By Published: Nov. 7, 2019

Before the current far-right government took charge of Brazil, there was the far-left Workers Party. 

The Workers Party, one of the largest political movements in Latin America, governed Brazil from 2002 until 2016, when it abruptly fell from power due to a series of large-scale scandals that involved individuals from every political party in Brazil. 


Marcos Steuernagel

The media and congress focused their attention on the limited involvement of the Workers Party in these scandals, leading to the ultimate downfall of the party’s leaders, Dilma Rousseff and Lula de Silva. From that fall, a seismic political change happened: the rise of current far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Professor and author Marcos Steuernagel hopes to better understand the complexity of this shift, which took place while the Workers Party was in power, through specific theater and dance productions. Steuernagel will speak on the subject as part of the CU on the Weekend series on Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. in the Butcher Auditorium at the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building at 3415 Colorado Ave.

Steuernagel’s presentation, “Performance and Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Brazilian Left,” reflects his research, which examines how rising political polarization not only in Brazil but transnationally, has affected society. 

“There is a tax not only on political positions but on the very concept of diversity itself. That’s kind of the sign of fascism. This idea that you can't think differently, otherwise you’re excluded from a conversation. This has been happening everywhere, and it happened very strongly in Brazil.” 

Steuernagel holds an MA and a PhD in performance studies from New York University. He holds a specialization in cinema and video as well as a BA in theater directing from Faculdade de Artes de Paranà Brazil. Steuernagel is co editor of the digital book What is Performance Studies, and his upcoming monograph follows the relationship between politics and aesthetics within contemporary Brazilian theater and dance. 

Researchers studying the political climate of a country tend to focus on factors that exclude discourse and narrative, Steuernagel notes. He contends that by examining the work of various theater and dance groups that experienced some of these political issues while they were occurring, the stories and narratives that drove this political shift can become clearer. 

“Looking at this is not just a call toward certain political positions or certain ways of understanding, but toward the possibility of diverse ways of understanding and seeing the world.”  

The Brazilian theater and dance groups Steuernagel will discuss are prominent within Brazilian theater and dance. They are aesthetically experimental and politically engaged. Steuernagel argues that Brazil’s unique performance traditions are what makes these types of groups not only possible but important when considering Brazilian politics. 

“Performance is not just an object of study but a way of knowing,” says Steuernagel. “You’re able to process and understand political issues through the body and performance differently than you’d be able to do just by talking about it.” 

The CU on the Weekend series is sponsored by the CU Office for Outreach and Engagement. Reservations are not needed for the event, but attendance is limited to the first 200 people.