They named the event a tongue-twisting "Ceremony-Party-Act of Olympic Re-existence.’’
“This is the anti-Olympics,” said Santos, 42. He attacked the official games for alleged, over-inflated construction contracts and the removal of lower-income communities called favelas — particularly Vila Autodromo, beside the Olympic Park, where the few surviving houses were demolished last weekend.
The free event was the latest in a series of protests against one of the most unpopular Olympic Games in recent memory. Some demonstrations have blocked the Olympic torch’s progress and attempted to put it out with fire extinguishers and buckets of water. More actions are planned ahead of Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.
During the rehearsal this week for the official Opening Ceremonies, there was a controversial sketch in which blonde-haired, blue-eyed supermodel Gisele Bündchen protected a young black actor from security officials who thought he was a thief. The sketch was attacked for reinforcing racial stereotypes and later pulled.
Meanwhile, the opening at the Big Saucer featured Chico Buarque, regarded as one of Brazil’s greatest ever musicians, kicking a football off the stage and singing his classic "Apesar de Você," an attack on censorship that was banned from radios during Brazil’s military dictatorship.
The contrast spoke volumes about how the artists, intellectuals, unionists and activists on Brazil’s left see these Olympics.
“The Olympic Games could be really good if they were more inclusive,” said actor, comedian and newspaper columnist Gregorio Duvivier, who spoke at the show. “They are not democratic.”
South America’s first Olympics were championed by Brazil’s popular and charismatic former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, who helped Rio win its bid in 2009. Critics argue they have become tainted by association with powerful real estate developers, and the ticket prices exclude Rio’s poor.
“An event like this creates an island in society. It is an elite and a group of foreigners,” said Laio Rocha, 23, one of around 40 activists sleeping in tents on one side of the concert hall as part of the "occupation." They had set up a bank of laptops in the middle of the building where activists were updating the movement's Facebook page near sealed off areas where building rubble was piled up. A young woman dressed as Batman mopped a leaking floor in the unisex bathrooms.
The Big Saucer hosted shows by great Brazilian artists like Buarque for decades, but it was closed in 2010 and has been empty ever since.
Occupiers say they will not leave until Brazil’s unpopular interim president Michel Temer leaves office. They believe he forced the suspension of Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, by an impeachment trial they regard as a farce and are calling a "coup d’etat."
“Temer out!” was the rallying cry of the night, chanted, emblazoned on T-shirts and scrawled on signs the young, largely middle class audience waved throughout performances and political speeches.
“This government, installed in a coup, is capitalizing on the Olympics because it has no legitimacy,” said Bruno Falci, 32. “This is a lie.”
Although it unseated Rousseff a year and a half after she narrowly won reelection on charges that she manipulated public accounts to hide spending, Brazil’s impeachment process has also been an unexpected boon for the left and the Workers’ Party Lula founded.
The ouster of a democratically elected president on what many consider spurious charges prompted a loose alliance of feminist groups, indigenous groups, trade unions, intellectuals, gay rights activists and black rights protesters to come out in support of her. It has given the left new impetus, a focus and a cause, and brought in new, young supporters, many of whom were at the Canecão.
“A friend of my mother’s invited us,” said Luisa Mateille, 18, who was with her friend Maria Luiza Cordeiro, 16. “It is very political. It is Temer Out.”
Mateille described the vice president, who wears his hair slicked back and has been nicknamed "The Butler," as a horror movie character. “This vampire,” she said, “he wants to suck out people’s consciousness.”
The occupation is part of a national movement by Brazil’s artistic community that coalesced when Temer closed the Culture Ministry and incorporated it into the Education Ministry. Groups of artists, intellectuals, musicians and producers occupied ministry buildings across Brazil in protest.
In Rio, they took over an empty palace and former ministry headquarters and turned its courtyard into a venue for concerts, exhibitions and debates. On July 25, 73 days later, they were evicted by police — a move they saw as a pre-Olympic clean-out. Days later they took over the Canecão.
Falci said occupations like this are Brazil’s equivalent of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States.
The alternative opening also featured scientists and researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation — a leading government research institution known as Fiocruz. They filed onto the stage holding a banner that denounced the "coup" and government plans to cut spending on Brazil’s precarious public health services.
The scientists said they were also against the Olympic Games.
“It is a very unhappy moment,” said Marcio Boia, 62, a researcher in infectious diseases. “There is a coup — and they are destroying the health service.”