the project: play and installation

How to bring to the stage an adaptation of the greatest brazilian literary work of the 20th century? More than a question, this was the mission of theatrical director Bia Lessa when she decided to objectify the universes enclosed in “Great Drylands: Pathways”, by João Guimarães Rosa, and the novel’s countless possibilities of analysis. The answer is a result of a process that involved the greatest names in Brazilian arts, such as Egberto Gismonti (partner of Charlie Haden and Jan Garbarek) – music, Camila Toledo and Paulo Mendes da Rocha (Pritzker Prize) – special conception, Sylvie Leblanc – costumes, and Fernando Mello da Costa – props.

Crossing Liso do Sussuarão and arriving at Lagoinha scene

Crossing Liso do Sussuarão and arriving at Lagoinha scene

"After reading 'Grande Sertão', and enjoying theater as I do, it was impossible not to constantly think of staging it"
by Bia Lessa

I always enjoyed taking literary works to the stage: “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, “The Possessed” by Dostoievski, “The Man Without Qualities” by Robert Musil, “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf, amongst others. Creating a universe that has not only the word or the discourse as a challenge, but also images, memories, descriptions. These works allowed me to experience what theater has of extraordinary, the possibility of creating images out of nothing (without tricks). I always enjoyed the rawness of the theater, the daily frustration of not attaining perfection, the day-to-day search for utopia. These issues bring theater so close to life that it becomes a vital space of reflection. The live spectacle allows a continuous redoing, a constant search for improvement of the work – “man is not ready, is being finished”

Although I’m a theater person – because in every area that I act the theater is present – I can only dedicate myself to it from time to time. They are the few moments in life in which I have the necessity of facing structural issues.

Working in theater is an activity that demands of me a overlife. A period that I dedicate myself exclusively, indiscriminately, without remembering that day and night are different times. A continuous time of doubts, anguishes and desires.

Ever since I read Grande Sertão: Veredas, I never got rid of it again, as if I had won a friend/master, an accomplice. I then realized the Grande Sertão: Veredas exhibition for the opening of the Portuguese Language Museum, where I came across an imperative question: the impossibility of doing an exhibition with images. Any image, even the most complex and beautiful, would weaken the work.  “The Sertão (drylands) is inside of us, the sertão is everywhere”. I decided to do an exhibition with only words.  The book was all there, as a whole, exhibited. A small space multiplied by paths to be covered, indicated by colored lines on the floor. The viewer could choose the way, walking through the space seven times, finding an aspect of the piece in each pathway.

Sometime later, I was invited by Nova Fronteira to do the commemorative project for the 50th anniversary of the first edition, making the graphic project with a numbered copy edition of ten thousand volumes. The project consisted in embroiding the title in each one of the covers. It was important to single out that there was not an industrial work, each book would be different from one another, each embroidery came from one single hand. The cover should be white, made out of fabric, with red lines embroided, but unfinished. I wanted a graphic project that could highlight Rosa’s time and craftmanship in creating the language and narrative. The white book would soon be dirty, marked by the spectator’s hand, a possible mold on the cover, indicating constant transformation – but with a hard cover that could protect the work, that would keep it at the reader’s disposal for indefinite time. There were no introductory texts, the book would begin with the dash and “Nonada”, and would end with the dedication to Aracy.

A few years have passed, and now in face of the desire to return to the theater, at the moment in which Brazil finds itself broken, staggering, I came across Rosa again. They say books choose us. I realize that, for me, theater only imposes itself when it challenges and urges me towards a narrative that I could not relinquish. The desire to confront the issues raised by Rosa, from both the metaphysical and formal point of view, made me structure myself to face the task. The conviction that representing the work through images would be an impoverishment intrigued me. How to assemble, adapt it? Little by little we formed a crew, a team, with lifelong accomplices, such as Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Dany Roland, Sylvie Leblanc, Camila Toledo, Fernando Mello da Costa, Marcio Pilot, Fabio Arruda, Rodrigo Bleque, Fernando Lottenberg and new accomplices – Egberto Gismonti and Oskar Metsavaht, that instantly made themselves partners. The cast – each with their force and individuality – generously exposed disparate experiences and universes. The technical crew, the collaborators, the production and friends were indispensable. Theater is a collective activity that brings to the scene every question related to life. A core that reproduces in small scale the complexity and enchantment of being side by side – of being a humanity, in search of solutions. This is one of the great beauties of the theatrical act: propose a confrontation in the construction of the work and later in the relation with the audience. This confrontation makes itself necessary in this moment in which the world seems to be going in an endless reverse gear.

The conclusion of this process will now be presented in the form of an installation/spectacle, where the idea of a continuous time makes itself present. There is no beginning or end, no separation between show and installation. As in the work that ends with the infinite symbol. The actors are on the scene all the time, forming and transforming themselves, in front of the spectator, without tricks, without gimmicks, benefiting from the unlimited possibilities that the theater offers us. Being housed by SESC Consolação, base of one of my masters, Antunes Filho, I can’t help but quote one of his definitive teachings to me. “The important thing is to create an insoluble problem, and then you work and work. One day you find a form of expression”.

To conclude, I have to thank: first of all Guimarães Rosa, and the possibility of finding him in life. I had for him a debt of gratitude, part of my life should be dedicated to him.

Secondly, Bruno Siniscalchi and Luisa Arraes, who, each in their own way, were restless in encouraging me to find means of making everyone dedicate their efforts to this work. Silviano Santiago and Flora Sussekind. Next, the whole crew, lovingly and indiscriminately, those who participated in the rehearsals, those who made the rehearsals possible and those who thought about the rehearsals.  Then, Violeta Arraes, who in her own way showed me the meaning of life, and to whom I dedicate this work. Those who supported us with strong hands: Roberto Irineu, Kati Almeida Braga and Danilo Miranda. SESC SP, a model in conduct and belief in the importance of culture for the formation of a country. Banco do Brasil, that made possible for me to face Virginia Woolf, Robert Musil, Mariana Alcoforado and that now chose once again to be together with us. CCBB Rio that received us with open arms. Thanks to all for becoming a collective, and to each one, for the miracle of individuality.


For Bia Lessa, only the theatrical spectacle can expand literature’s inovative form. She did not adapt two classical works of the western novel; she took to the stage the novels Orland, by Virginia Woolf, and The Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil, expanding them. And now, when the nation loses its notion of citizenship and crumbles the Brazilian people’s will, Bia assembles a sculpture in SESC’S living area. In its interior, stages the brilliant and monstrous Grande Sertão: Veredas Great Drylands: Pathways, by our Guimarães Rosa. During the day, the Grande Sertão: Veredas Great Drylands: Pathways rests as if it were a closed book, enticing the visitor’s curiosity.

The silent and introspective reader metamorphoses himself in to a spectator, part of an attentive and participant collective, that renews itself. Rosa’s lethal and gongoric writing takes the actor’s body. Lends them action and speech. And the romanesque plot devilishly develops itself, with disorderly movements, affectionate and anarchic, as the sculptural machine signed by Jean Tinguely, one of the founders of New Realism. New Realism equals – as the famous manifest says – new perceptions of the real. the Grande Sertão: Veredas Great Drylands: Pathways expands itself as a theatrical spectacle that reflects – as in a rigorous allegory of our contemporaneity – the way in which developmentalist movements without social and human concerns do not cover the nation as a whole.

On the contrary. The positive effort of modernization is localized, centered and favors. In the margins, creates encraves of pariahs – miserable neighborhoods, slums, prisons, mental asylums, etc. – where violent antagonist forces clash and assert themselves for the ferocity of survival by any costs, inciting the irascibility of control and command. Living is dangerous. Extraordinary in Guimarães Rosa is that, in the most profound of human life’s misery and self destructiveness , in death, there is place for affection and love. In parallel, Riobaldo and Diadorim dance new and happy times. They flash the joy to live, like fireflies that the forest releases at night.
— Silviano Santiago


Lessa is an expert in Guimarães Rosa's sertão (dryland). She took the audience inside the work in the inauguration of the portuguese language museum (São Paulo, Brasil), in 2006. The exhibition was acclaimed everywhere it was showed, becoming a milestone in visitation in the main brazilian museums. Now she invites the audience to a deep dive inside the epic story narrated by the henchman Riobaldo (Caio Blat) who crosses the drylands to fight his greatest enemy, Hermógenes (Leon Goes), make a pact with the devil and discover his love for Diadorim (Luiza Lemmertz). It’s an installation, visited and experienced daily by the audience, and a spectacle, staged in the same structure, in 2 hours and 20 minutes of an uninterrupted performance, with the cast permanently on scene, in which the audience experiences the dissolution of the bounderies between begining and end of the performance; between theatre, cinema and plastic arts; between literature and staging.

In such a handicrafted work, which is a big trace of the director, who spent more than 600 hours with the cast, and of great physical effort, technology was fundamental to guide the audience through the many pathways. Each viewer has to use headphones, that will enable them to listen separately to the soundtrack, the actor’s voices, the soundeffects and ambient sound, taking him to a unprecedented level of interaction with the spectacle’s sound dimension. Although everyone shares the same space in the audience, each one will have a unique experience during the show.