Vera Mantero: Empty handed Vera

BLITZ 28 Apr 1992English

item doc

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 train is heading for Lille. We’re going to give the final performance in a mini-tour of France with the solo Perhaps she could dance first and think afterwards. Chatting and laughing, I try to conduct an interview. A “serious” interview is impossible: not only won’t she let me, because, as she says, “I’m fed up of giving polite answers to the same old questions”, but also because she “can’t take me seriously”. But what she thinks and says is serious.

Vera Mantero now lives in France, where she works in Catherine Diverrès’ company. One day, when we live in a country with a real arts policy, it might just be that someone somewhere will remember to put on some contemporary Portuguese dance and then we might see her work here (along with that of other choreographers, while we’re at it). When I’m talking to her, I have the feeling the interview will help us to understand what her dance is about. Because, although as an interviewer I may be deficient in the art of asking questions, friendship is still the best way of loosening the tongue:

V. M.: No way do I want to talk about dance! Look, one thing which is driving me completely mad is an excess of words, discourse. One thing that I really enjoyed reading the other day was an article by someone who talked about “prêt-à-penser”. It was a critique of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film, L’Amant, based on the book by Marguerite Duras (apparently she didn’t like the film). The critic really hated the film and can’t stand the filmmaker and talked about the excess of discourse, about “prêt-à-penser”, which is: everyone has access to every idea, anyone can get hold of books, articles, films, and so take over a series of formulas and concepts and start to spout discourse, quoting Marx and Freud and Mallarmé or whoever they like and in essence nothing means anything, it’s all very debased... At the moment I have the feeling that I need to shut up! Do you see? I really need to shut up and keep quiet in order to manage to make a decent gesture or to say a decent word… I can’t listen to any more. There’s a lot of noise… But at the same time I feel myself doing this, I feel myself doing this a bit… But this silence, the sensation of nothing being very important: a person is very exposed when he comes to you empty handed, when he comes with nothing. I think this feeling is like the feeling of plenitude, however paradoxical that might appear. I think that when we are very impressed by a piece it is because there is a stripping away. This nakedness, presenting yourself naked to people, is a way – as a performer and even as a spectator, I think – of arriving at what is “artistic”. For instance, in dance, just to be contradictory and talk about dance, to talk about “ideas for choreography” is something I abhor. Look, I too have ideas for pieces but I hate to think about ideas for pieces in the sense of “that’s clever”, you see, or “that shows how intelligent I am”, or “I’m going to have the cleverest idea of the year and win a competition, and people will say the idea is very good”…

A. L: Like Angels Margarit’s Atzvara: “the atzvara is a fruit which is borne once every hundred years: let’s do a dance to celebrate this oh-so-poetic theme”. Or those more intellectual themes: “the Ego is reflected in the narcissism of the body: f(r)a(c)talism or post-modernity? (laughs)

V. M.: Yes, I think so. People are interested in making sure other people realize they’ve got a good idea, or plenty of good ideas, when it’s not a question of art, because art is pointless unless we talk about the question of existence. In essence, it’s all a question of honesty, of ideas which have really been through a true personal experience – physical or psychological, or both – but an experience which creates these ideas. You have to feel the ideas, instead of just having something conceptual, outside you, and you say, A plus B makes and interesting C. That might even be very interesting but we have to reach a supreme level of not knowing anything, which is much more interesting. To get out of the normal course of things, not having any idea where we’re heading, getting past all the types of questions to which we already know the answers...

A. L.: But there are interesting conceptual things...

V. M.: If conceptual things are interesting it’s because they have been through an inner experience of the artist, something that goes through the person and carries him to that conclusion. It’s not by looking at something on the outside that a guy says “Hey, that’ll be really great” and winks. I can distinguish the smart-arses better in dance, but for example, Barton Fink was a bit of a smart-arse… That wallpaper pealing off...

Also in connection with film, Depardieu is promoting that series of films on John Cassavetes in Paris and one thing I like a lot in Cassavetes is that I think he manages this honesty, this quality. He says, “given that nothing exists, given life isn’t anything, and everything is absurd, then I’m going to let rip and do these things.” He doesn’t say, “I’m going to do cinema”; he says, “I’m going to let rip with these materials I’ve got”. And I think that’s his great advantage. Although I don’t like what he says – I think I’m the only person who doesn’t like what he says – I really like the way he says it. Because he says “there isn’t anything”, he strips himself down, and he does something not because he’s going to “do cinema”, not because he has that “clever” idea of cinema, but because he throws himself into doing whatever comes out, and he has a terrific freedom doing what he does… He doesn’t care about codes and conventions about what “cinema” should be…

Do you understand? When I say that we have eliminate the noise, keep quiet, it’s the same thing. When I say eliminate the noise and present ourselves to the audience empty-handed, it’s the same thing, getting out of that noise, away from all those things which are just a sordid mess, and move onto a more essential plane. By stripping ourselves down it is easier for us to reach something essential, and we stop pretending. We need to touch the essence of things every day.

A. L.: How do you manage that?

V. M.: Well, at home I have a little box with an electron inside… (laughs)… every day I touch it… (laughs uproariously, so the whole carriage is staring at us).

pA. L.: Don’t you think people who read this will think you’re just putting it on?

V. M.: Well, can’t they think that? They can find it very pretentious. Look, there’s one thing you can tell the audience: I’m a bore! (laughs) I’m really irritating, I’m always criticizing people, the French can’t stand me, I can’t stand myself… You can even say… You can also say that life is a big lie! (laughs) Really! It’s true!...

A. L.: Well, even so I think that after going through a period of serious doubts, you have started believing in dance again…

V. M: I think so… But I think that if I believe it must be because I’m not thinking properly, I must have got it wrong… (laughs)