Bagnolet selection: Dance in the capital

BLITZ 7 Mar 1992English

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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)

The Teatro Maria Matos played host to the six choreographies put forward for the preliminary selection platform for the Rencontres de Bagnolet, in France. Two artistically lukewarm evenings, but an important event for the nomadic (i.e. homeless) Portuguese dance scene.

“There are no posthumous works in dance”. With this phrase, Corrine Niclas sums up the primary impulse behind the choreography festival in Bagnolet. To produce, show and support contemporary creators of dance, because to live by dancing is to live only in the present – because it only exists live. For this reason, even taking into account that most of the pieces presented at the Lisbon platform were not of great artistic quality (and in some cases, even the technical quality was lacking), the two evenings in the Maria Matos were extremely important: it’s a long time since we last saw “independent” dance presented in the capital under these conditions (by which I mean only a stage, reasonable comfort for the audience and good technical facilities). In the hangover from Europália, and given the lamentable policy which the State Department of Culture insists on implementing (or not implementing, as they have no policy at all for dance), the production and presentation of new work seems to be increasingly difficult in Portugal. These events in Lisbon could be the launch pad for chance to see contemporary Portuguese dance in Lisbon at least once a year. (As I’ve said before: do you want to see New Portuguese Dance? Go to Glasgow, Rennes, Lille, Paris, Hamburg, Madrid, to see pieces by Mantero, Camacho, Fiadeiro, Providência, etc., etc.).

Well, now I’ll have to get down to criticism of the pieces. I increasingly wonder whether the role of journalistic critic serves any point at all other than advertising the choreographies he likes and providing a hate object for the free evenings of the choreographers not lavished with praise. One of the theatre men, critics and essayists I have come to admire is the Spaniard, António Lera. This gentleman said, quite correctly, that to say that a piece is good or bad is a job for the Pope. He’s completely right. It’s a role which entails authority. And perplexity. And so I shall start, utterly perplexed, to give my critique of the first choreography presented at this event.

1. 7 Cores (7 Colours), by Victor Linhares

The music is a collage of various excerpts from different works by Puccini. The cast features leading names from the Portuguese ballet scene (Cristina Maciel, Luísa Taveira, Isabel Fernandes, Fátima Brito, and others). In the final choreography, the unfortunate ambiguity of a mutilated language. By opting for classical music, and to use bodies trained in classical technique, whilst clearly searching for a language free of classicizing codes, Linhares has tried unsuccessfully, in my opinion, to create something in which the lead would be taken by the confrontations and tensions inherent in a clash of different traditions and models. A rather simple post-modern proposition: a collage of fragments out of their context. The result is, as I have said, far from being even slightly satisfactory. The dancers, displaced from the language and technique which support them, got lost in solos framed by a posse of school kids. The choice of this context, in dubious taste in itself, did not stem from any play of meaning or even of nonsense. Things and movements followed on from each other just because they did. The amateurishly thrown together soundtrack and the bad lighting design completed the unfortunate presentation of a choreography with no meaning or aesthetic content. Or form, for that matter.

2. Fuego Quieto by Debora Greenfield

Fuego Quieto is a quartet very nicely performed by four female dancers who, to the sound of stripped down Flamenco, percussion and more or less abstract sonorities, take part in a choreographic game with precise and clearly demarcated rules. I would see this piece almost as an exercise, successfully and correctly put together, which would serve very well for a final examination in a degree course in choreography. But it lacks sufficient verve in its ideas or form or something, because nice, clean, pretty art seems to me to make less and less sense these days. Can you see the position of strength of the critic in action? Greenfield’s piece is well constructed, the hand movements she explores are interesting and well through out, both symbolically and in terms of the “history” or “ethnography” of Flamenco dance, the lights and soundtrack and costumes fit in perfectly with the choreographic work, but the critic goes and says he doesn’t like dance when it is only perfect bodies in a harmony of synchronous and beautiful movements. He likes ugly things. Damn the critics.

3. A Ilha dos Amores by Rui Nunes

This piece won the third prize in the Lisbon choreography competition, in which all the pieces entered directly for the Lisbon selection platform competed (the first and second prizes were not awarded. The other competitors were 7 Cores by Victor Linhares and Memória das Flores by Francisco Pedro).

I have to confess that after seeing this piece various times in contrasting venues, I think that, despite everything, it really makes sense as a stage piece (i.e. the whole piece makes sense) on small, claustrophobic stages, which to an extent constrain the broader movements of the dancers, which emphasise the insularity of the bodies condemned to touch each other, to live permanently in each other’s presence, for passion or for conflict. The strength of performing arts shows lies in constant dynamic change. Here, on the stage of the Maria Matos, I felt that although the performance by all the dancers was significantly better than when I saw them in Belgium, at the Klapstuk Festival, Ilha dos Amores presented itself more as an archipelago of somewhat unconnected emotions and actions, with no centre. A centre which, again, I think can be found when the action is concentrated in a smaller space. And with more care in the treatment of the figure performed by Ezequiel Santos.

4. Memória das Flores (The Memory of Flowers) by Francisco Pedro

Francisco Pedro is an excellent dancer. And this piece shows how, sometimes, producing work “to order” or for a programme can be counterproductive. The rules of the Bagnolet Festival require the choreographies to have at least three performers. Obviously, there was no getting round this requirement, and this, in my view, was Francisco Pedro’s greatest problem in Memória das Flores. The piece is, in fact, no more than a long illustrated solo, performed by Francisco Pedro, to the sound of Bach, Mozart and Philip Glass. There would be nothing wrong with this solution (it’s always healthy to subvert the system), if it weren’t for the evident redundancy, not to say complete irrelevance, of the other two dancers, especially the “role” taken by Ana Bergano. After a while it becomes clear that this is all about the pure enjoyment of dancing to music that the choreographer likes, which is all very salutary in ethical and aesthetic terms, but the inspiration seemed to run out half way through and then it got a bit monotonous. Only in the final part, when the movement becomes broader and more “dancey”, with the dancers moving up from the back of the stage towards the audience, does the piece start to pick up, but the technical skills of Bruno Cochat and, principally, Ana Bergano, contrast too starkly with those of the choreographer himself and the result was not brilliant. But I think we can expect more of Francisco Pedro. And better.

5. Só um bocadinho, by Clara Andermatt

In terms of the audience’s reaction, this was the piece of the two evenings. And in terms of my reaction, too. With Só um bocadinho, first performed in 1990, we can understand the artistic path which Andermatt has sought to explore in her subsequent works as seen at Acarte. And we can appreciate this more. Because in Só um bocadinho her obsessions and idiosyncrasies – sexuality, or rather, raw, naked sex, the ridiculous nature of sociability, the manipulation of her own symbols which form an Iberian bestiary, humour – are seen concisely, precisely, free of Baroque artifice. The choreography goes straight to the point, she neglects transitions, explanations – no time to lose with such details. The piece works on the actual poetic plane of dance: no narrative, just delirious imagery. The sets and sound serve the piece well, with a professionalism only equalled at this event by Rui Nunes’ A Ilha dos Amores. I was left wondering whether I liked the end of the piece, which is rather abrupt and unexpected. And I decided I did.

6. Meeting Point by Monica Runde

A gentleman I regard very highly called Gregory Bateson said one day that allegory is not art, it is the worst of the perversions that can happen to art. To use an aesthetic medium to transmit a pedagogic message is the first step to artistic disaster. Monica Runde’s piece quite openly sets out to provide a history lesson on the evolution of a punk, from her birth – literally – through to her first leather jacket, and the consequent experiences of passage – sex, drugs, revolt against the older generation. Whilst if we were to analyze (or psychoanalyze) the piece, it would be extremely stimulating (mainly the huge womb in a phallic form, where the protagonist has her first sexual experience), in choreographic terms, the piece is as boring as hell. Canons, arabesques, “she runs to him and leaps clutching on to his trunk” (the most overused movement in the history of contemporary dance), jazz dance unisons, staring defiantly at the audience – none of this works at all. Not because we’ve seen it before. I don’t think art is an absurd quest for the new. But because all she has done is to string together a series of formulas, superficially and without meaning, a lack of meaning which results from the lack of artistic talent and not from any surrealist or Dadaist or any other impulse. Insincere and unintelligent. Bad art, because it is built on the cliché of pseudo-revolt.