The latest new dance? (Part One)

BLITZ 13 Nov 1990English

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Contextual note
This text is part of the Portuguese anthology. This text collection contains 100% of the writings of André Lepecki for the magazine BLITZ. Sarma could realize this project by the support of the Portuguese Institute for the Arts.
You can read more about André Lepecki and his poetics as a writer on the following link:


Editor Sarma: Myriam Van Imschoot
Editor Portugal: Monica Guerreiro
Research in Lisbon: Jeroen Peeters
Coördination: Steven De Belder, Jeroen Peeters, Charlotte Vandevyver, Myriam Van Imschoot
Translator: Clive Thoms
Financial Support: Portuguese Institute for the Arts
Thank you to: André Lepecki for the contribution to this anthology, BLITZ for giving consent to republish the texts on, Diana Teixeira (typiste)

At the Convento do Beato, on the evenings of October 31st and November 1st, the stage was given over to the pieces selected in the choreography competition organized by the Portuguese Curators for Europália 91, commonly called the Novíssimos (“the very young”).

In organizing and announcing a programme with the “very young” choreographers of the similarly New Portuguese Dance movement, the Portuguese Curators for Europália 91 placed us from the outset, and I’m sure without meaning to, in an ambiguous situation, to say the least: weighed down by the heavy responsibility of being “young”, and competing in a contest organized by the State (or rather, by the Government, represented here by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers) in order to promote itself abroad – in Brussels, in Europália 91, of being selected in a public competition, the idea was that these “young talents” should show their artistic worth and what they had to offer Portuguese dance. (Some readers may find that these dances of the new dance movement remind them, in their clarity, of a hermetic text by the anchorites of Mount Zion, so a quick explanation is perhaps in order: a very young choreographer is a youth of up to 30 years of age – competing directly with young farmers, who can be anything up to 45 – and who may be devoting himself to choreography for the first time or not, and may likewise have already choreographed a piece for one of the country’s leading companies, or not. A “young choreographer” may be all of this, or not, or nothing at all. Being young is better than being very young. It’s simple.)

I don’t want to suggest that this was what the organizers had in mind. But the weight of the words Europália and Very Young, together with New Portuguese Dance and also the Coimbra University Biennale (which despite Santana Lopes [the Secretary of State for Culture], is still going ahead) is very great indeed. If I have been dwelling on this point, it is because these aspects loomed large in the context of an initiative which, although undeniably praiseworthy, in the way it came about, undoubtedly led audiences, the critics and principally the choreographers themselves into a number of misunderstandings. I think this is the only way to understand the work presented. Only then can we comprehend why the very young took so few risks and why two of them chose instead to present us with unimaginative mimicry of the fads and conventions of “proper” dancing.

1. Susana Vassallo e Silva

The choreographer’s main problem seems to be sticking to her chosen narrative thread: the thematic exploration of the theme of liberation and the “symbolic cycle of life”, as found in the sculpture of Canto da Maia. Here lies the first problem. It is only natural, and indeed common, for artists to base their creative processes on thematic “anchors”, providing references around which to structure their works, and from which they can develop and articulate their aesthetic discourse. It is also common for this connecting thread which provided the logical structure of the creative process never to reach the audience or to be visible in the finished piece. There is no problem with any of this, it is one form of artistic creation, like any other.

But when we are presented with a choreography with the title Amour qui passe, amour qui reste, and the subtitle Movement in the sculpture of Canto da Maia, and when we are also offered a text in the programme which identifies the “moments” in the choreography and what they seek to be, the artist needs to be a little more careful. And the problem gets more complicated when the final product turns out to be wholly unconnected to the initial suggestion made to the audience by the title, subtitle and programme notes.

As far as I can tell, Vassallo e Silva’s main concern was clearly the formal exploration of the themes, as the choreography offers little more than a number of “poses” (which we may suppose to be inspired by the sculptures) and a certain amount of skipping and tripping around, in order to fill the time and space. The movement ostensibly belongs to the “minimalist wave”, generated in the wake of pieces by Amélia Bentes, Ângela Guerreiro and Joana Providência, presented to the public last year, but the choreographer is really doing nothing more than trying to ingratiate herself by means of an uninspired repetition of a formula which has enjoyed success with both critics and audiences. Vassallo e Silva’s problem is not that she does what has already been done (the choice of music was irritatingly predictable), but that she uses, without any questioning or sense of exploration, something which is in fact more of a language, and which therefore lends itself to being used, but not to being copied. The result is disappointing. The dancers did their job correctly, and at least on the second evening, Oswaldo Pereira and Ricardo Holbeche outshone their partners. The costumes and lighting were nothing special.

2. Miguel Pereira

The second choreography of the evening, and further justification for my long and hermetic preamble, which no one with any sense will have read to the end (if by chance you belong to this rare category of humankind, then go back to the beginning and read).

It’s like this. There is something called dance theatre (yes, dear readers, Dance is a world in itself). And there is something else called new Belgian dance and within new Belgian dance there is a girl called Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker who is a genius and does things which are masterpieces of contemporary art. In these pieces, the dancers talk, dance, make more or less absurd movements, do nothing at all, roll around, sing, cry, shout and it is all harmonious, beautiful and frightfully coherent.

Now, Miguel Pereira is currently living in Brussels, where he has worked and trained with a number of choreographers belonging to the new Belgian dance movement. He has put together a piece with strong influence from European dance theatre. But he has not created a work. Although the use of stage space at the beginning was intelligent and eye-catching, exploiting the arches of the Beato convent cloisters by using candlelight, which created expectations of something interesting to come, the rest of the choreography actually revealed a complete lack of creative capacity.

All the clichés are there. The eternal shoes which the dancers put on and take off for no apparent reason (symbolic or choreographic), except that this is the commonplace of dance theatre. The more or less gratuitous frenzy of the movement and speeches along the lines of “question the stage, life, the eternal feminine, and while you’re at it look glum and utter a cry of protest to touch the audience”. The three girls tripping across and throwing themselves on to the floor, exploring the stage and looking at the audience. The obsessive and dazzling diagonals. Stopping suddenly in the middle of a movement, with a look of amazement (like, Oh!). Walking towards the light and running backwards. The final question, “Tu m’écoutes?”, by way of summing up the human condition.

One moment of innovation: the everlasting chairs were replaced by a little bench, which was also there for no discernable reason. Vive l’Europe.