Encontros Acarte '92: The life raft (Part One)

BLITZ 1 Sep 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: 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 opened with a theatrical performance in the Belém gardens, facing the River Tagus. Symbol of a new direction, open to the World, or of the state of the dance circuit in Portugal: close to drowning?

The Encontros Acarte started off, under the direction of Madalena Perdigão, as dealing with “European dance-theatre”. As dance-theatre itself has evolved (or theatre-dance, or just dance, given that the reworking of European dance in the eighties, which took its inspiration from theatre, has made the expression “dance-theatre” redundant when speaking about Europe), the label has looked increasingly outdated (which is what happens to labels, they get left behind). So the Encontros adapted to the new situation by declaring their allegiance to “European Theatre and Dance”. Understandable. Dance theatre has existed as a genre, and will probably continue to exist, but some European choreographers are turning back to a language more based on movement – an affirmation of identity.

However, this year’s Encontros Acarte mark a break with tradition and a move away from the specific identity which the festival has claimed for itself on the international scene. This is clear from the choice of the title for the festival, Encontros Acarte 92 – just that, no subtitle – and from the programme, which for the first time has brought in non-European companies. This is an important moment in the history of the festival, and I shall take the opportunity to make a few remarks. I don’t know what might have led José Sasportes, the director of Acarte, to open up this year’s Encontros to the rest of the world. From what I have been able to see at other European festivals and theatres which present regular dance programmes, the fact is that Europe is currently being toured by an impossible number of indescribably tedious pieces which mankind could really just as well do without. However, there is also a lot of good work by European choreographers who have never shown their work at the Encontros, not to mention those who have been invited in the past, but have never returned to Portugal with their latest pieces. (This deprives the audience of the chance of watching an oeuvre, and artist’s identity being constructed, which is something they need if they are to be properly informed).

So, as I say, I don’t know what might have led José Sasportes to have opened the doors of his festival. A lack of faith in European dance, programming problems, or just a desire to extend the dialogue between different traditions? The festival itself will inevitably give us the answers to these questions, as the dialogue between the different pieces programmed gets going, or doesn’t get going, as the case may be. But there is no doubt that by doing this, he has, perhaps inadvertently, raised an alert which it is impossible to ignore: namely that, on the impoverished performing arts scene in Portugal, the programme of the Encontros Acarte is, at this moment, for dance lovers, critics and professionals – dancers, choreographers, stage designers, musicians – not just the reflection of the festival director’s taste, but in actual fact – and absurdly, insanely – a life raft.

With the Belém Cultural Centre sitting idle, with no encouraging prospects (actually, it’s not so much that the prospects aren’t encouraging, more that there aren’t any prospects at all) for its use as an alternative venue for dance performances, with a non-existent government policy for the presentation and production of Portuguese dance, and with the clumsy cancellation of Bienal Universitária de Coimbra’92 which promised to be an alternative focus for dance production and performance after the success of BUC 90 (at which, it may be recalled, more than a dozen Portuguese choreographies were premiered, opening the way for a generation of young choreographers to go on to international careers, via Europália and the Klapstuk’91 Festival), the Encontros Acarte, with six annual festivals under their belt, are once again the last bastion in Portugal for one of the most important forms of contemporary artistic expression, in Europe or anywhere else.

In this desolate landscape, one of the first consequences is that it becomes rather absurd for the critic to assess the validity of the programme for the Encontros. Whilst it remains possible to assess and criticize each individual piece presented, the idea of a Festival is rendered rather meaningless for dance lovers: you go because there’s no alternative. So the concept of value disappears, as any sense of value would depend on the possibility of comparison. And at the moment, in Portugal there’s nothing to compare it to (and a comparison with what happens abroad seems equally impossible, so great is the difference in context).

So we sadly reach the point where we have to say that any sense of direction which might be adopted for the Encontros Acarte (from neoclassicism to folk dance) would make the Encontros successful, which is not the same as saying it would make a good dance festival. And this is bad for the audience, for choreographers, for critics, and for the Encontros themselves. They exist and the only thing that makes them valid is that they go on existing. Whilst the change in direction gives me the chance to see Meredith Monk, instead of the latest generation of American choreographers (Lacey, Kriekhaus, Guergué, O’Connor), which would perhaps be more daring, informative and interesting, the only thing we can do is make the most of it. Because only the Almighty knows when we’ll next have the chance. So let’s make the most of this year’s Encontros.

To end on a less gloomy note, because a festival is supposed to be a celebration, here are some suggestions for what I think will be this year’s highlights. First of all, not to be missed is Josef Nadj, September 5th and 6th in the Main Auditorium. Also essential, at the same venue, is Meredith Monk, September 19th and 20th. Anne de Mey is also worth catching, on the 12th, also in the Main Auditorium. If you’re looking or a culture shock, the Chopi Marimba Band and Dancers, from Mozambique, are performing in the open-air amphitheatre on September 13th, 14th and 15th, and on the 14th and 15th will be Indian theatrical arts in the Main Auditorium, with Annette Leday/Kely. And lastly, look out for the one Portuguese show, João Fiadeiro and his RE.AL Company with a new production on September 11th and 12th, in the Open-air Amphitheatre.