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Nando Messias: ‘For avant garde performance, the UK is the place to be’

Nando Messias. Photo: Loredana Denicola

Brazilian-born Nando Messias creates work that combines theatre, dance and performance art. He tells Georgia Snow how his latest project has been a decade in the making, drawing on personal experience.

What is the inspiration behind the show?

The idea for the show came from being attacked on the street where I live in east London. That was in the summer of 2005, but it took me 10 years to gain perspective and critical distance. I realised that it was happening around me – not just to me – and there was something I could do to bring awareness to this issue. I’m from Brazil, and I feel quite embarrassed that it is one of the countries with the most murders of transgender people.

What form does the performance take?

The show is dance-theatre, half of it is inside the theatre, and halfway through I invite the audience outside with me and we go on a procession. That’s the exciting part of the piece, it’s unpredictable, and there is a level of danger I guess. It’s also making the audience experience what it is like to be visible. There is live music, and that draws attention to the audience so they feel like they are being looked at too.

How important is theatre in tackling issues such as homophobic abuse?

I think it is crucial. I don’t know if there is another solution, but what this does is draw attention, out loud, and tells people that this is an issue that needs thinking about. Part of the work I do is community outreach workshops for underprivileged LGBTQ groups and that enables me to give them skills that they can use in their life.

Did you perform when you were growing up?

My father is a visual artist so I was around art. I remember the one thing that I wanted to do was ballet because my sister did it, but Brazil is very conservative so I was not allowed. She would leave me in the corner of the class when she went to run errands and I just remember wanting to do it so much. I went on to learn ballet and pay for my own lessons when I was able to. Part of my performance-making now is about reaching out for the things that have been denied me.

What is your performance background?

I went to drama school in Brazil, then I came here to do a masters at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I went on to do a PhD at Central, and am also trained in ballet. In terms of avant garde performance, this [the UK] is the place to be. In Brazil there is excellent theatre and dance but it’s still very traditional in style.

CV: Nando Messias

Training: Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (1997-2000); Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (2005-2011)
First professional job: Our Lady of the Flowers, Brazil (1999)
Agent: None

Having been at the Brighton Fringe, The Sissy’s Progress runs on May 12 at the Horniman Museum, London [1]