Encontros Acarte ’91: Acids and corrosion (Part One)

BLITZ 10 Sep 1991English

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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: http://www.sarma.be/nieuw/critics/lepecki.htm


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 www.sarma.be, Diana Teixeira (typiste)

The Encontros Acarte’91, the festival of European dance and theatre which has mobilized the capital’s performance scene, got underway. All roads lead to the Gulbenkian, for the first festival bearing the definitive signature of Madalena Perdigão’s successor.

1. Duarte Barrilaro Ruas and O Povo das Chuvas Ácidas (The People of Acid Rain)

According to the press release, the programme leaflets and the invitations, the opening performance is meant to be MacBeth by Bremer Theater (presented in the evening). In the real world, the first performance in the festival wasO Povo das Chuvas Ácidas, the only Portuguese piece presented this year (the same day, at the afternoon). This was not a last minute change of schedule. It was plainly a Stalinist decision to adulterate the truth or rewrite history. If a performance actually opens the festival, and is the first to be presented, why this apparent cover-up? Everyone knows the prestige associated with being the first or last performance in a festival. The only reason for camouflaging the truth, through a strange logic of denial, must be either that the programmer lacks confidence in Barrilaro Ruas’ production, or else a simple lack of nerve in the face of the risks run by Acarte in presenting a debut performance. Both attitudes are frankly incomprehensible.

The show. The set is a huge black box which is gradually explored by the two actors (Barrilaro Ruas and João Reis) who assail the mesh-like walls of their monstrous prison, which constrains their movements and limits their words. Their movements are uncertain, unconnected, full of ticks and pathetic fears. The movements of lost people. The words are the words of despair and disenchantment: we are shown the desolation of our “rusty bodies” and radical solutions are posited – bodies have to be filed down to avoid friction at contact points. Acid days and acid rain. And as the air fills with the noise of the sections being ripped out, and as the square cocoons spew out the actors’ bodies and shoes, and the music by Carlos Zíngaro (live! are we in Portugal?) creates an atmosphere which contrasts with the roughness of all the rest (the acidity of the straight lines and angles), O Povo das Chuvas Ácidas is a rip-roaring show. Up to the scene which encapsulates the suicidal despondency of man: the actors, dressed in coats covered with razor blades, enjoy themselves by ripping up each others’ bodies (not literally, don’t worry) with a lightness that belies suffering, as if it were all a more or less pathetic joke, as if confrontation were the only possible type of encounter. João Reis was excellent, creating a consistent character and interacting superbly with Barrilaro Ruas. From this point on, Barrilaro Ruas switches course, moving more towards visual formalism, with the long hypnotic scene of choreographed foot movements, and the mechanical “rain dance” (where João Reis reveals self-assurance in a field which is not his own). In my opinion, the level of interest falls abruptly, partly because the logical continuity with what has preceded it is not clear (together with the non-continuity, which suddenly comes across), but mainly because the strength of Barrilaro Ruas’ theatre lies precisely in the unchecked madness of his great inner energy, his passion for being on stage, for embracing the most hazardous physical violence. With Barrilaro Ruas, we are poles away from the type of risk and bodily violence we find, for instance, in Vandekeybus, where we find the oiled precision of the bodily machine challenging the laws which constrain it. In Barrilaro Ruas, we have an explosion of bodily life, flesh, muscles and blood, openly at war with the laws of nature which restrict both movement and psychological plenitude. The formalism undermined this aesthetic strength.

Finally, I think that there is one drawback to the way Barrilaro Ruas accumulates the roles of stage designer, choreographer, director, script writer, costume designer and performer, at least as concerns the stage design: whilst the sets are precisely what they should be (the sets are the show), he seems to have chosen the wrong materials, giving a rather rough and ready look to an idea which deserved to be more effectively realized.

Before I forget: the end of the piece – when theatrical artifice is laid bear and the actors walk calmly about the stage – is not just stunning, but its optimism is restorative. Final message: if this is Duarte Barrilaro Ruas’ debut show, then we the audience want more. Quick!

2. MacBeth, by Johann Kresnik

One of the legends of Brazilian radio is that a sports commentator was once reporting live for Minas Gerais State Radio on the football match between América and Cruzeiro [Brazilian teams] and, in desperation at the standard of the football being played, got up in the middle of the game and told his listeners that there is a limit to anyone’s patience, that his had run out some time ago, and so he was going to stop his commentary on the match, and then walked out. As I sat through Kresnik’s MacBeth I felt a deep sympathy for the reporter. And respect for his courage and integrity in the face of what he regarded as an outrage against the values of his sport.

I didn’t walk out of Kresnik’s MacBeth, but I felt the same disgust at the presumptuousness, pretension, the lack of professionalism and the lack of respect for the noble art of dance, all packed together in one piece. It’s certainly designed to be eye-catching: the river of blood at the front of the stage, the gentleman who looks like Father Brown crossed with Darth Vader, strewing entrails around the place, the imposing sets, the monstrous pencils hanging like claws or teeth (just the thing, darling!). And not only will your eyes be overwhelmed, your ears will be too: the stage amplifications, the amplification of the huge door, the live music for the pianoforte, which is to tell you that this is serious stuff. They just forgot to put in anything to occupy your mind.

The choreographic language is limited to painful variations on the general theme of “spinning”: turns, spins and pirouettes for every taste. The dancers (mainly the “three sadistic vampirettes”, who look like a cross between Air Transylvania flight attendants and prison guards from Nazi pleasure camps, soft-core version – nothing in this piece is hard, otherwise it wouldn’t sell) can’t dance to save their lives. As for the content, what can I say about that scene (visually very successful, I must confess, but completely gratuitous) in the room with furniture five meters high and full of children playing and innocents and you discover they’re all mad because three gentlemen dressed as psychiatrists (they’re wearing glasses, you see) appear at the back of the stage and pretend to be their friends, only then they tie them up and torture and rape all the innocents? Artist’s message: “People aren’t mad, you see, it’s the system’s fault, geddit?” Blood all over the place. And then there’s Lady MacBeth who looks just fabulous in her long gloves right up her arms, which turn out to be two snakes like in the Muppets, only the snakes end up killing Lady MacBeth, which means that she kills herself, geddit? The manipulation of symbols is at the most primary level. The manipulation of symbols is comparable with the gentleman who built the statue of Sá Carneiro and said he only did the head because Sá Carneiro had a big head. [Sá Carneiro was a former prime-minister of Portugal, a good one, who tragically died in a plane crash while in exercise in 1980. I don’t think anyone will understand the sense]

I won’t say any more because my patience is also not unending, and I have just found an interview with Johann Kresnik in the programme where he says that Pina Bausch hasn’t brought anything new to dance theatre! Enough, Mr. Kresnik, enough!