Carolina Bianchi was drugged and assaulted ten years ago. Now she numbs herself on stage, night after night

Audience reactions to Carolina Bianchi’s surprising new show were varied. Some walked out halfway through the performance. Others, among those who stayed, broke down in sobs toward the end. But the Brazilian artist has also had people sending messages about how her performance touched them, how they spent the whole night discussing it. Normally, she says, “reactions come slowly.” This is a piece that will take time.

“I know it’s not an easy piece,” says Bianchi. “I think it provokes a lot of discussion and conversation… and I don’t make work that’s about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ either.”

The piece in question, Cadela Força Trilogy Chapter I: The Bride and the Goodnight Cinderella, is a work that can move you or challenge you, or perhaps both. The Guardian’s reviewer, who saw it in Glasgow, praised it as a “thrilling performance” and “a long-awaited jolt of work that feels truly – sometimes dangerously – alive”. Rising festival, which is bringing the piece to Melbourne in June, warns it could have a “disturbing effect”. Predictably, conservative corners have spoken out against its arrival in Australia.

Bianchi’s piece is broadly about sexual violence—prompted in part by her own rape a decade earlier, after her drink was spiked with a date rape drug known in her native Brazil as Goodnight Cinderella. Details about what happens during the show’s two and a half hours are available online for those who want to look them up, but Bianchi feels they constitute a spoiler. Part of her conditions for agreeing to this interview was that certain details of what happens on stage not be revealed. The piece essentially involves Bianchi drinking a potion that causes her to lose consciousness, before her body is intimately exposed to the audience by other performers on stage.

When I speak to the director and star of the year’s most polarizing performance via Zoom, she is warm and friendly, optimistic despite being exhausted after a series of dates at an art festival in Vienna. She laughs as she recalls the first conversations she had with festival programmers, trying to sell them on the piece: “I had to have a lot of meetings explaining what I was doing!”

Related: Dredging, destruction and date rape drugs: the daring performance art of Take Me Somewhere

The Bride and the Goodnight Cinderella debuted last July at France’s Avignon Festival, where it was an instant sensation that catapulted Bianchi from, by his own admission, a “completely unknown artist in Europe” to the talk shows of the festival circuit. She is now fortunate to have had contact with programmers who consider the piece “necessary.”

Bianchi also finds the topics her piece explores necessary. The director and playwright began working on it after reading the story of Pippa Bacca, an Italian performance artist, who was raped and murdered while hitchhiking dressed as a bride in 2008, as part of a play designed to send a message of peace and spread love. .

Bianchi became “completely obsessed” with Bacca’s story and began writing something exploring how we speak about – and listen to – stories of sexual violence. Bacca’s murder features prominently in The Bride and the Goodnight Cinderella, but at other points it also explores the story of a Brazilian footballer who continued playing after ordering the murder of his lover, and the women who were murdered and dumped on the side of the road. in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The piece is, says the creator, “a big tapestry of things that connect sexual violence and rape,” and how art can be a medium to talk about that. There is of course an autobiographical element to what happens on stage, but Bianchi does not share her own story to ‘overshadow’ the intention of the work.

Bianchi has been touring with The Bride and the Goodnight Cinderella for almost a year now. Despite the show’s subject matter, Bianchi insists it doesn’t take a personal toll on her. If that were the case, she says, “I could never do that to myself.”

But she also doesn’t subscribe to the idea that performing something that repeats her own rape is a form of catharsis. She finds the process of examining the layers of the piece with each performance – with her theater collective Cara de Cavalo – a positive experience. “But the idea that I’m the kind of hero of this journey who will do this piece and that I feel better now with my trauma — this is not how I feel,” she says.

“We have a lot of this toxic, positive discourse going around [the idea of healing after rape]. And this is very personal, you see, for me. I do not believe that. I don’t believe you can be healed after something like that. You can definitely transform this. You can change the way you deal with the fact that it happened. And that can be very nice… but I don’t do this for myself to say: now everyone is freed from this horror, from this hell.’

Some crowds are completely silent as the performance ends and Bianchi begins to regain consciousness; others are ‘lively’ and find a kind of joy rather than ‘complete sadness or horror’. Part of what some audiences struggle with, she thinks, is the lack of a nice, happy ending.

Related: ‘Lack of shame’: Robinho scandal highlights Brazil’s rape crisis

“That’s something about the piece: we don’t overcome [rape], it is there and it will remain there,” she says. “And I think sometimes this is difficult for some people, because you go to the theater and you expect something to transform [you]. And I am very honest about what I think about that.”

Bianchi is on a break from performing after the Rising festival, but wants to take The Bride and Goodnight Cinderella everywhere – including back home to Brazil, where fourteen women are reportedly attacked every minute. She is also writing part two of a planned trilogy of works all related to sexual violence – the second part, she says, will focus on masculinity and brotherhood.

The project has caused an uproar around the world, but Bianchi says her intention was to simply acknowledge the existence of sexual violence. Given the current national conversation about violence against women, this is poignant timing for the Australian public.

“I don’t make pieces in which I think that [I want to shock people], as if it were bait,” she says. “I would love it if this piece could open up really deep conversations among audiences about what they see, about art, about sexual violence, about rape, about our role in it in society, our silence or how much we listen, or how much we say.”

“For me it means: this exists, this is here and this has always been there. And it’s ugly. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a difficult conversation. It is painful. But we have to look at it.”

  • The bride and the Good night Cinderella is at Malthouse’s Merlyn Theater in Melbourne from June 13 to 15, with the Rising festival

  • In Australia, support is available from 1800Respect (1800 737 732). In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 500 2222. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. Other international helplines can be found at

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