"We welcome you, Divine Messengers! Powerful Guardians of the ways between words and worlds, please listen to our claims! We have wonderful news to share: our hero anti-hero is coming to dance with us! Soon he will arrive – we must be ready for him! We are going to party in his honor. At this very special ball, there will be a dance contest to decide who will have the pleasure to take the famous guest through the paths of Life and Death. We must prepare ourselves! But before we start this challenge, we should learn something about our celebrity criminal…”
Brazil, 2021. The country was being devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic potentialized by the almost complete lack of governmental actions to mitigate health and social crisis. The Brazilian President at the time publicly despised people’s suffering and, instead of doing what was needed to protect its citizens, had the habit of making disgusting jokes about the dead and disseminating fake news against vaccines.
Brazil, of course, has a history of having to endure this kind of darkness, coming not that long ago from a horrible period of civil-military dictatorship. An old Brazilian saying always found its way in such periods of brutality: “a good criminal is a dead criminal,” used over and over to justify attacks against anyone who did not fit the ideals and policies of authoritarian regimes. However, such history is also accompanied by powerful and inspiring stories of popular resistance.
It was in the context of the most recent dark period in Brazilian history, whilst trying to host a safe and pleasurable opportunity for people to experience some sense of community, that two friends and LARP creators, André Sartury and Luiz Falcão, found one of theses stories of resistance, one that could have the magic efficacy to reclaim (Starhawk, 1999; Stengers, 2012) that poisoned old saying about the “good dead criminal” and help free Brazil’s imaginary from this curse.
The story is that of the violent and tragic death of the (in)famous Brazilian marginal Manuel Moreira (aka “Cara de Cavalo”, [Horse Face]), killed by a death squad after an ostensive hunt by the police. He was accused of killing a Rio de Janeiro’s police detective called Milton Le Cocq. This “Great Hunting”, as many called it, became a huge subject for local newspapers between August and October 1964.
The figure of Cara de Cavalo, as well as his image of “The Public Enemy Number 1” plus the impressive violence employed against him were immortalized by Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980), a Brazilian artist who created an opus in Cara de Cavalo’s memory: the “Bólide-caixa nº18 – B33” (1966).
Explaining why he had created an opus in honor of Cara de Cavalo, the artist published a text by the occasion of an exposition at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM-RJ/Brazil) in April 1968. In his words, what moved him was “an ethical moment. As we know, Cara de Cavalo's case became a symbol of social oppression of those who are marginal – marginal to everything in this society: the marginal.” (Oiticica, 1966).
According to Oiticica, it was not the case of making a hero of a criminal, ignoring his crimes and his responsibility in his own terrible end. It was, indeed, a claim for reflection and change in the very bases of Brazilian’s society, in desperate need of getting rid of the constant creation of scapegoats like Cara de Cavalo. Many years later, this (re)claiming still fits very properly to Brazil’s current social environment.
Inspired by Oiticica's work, the live action role-playing (LARP) game “The Cara de Cavalo’s Ball” was unveiled for the first time in May 2021, as part of the first edition of FLO – Online Larp Festival. For this version, played on a messenger app, participants were asked to create their characters by using the tools available there, such as video filters (Figure 1). The virtual milieu was treated as the Spiritual World where Spiritual Entities should dance to win the right of guiding the celebrity criminal in his After-Death’s Life.
The second session happened a year later, also online, in the second edition of FLO² (2022). Then, Carolina Scartezini, a word witch who had played the game at its premiere, was invited to join Sarturi and help him complexify the spiritual context and enrich the composition of characters by listening to the wisdom of Afro-Brazilian Entities.
In 2023, with the pandemic receding in Brazil, the three co-creators could finally work together to recreate the game for a in-person session. The game took place as an extension project led by Sarturi that integrated Drama and Dance graduate students from the Paraná’s Arts College (FAP) and the community (Figure 2). For the first two sessions, participants should dance to Samba and Black Music, with other rhythms associated with Oiticica’s and Cara de Cavalo’s universe being added to the third session. The participants were invited to choose between Samba, Capoeira, Passinho (Black Ball Dance-Step) and Cabaret (Burlesque).