Michele Rolim (RS) e Renan Ji (RJ), Gijón (Espanha), 16/06/2024
Plays for children and young people are highlights at the International Performing Arts Fair in Spain
An-ki, from Cia. Ortiga, invites us to get immersed in a tent that resembles a kind of labyrinth. Photo: Pablo Albalá

FETEN: travel notes

The international fair of performing arts for children and families FETEN (Feria Internacional de Artes Escénicas para niños, Niñas e familias), in its 2024 edition, brought together many artists and companies, as well as several theater approaches for childhood and youth – from tributes inspired by European cultural tradition to approaches that interface with burning issues of contemporary geopolitics. In the first case, there was, for example, the opening play of the fair, Los Pfeiffer, by the Spanish Troupe Malabó, in which the strength of classical music resists amid a technocratic digital world. In the second case, several Spanish plays addressed the disastrous consequences of colonialism, such as the issue of refugees and immigration, in the plays Nómada (El perro azul teatro), El Cielo de Sefarad (Claroscuro teatro) and Amal (Companyia de Comedila Baldufa SCCL).

Within the perspective of decoloniality, we highlight An-ki (Cia. Ortiga), awarded in the category of best play at the Feten Prize of 2024. The experience-theater of An-ki rises a powerful and playful reflection on the environment and the predatory action of colonialism yesterday and today.

The play by Cia. Ortiga (from Cataluña, Spain) invites us to get immersed in a tent that resembles a kind of labyrinth. We are led by the actors in three groups, and each of which goes through a different sequence of installations, where we are led to learn about the history of the girl Adja’s village. Besides reflecting on man’s relationship with nature, it is also essential to resist the constant threat of deforesters.

In An-ki, macro and micro universes are merged: sometimes we are giants walking among clouds, and in other moments we follow stories told through very small objects. In our smallness, we hide a tiny seed to resist the fury of giant and grotesque colonizers. An-ki is a tree that is both small and large: protected by Adja, it is the last one that resists alone the great environmental devastation caused by the economic exploitation of the colonizers.

Cia. Ortiga leaves us a provocation: when all the trees are felled, who can keep the seed of resistance?

Saving seeds

If saving seeds is a form of resistance, the effort of memory made by the play Una Rueda que da Vueltas (entre molinos de agua y otras cosas en peligro de extinción), by the Almealera project (from Castilla y León, Spain), can be seen as a seed that rescues and keeps alive the tradition of ancient Spanish villages. While taking to the stage testimonies of former millers of Ávila, recovering personal and, mainly, collective memories, Laura Santos creates a bold approach for documentary theater, demanding a more mature young audience. However, this does not mean that the play leaves aside enchantment and imagination, since it uses on the stage the potential of natural elements such as water, earth, straw, grain and flour. The refined handling of these resources on stage has conferred Laura Santos the award for best performer at FETEN 2024.

In this effort of remembrance, Una Rueda que da Vueltas brings us archaic dialects and words that were very little accessible to Brazilians like us. Even so, it is surprising how we could perceive the sensible proposal of this play, which seeks to rekindle the use of the old words that belong to the universe of mills, retrieving not only an old way of making bread, but also the roots of a whole way of life.

Speaking of bread and tradition, we witnessed a work that is quite different from the previous one in dramaturgical and scenic terms, but still refers to the symbolic and practical universe of bread making: the cultivation of wheat to the table, and through the playful work with the lightness and whiteness of the flour. Un trozo de pan, by Cia. Les Pinyes (from Cataluña, Spain), builds a narrative focused on early childhood, investing heavily in the theater of objects and musicality, so that children see how bread is part of everyday life in a cultivation chain that involves different tasks: planting, harvesting, buying, mixing, kneading and finally eating.

Un trozo de pan works with rhythms and songs to draw the presence of bread in the children's routine, establishing a sequence of small narrative sketches that show the transformation of wheat into the food that is present on the table of all Spaniards. Around bread, values ​​such as companionship, sharing and nutrition are portrayed by the actresses Marta Garcia, Cèlia Algaba and Noèlia Franch, earning the award for Best Director at FETEN 2024 to Cia. Les Pinyes.

Una rueda que da vueltas, with performance of Laura Santos, retrieves collective memories of the universe of mills. Photo: Pablo Albalá

From life to death

In the aforementioned plays, bread is food, memory and culture, symbolizing human achievements, the energy that motivates us and unites us. If bread is life, what about a play that talks about death? Entrañas, by El Patio Teatro (from La Rioja, Spain), started the act with an apparent corpse covered by a cloth on the stage. Together with a baroque scenography of dark tones and the reference to a dead body, this play composes a journey that is both lyrical and scientific, in which physiological data get mixed with a deep and philosophical reflection on our bodies and minds. Izaskun Fernández and Julián Sáenz-López have a precise conduction of the narrative, as they imprint simplicity and depth to their elaborations about the destiny of our bodies. For this reason, the play was the winner in the category “original idea” of the Feten 2024 Award.

The approach to death can be somewhat complex in theater for childhoods and youths. However, the treatment of the theme can be more determinant than the theme itself. If Entrañas manages to bring the question of death in a poetic and informative way, there is also room for something more playful and, why not?, fun. The installation Escape Caravana (from Cataluña, Spain), by Compañía Itinerània, offers the entertainment of police narratives, challenging the public to solve a crime: the death of a rabbit. Here, the answer to the puzzle is less important than the actions to solve it: we begin by deducing a secret password from several totems that represent different cars in the caravan. Once manipulated correctly, a numerical sum is produced, and it is the key to enter the main trailer. When finally inside it, we solve the mystery of the rabbit by activating different mechanisms of scenography – a path that provides an immersive and interactive theatrical experience that is unusual in the Brazilian theater for childhood and youth.

Compañía Itinerània creates street art projects, contemplating all ephemerality, chance and the spontaneous participation of the passersby. Their work delights children because it is dramaturgically designed, inviting the public to solve riddles, look for clues and play imaginative games.

The play Entrañas, by El Patio Teatro, provides us a lyrical and scientific journey about death. Photo: Pablo Albalá


Planting, riding, imagining

Perhaps what connects such different approaches as Entrañas and Escape Caravana is the imaginative aspect, characteristic of the theater for children and youth as a whole. The former evanesces our thinking in speculative directions, showing us that our bodies are made of atoms and dust, for example; the latter provokes our practical engagement in solving riddles, as it shows that imagining can solve problems and challenges – after all, imagining leads us to create new ways of being, of finding solutions for problems or just dealing with the mysteries of life.

In this sense, the plays that will close our travel around FETEN 2024 – all of them focused on early childhood – are prodigal in firing imagination, often from the most simple or abstract scenic and dramaturgical context. Tangram (La Baracca Testoni Ragazzi), Semilla (Compagnie Tea Tree) and Chiffonade (Teatro 4Garoupas) are shows that reveal very simple approaches, but of high plastic and ludic suggestiveness.

In the Italian play, Tangram, flat geometric shapes create different images, such as houses, stone paths, boats, etc., forming a subtle narrative that talks about the adventure towards the unknown and the return home. The actors structure their narrative dynamics from the count of one to seven, which is a quite simple but highly thought-provoking way to create and recreate sequences, games and paths.

In Semilla (from Belgium), from the idea of planting and watering a seed, the play elaborates situations of boredom and anxiety, and how we can fill the void of waiting with fun, games and acrobatics. Highlights for the way the impatience of the little ones is represented by the actors, who balance on a dramaturgy that brings the dilemma of doing and not doing. In the middle of the game, when least expected, the first leaves appear from the seed.

Finally, in the German play Chiffonade (Teatro 4Garoupas), the scenography and the peculiar objects are the attraction of the scene. A large cocoon impresses the children’s senses, but soon the manipulation of fabrics creates natural scenarios, ending in a playful sequence of dance movements in which the performer Eugenia Labuhn glides over a plastic sheet soaked in water. Dance and scenography are connected to movements that are common to children – who hide in small spaces, assemble small worlds with objects and get merged with different materials of nature, such as water and earth.

These three plays share the minimalism in invention, and Chiffonade is the work that most invests in different colors and textures to delight the little ones. However, it is interesting to notice how it is not through pyrotechnics that the child audience is reached. The plays gradually build triggers of imagination, without imposing a precise narrative or any morality on the image that is created. In Tangram, we create the sensation of welcoming – by joining a triangle and a square and forming a house; in Semilla, we play to see life suddenly sprout on a small leaf; and in Chiffonade, that same life shows itself in a body with arms and legs, made to glide around the world.


Semilla, by Compagnie Tea Tree, is a play created on the idea of ​​planting and watering a seed. Photo: Pablo Albalá


It is also important to highlight that, as FETEN is a fair and not a festival, we had exclusive activities for programmers, with the purpose of engendering the exchange of practices carried out in the field of the performing arts, forming networks and connections, and counting on the support and participation from ASSITEJ Espanha.

FETEN is an important occasion to strengthen culture's commitment to childhood and youth. Theater allows our gaze to stop and recognize the others, often inviting us to the action of getting closer to them, in an exercise of coexistence with otherness. For today's children and young people, in a world in constant technological-digital dematerialization, this contact is extremely precious. The FETEN 2024 catalog can be downloaded HERE.

Michele Rolim and Renan Ji* were at FETEN at the invitation of the fair

Michele Rolim is a journalist, critic, curator and PhD in Performing Arts at UFRGS; she is part of FIBRA – Network of Brazilian International Festivals for children and young people and CBTJI (ASSITEJ Brasil).

Renan Ji is a professor of Brazilian Literature at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), theater critic and jury member for the CBTIJ Theater for Children Award (ASSITEJ Brasil).

This text is part of the Arquipélago Project to foster theater criticism, with support of Corpo Rastreado