, which don’t expose the totality, but rather the elements that make it up. Thus, O Samba is a device for reading and dismantling the racist elements that underlie the Brazilian social structure. By identifying these elements, we can create a poetic, powerful, radical, and critical tool around the eroticism of the Black body.
  1. Beatriz

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the right to desire, especially the discernment of desire. How stimuli act in our body and promote the potency of life—or rather, the life drive itself. And because they are so fundamental, they are intrinsically related to self-knowledge and the politics of conscience. When I bring up the right to discernment, I am referring to the mechanisms of control that forcibly induce subjectivities that deviate from the norm of social codes of conduct, idealizations of society, family, work, love, the functions of a body, etc. Lastly, do we desire what we really want to desire?

  1. Luiz

About 20 years ago I went to an exhibition in São Paulo of African pieces from a German museum. There, I saw a statue of Shango with breasts. It was a male and female body. Sometime later, I went to Germany and was able to visit this same museum, where I also found Peruvian, Mexican, and African pieces. I arrived at a place where there was a one-meter-long African boat. The museum security asked me if I wanted to touch the boat. So I did. There I could feel the DNA of my ancestors. And I could only feel it because of the white security guard’s permission. As I walked through the museum, I saw a picture of some Englishmen with their feet on top of a trunk containing gold, diamonds, and African art pieces. I asked the curator, “Did Germany steal these African pieces?” And he replied, “No. We did not steal them. We bought them from the British.”

Returning to the statue of Shango, that masculine and feminine Shango, I kept thinking about that idea of the body that was stolen, bought, and expropriated by the colonizers. But that statue of Shango tells me that there are other possibilities and other ideals of the body, sexuality     , gender, eroticism, and sexual potency. Other ideals of the human, which constructs multiple body configurations to reinvent desires.

Final text by Luiz de Abreu
In a recent interview of the black activist and intellectual Sueli Carneiro by the rapper Mano Brown, Brown claims that Black people were not educated to think of the world in the form of race. However, Sueli responds, “No, Black people were educated to suffer their race.”
In this sense, thinking about institutional racism under the umbrella of Brazilian structural racism, I am currently doing a doctorate dismantling this fallacy of racism. We know that race does not exist, but that racism operates when it has to operate.
In this way, I dance the projects of Black people, projects that were not accepted in the selections of the university institutions. A thesis dance.
To dance this thesis is to create a reading, an inscription of the writing of Black people, individually and collectively. It is to dismantle a politics of death, which presents itself through the epistemicide and genocide of this people. It is to experience the quilombismo of Abdias do Nascimento, my Black book body turned into a library, a gathering of various books of human knowledge. A dark matter, a black hole.



  1. Orishas are ancestors who have been deified.


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