In Conversation • Fernanda Faez

Fernanda Faez is currently completing her Masters in “Irish Dance Studies” at the World Irish Dance & Music Academy at the University of Limerick (Ireland), with a scholarship from the Mary Duffy Foundation (UK); she holds a bachelor’s degree in dance from UNICAMP (Brazil) and studied Dance Movement Therapy (International Dance Therapy Training Center-Brazil), and has a T.C.R.G teacher title by the Irish Dance Commission (An Coimisiún le rincí Gaelacha – Ireland).

In Brazil, she founded Banana Broadway and Festival Celta Brasil. She also directs Cia Celta Brasil, which debuted at Rock in Rio 2013. Fernanda directed the project awarded by the MinC notice in 2013, taking Brazil to the 43rd Irish Dance World Championship, thus being the first group from a South American country to participate of this event, which resulted in a documentary. In 2013, she attended a Mary Duffy Foundation-sponsored seminar at the University of Limerick and was one of the few dancers in the world selected for the Riverdance group’s “Riverdance, the Gathering” program. She assembled and directed the Brazilian Irish Dance Team in 2017, winning 2nd and 5th places at the Irish World Dance Championships in Dublin. She was one of the founders and vice president of the South American Irish Dance Association (SAIDA), is a founding member and board of directors of Comhaltas Brasil.

Fernanda, how did your connection with Irish and Celtic dance and cultures start?

I have danced since I was a child; I danced many dance styles, but I fell for tap dancing in the end. Due to my interest in the cultural, historical, and human nature of dancing, I studied the EUA’s tap-dancing history and found mentions of Irish influence.

It was a time when Riverdance and Lord of the Dance were at their peak, and I had access to their videos. Then, in Brazil, I had the opportunity to have brief contact with a teacher named Cláudia Gonçalves, who introduced me to Irish dance. Yet, I was only satisfied when I went to study it in Ireland.

My wish was to meet the people who danced this style, to understand where and how this dance style happened, and what brought people to dance in such a way.

In 2003, I moved to Ireland and took up classes with Bernadette Chaney Farrell in Dublin. She introduced me to the whole traditional universe of Irish Dance. This changed my personal history and the way Irish dance is made in Brazil forever.

How long has the Festival Celta Brasil been organised, and how has the experience been throughout the years?

In 2021 we will have the 19th Edition of the Festival Celta Brasil.

It started as a Dance Exhibition, during Saint Patrick’s celebration in March, but from 2006 it has grown and has been shaped. This Festival is made with heart, so year by year, we sought to understand what was more relevant and the best way to contribute to the culture at that moment. Based on this, we defined our event’s schedule.

Although our main focus is Irish dance, we also had throughout the years, official exams, such as competitions (Feis), exhibitions of costumes, instruments, books and CDs, symposiums, activities related to literature, mythology, cousine and language, workshops and performances with live music. In recent years, we also had the participation of Scottish music and dance.

The Festival Celta Brasil made history worldwide when it promoted the first traditional Irish music and dance competition in South America (1st Open Feis Brazil, in 2003) and when it hosted the first South American Irish Dance Competition (1º Oireachtas Rince An Meiriceá Theas, in 2017).

At the end of 2019, in a deep conversation with our team, we decided that although we had launched a path of official Irish dance competitions in South America, it wasn’t our mission to follow this path. Since the year of 2020, then, we decided that the Festival Celta Brasil will be fostering culture and art in the most inclusive way, valuing relationships and respecting diversity.

in 2020 a challenging time due to the pandemy, which brought us to an unforgettable and unexpected experience — an online event that expanded and connected new horizons. 

In 2021 we will remain online. The Festival Celta Brasil will happen remotely again, with the same care towards those who love these cultural and artistic universes.

Last year, 2020, was the first time that the event was entirely online. What were the feelings, and what expectations were overcome? 

The first thought during the pandemic was that we should not do the 18th edition of the Festival at that moment. I had the impression that we should use that time to be in silence and retract and that it would be good to have a break.

I thought of doing only one publication or something simple, postponing the Festival to 2021. Still, I had a conversation with a Brazilian musician based in Galway, and a friend and project’s partner, Mila Maia; then I got excited about making the Festival. 

So we decided to create an online edition of the Festival with the criterion “what would you like to share?”. This was the question I asked some of my colleagues. Slowly, the schedule was filled with unique activities — truly gifts prepared with much love by each artist.

In the beginning, it was technically challenging as we had no previous experience. Still, we had so much help from friends, and through their generosity, we could make the event come true.

At the end of the event, I felt it was the best Festival Celta Brasil of them all, the happiest one, the most pleasant — and the longest one (it lasted 10 days). It was a big success; it exceeded all my expectations.

The Festival Celta Brasil 2020 is fully available on our YouTube channel.

What to expect of the Festival for this year?

This year, the Festival will be shorter, with four days of events entirely online. We will have big news for this year: the most important will be the theme of Brazilian and South American regions’ dialogue with the Celtic culture. 

We are calling artists from all across Brazil and South America to show their works of music and dance within two distinct fields: the “Traditional” and one that we call “Identity.” We believe that exciting pieces of work will be showcased.

In this 19th Edition, we will also have a dance workshop with Justin Walsh, a Kerry born dancer, and former member of the show Lord of the Dance, and a guest dance teacher from Limerick University. Justin promises to bring to the Festival Celta Brasil and to the South American public beyond a Lord of the Dance repertoire: the Irish dance style originated in Kerry taught by the last travelling dancing master Jeremias Molyneaux. The dancing masters were central figures in the tradition and spread of Irish Dance. This style was never taught in Brazil, and it is fascinating because it resembles our Brazilian samba.

In addition to this activity, we will have much more:

  • Conversation with Cláudio Crow, concerning mythology, philosophy and Irish dance;
  • Irish Literature lecture with Tomislav Correia-Deur;
  • Irish Harp lecture with Joya Emilie;
  • Gaelic Singing workshop;
  • Cuisine and music with Gisele Tortorella and Kevin Shortall.

We will wrap up the Festival with a show combining Brazilian and Irish dances, adding to my Irish Dance Studies Master’s thesis with Limerick University, with dancers from Banana Broadway and Cia Celta Brasil, directed by myself, soundtrack by Mila Maia, Oran, Ana Luíza Lira; art by Mariana Zancheta and film edition by Evidence Films. After the presentation, we will have a chat with all the artists. 

What can you tell us about the people involved in this Celtic and Irish universe?

It is hard to generalise, people are people, therefore each bears their own characteristics from their environment. I can’t define a single profile to this public. They seem to be so many, more mystical ones, more practical, more cultured, more imaginative, enthusiasts, etc etc etc. Irish for me can be perceived differently by others. 

Amidst such diversity within the same universe, we began to learn to respect everyone’s spaces and come to understand the different approaches to the same topic. Given the  many points of view, gradually everyone settles in.

The Festival Celta Brasil has a broad approach, particularly with the dance as the primary focus. Still, we believe that this dance is affected by all other cultural and social fields. That is why we offer diverse activities. The Festival Celta Brasil has our face, and this is great because it makes the Festival unique. The invitation I present to you is to get to know us, for knowing, at least opens up the perspective. 

How and where to go to participate in the Festival?

The event happens through the Festival Celta Brasil social media. On Instagram and Facebook, we release the schedule, announce our submissions to the Exhibitions and applications to workshops, and that’s where we publish our news. Some workshops happen through the Zoom platform (subscription guidelines are available in our Instagram bio). Transmission to the schedule is showcased on our Youtube channel.

We wait for you all to Festival Celta Brasil 19th Edition, from 1st to 4th of July (Thursday to Sunday) of 2021! The Festival Celta Brasil is a Banana Broadway production, directed by Fernanda Faez and co-produced by Mara Alves.

Check also our conversation with Mila Maia: