Encontros Acarte '91: Up with the French! (Part Three)

BLITZ 24 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 have come to an end… The French tied with the Belgians, 2-2 at full time. It’s the Encontros themselves which seem a bit lost.

1. De Rotterdamse Dansgroep

One of the mysteries of the programming of this year’s Encontros was the choice of a repertory company like this one. It is one thing to be eclectic in designing the programme, but when eclecticism becomes an excuse for presenting any old thing as part of a festival with a tradition to uphold, then it starts to be a problem. It’s a question of aesthetic languages and currents; however many differences we might find between Johan Kresnik and The Kosh, or between Keersmaeker and Altroteatro, they share a common backdrop in terms of history and, if you like, meaning. The presence of this repertory company at this year’s Encontros might lead the less well informed members of the audience to believe that European dance comes down to Teresa de Keersmaeker and Vandekeybus, and the rest is whatever you can get to fill in the time. Then there is the question of criteria. I might argue that it is just me being prejudiced against this ultra-eclectic line, and therefore concede that if the programmers see fit to bring who cares what as long it moves on stage today, they are fully entitled to do as they please, but at least they should pay attention to the context of European Dance as they themselves defined it. The fact is that the Rotterdamse Dansgroep is a contemporary repertory group with a markedly North American choreographic tradition, which came here to dance works by American choreographers (the Dutch choreographer, Tom Simons, whose piece ended the evening, has had his own company in the US since 1978), which confuses things rather. What we are left with is the absence of any aesthetic criteria or definition/affirmation of what the Encontros Acarte actually are. Or what they might become. The main features of the show itself, which consisted of performances of Brief by Amanda Miller, Inlets by Merce Cunningham and Sleepless Nights by the said Tom Simons, were the excellent dancing (including by Daniela Graça, formerly of Companhia de Dança de Lisboa), Merce Cunningham’s choreography with John Cage’s unique music, the general bad taste of the costumes, the plain wrongness of the choice of the Open Air Amphitheatre for presenting pieces in which the forms and outlines defined by the lighting are fundamental to understanding the pieces, and the declaration of aesthetic-choreographic dementia which the Dutch choreographer Tom Simons issued for Tom Simons himself, by creating a truly anachronistic and irritatingly pathetic choreography. Whereas Brief is a smart little exercise within the conventional language of “modern ballet” (and without doubt “ballet”), and Inlets has, at least, a certain historical value, Sleepless Nights is one of those things that makes you think about the futility of the Cosmos and life and the usefulness of a well-aimed Magnum 44… The musical collages which lurched between Phil Spector, Glenn Branca and Mozart might even be interesting – but the effacement of an original language by a choreographer in order to situate himself within a “genre” which is regarded as serious in the context of modern dance is painful, to say the least.

2. Concertino by the Catherine Diverrès Company

A few days ago an English aristocrat found that his personal fortune had shrunk from several million pounds to nearly nothing without even being robbed or speculating unadvisedly on the stock exchange. He had been a double victim: of the truth and of our mad (Western) way of looking at art. The English noble’s fortune consisted basically of a number of Rembrandts. His misfortune consisted of the revelation that they had not in fact been painted by the master, but rather by the students who flocked to his studio in order to learn the secrets of his trade, and therefore of his art. For Western man, this was enough: the author is more important that the work, or rather, it is the author who makes the work valuable, even if you need an X-ray machine to distinguish between the “original” and the “copy”, and works are meant to be original, even if in this case Rembrandt very likely played a role similar to that of our modern record producers: his personal mark is there, he is the artist behind the artist, for better or worse.

I mention this in connection with Concertino by Catherine Diverrès, the show which closed the Encontros, on September 15th, at the Main Auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation. The fact is that in this piece by Diverrès, the spirit and the form of Pina Bausch’ dance theatre are more than just influences: they appear as a model that is clearly appropriate and used, a paradigm which the choreographer exploits with the naturalness of someone finding that this is the right path to follow, this is the way to artistic truth and that the territory has to be explored. She does it with the naturalness of the disciple who respects her master and, I think, with great skill and a lack of pretension. Which is rare nowadays.

It is true that Pessoa (yes, our own!) is only the pretext for the choreographer’s work. I don’t think that Diverrès even set out to explore a Pessoano universe: she has latched onto a few key ideas from the O Livro do Desassossego, stealing them from their author and appropriating them with the careless ease of someone dealing with unarguably universal maxims: no greater homage to our poet could be possible.

The performance itself is made up of a succession of apparently disconnected scenes, in which the soundtrack, which is consistently excellent and coherent, breathes in unison with the tableaux which follow on one from another, in the best Pina Bausch-like fashion, and the ditties from the twenties and thirties unite the disparate and absurd action of the dancers, who are absorbed in their own selves and in their confrontations with each other. This is mainly at the beginning; but as the choreographer cuts herself free, she glosses her formal text and the choreography proceeds with more appropriately raw gestures, in which the spectacular use of lighting, the sets and the excellent costumes combine to create a sense of visual dispersal and a hypnotic atmosphere; the soundtrack switches in tone, from the sound of running water, a confused hubbub of voices (all very soft) to a very out-of-tune violin solo. Visually, this was surely one of the most ravishing shows at this year’s Encontros. In terms of sound, ditto. And then the dancers were superb too (especially the men). Maybe the succession of tableaux ran into a few problems of sequence, perhaps some of the scenes (such as the scene in red with the game of blind man’s bluff) were a bit over-the-top and less interesting, but as a whole we were presented with a well balanced exercise in what it is to be on stage and amaze the audience with simple and effective surprises (the floating vase, the woman 4 metres tall). The ending – with the dancers against the light, and the Foundation gardens in the background, the dancers filing off the stage to the sound of a really forties sounding mambo – reminded me of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. I like that sort of thing, I don’t care what you say… Not original? Does it matter? More to the point, it’s not a copy.

3. Deux Histoires, by Valletti

Two monologues. This was theatre, so I’ll keep it short. But it’s good, very good. He and she are two of those completely out-of-it obsessive beings who get involved in a hard crust of normality only to briefly, imperceptibly reveal the astronomic pitch of the madness and loneliness burning in their souls. These are urban animals. She is Monique Brun, and is waiting for her man, she talks without stopping to conceal her loneliness and obliviously only succeeds in drawing attention to it; the loneliness of single women waiting for a man who never comes (or will come). He is Gerard Morel, and he tells us of his insignificance, the insignificance of his presence at the Brooklyn Conference on the Galaxies. He fails to notice how ridiculous he is, which just serves to make him more pathetic: the pathetic-ness of single men wrapped up in their newspapers and their suspicious way of living, always seeing plots which only exist in their own minds. Valletti has written the script and constructed two brilliant pieces. It was in the Sala Polivalente, and quite excellent.