Everyone should do it

André Lepecki: The Portuguese Years

Sarma 17 Nov 2007English

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Contextual note
This text was written by editor Monica Guerrero in the framework of Sarma's Lepecki anthology.

In overall, Lepecki’s earlier texts – as he himself acknowledges – are empiric, a bit messy and exceedingly brave. The courage it took to write in a style both franc and violent can be seen as a product of his inexperience, though it often resulted in accomplished and inspired analysis and sometimes in blunt remarks with little to state other than his own irritation towards the work. That said, it is imperative to recognise the documental value of this opus: when almost no other media were paying attention to the emerging dance scene in Lisbon, Lepecki’s texts in BLITZ made it possible for many of the protagonists of the New Portuguese Dance movement to be reviewed for the first time, or at least to be so in such a free way – in speech and in space, since he was given a full page (in a broadsheet format) to write, whenever events justified. That – both the freedom and nonconformity of his writing and the importance and visibility dance reviews had back then – are now inexistent in Portugal. The culture sections in newspapers are severely narrowed, radio and TV seldom have insights on art that take more than a few minutes and the independent media (small fanzines, free-distributed guides or internet sites) exercise a rather superficial approach and are in most cases practically invisible. There ought to be less than a handful of active dance critics in Portugal (all based in Lisbon), to a universe of over fifty choreographers and companies, thirty of which with a permanent grant by the Arts’ Institute, meaning they have a continuous activity. Needless to say that a huge part of reality is left unreported and so unheard of for all those out of the close community.

In the beginning of the nineties – Lepecki wrote about dance in BLITZ between 1990 and 1993 – the scene was youthful: no organised circuit, few programmers, few festivals, very few money, a big urge to make things happen. A number of choreographers, most of them emerged from short careers as trained dancers, were finally assuming an untamed creativity and presenting their work. They opposed whatever institutions there were, and introduced in their movement novel styles and techniques learnt in workshops abroad. The establishment was represented by the private Ballet Gulbenkian (1965-2005), the greatest and most fruitful company in the country, and the National Ballet Company (from 1977), mainly occupied with classical and neoclassical repertoire. Then, as Portugal opened itself to Europe, and later on to the world, prominent choreographers began to perform regularly in a few venues (mostly, the Gulbenkian Foundation, who organised Encontros Acarte from 1987, or small municipal theatres). So, suddenly, Portugal grew in knowledge of what was happening, and so did our artists: as always, only the best survived. The reader will find among Lepecki’s reviews notes on choreographers who have never again staged anything else in their lives: that’s also a symptom of things. But more significantly, the key artists, who came to deliver identity to the Portuguese dance, were already under his focus. I’m talking about Vera Mantero, Miguel Pereira, João Fiadeiro, Clara Andermatt, Paulo Ribeiro, Francisco Camacho, Joana Providência and others.

It may come as a surprise that the indignation often expressed by the critic about the feeble development of proper conditions in dance is, in some degree, still true today. But a lot has happened since – a lot that did not influenced as much. In 1994 Lisbon was celebrated as European Capital of Culture and in 1998 the same city held the World Exhibition, with the correspondent increase of public funding into artistic events. In the midst of the popularisation of culture, some achievements were made, like the opening of several new venues: but those major events provoked more of a retract on the development of a sustained independent dance movement, than an investment, as money was not injected in stabilising infrastructures but in motivating specific commissions for gigantic productions. This meant that, at the end, as far as working conditions and finances go, the artists were back where they started. They did not obtain any particularly notable status neither did their struggling careers became more recognised by the entrusted powers. But fortunately not everyone was asleep: foreign programmers, as well as some travelled Portuguese ones, came across a boosting energy in their art and made the best at importing the creative drive revealed in choreographies so embedded of Portuguese sentiment (and neurosis) and yet with such a universal flavour. Political blindness – in this and in so many other art forms – may harden the path for artists: but some believe that talent overcomes in brilliance specially if it is expressed through hard processes.

Art review, when anthologised, can be looked upon as a way to redemption: a second chance to read into the work, to recall its eco, to build up a bridge with our time, in this case some fifteen years later, and acknowledge its multiple dimensions. Be it to conclude that art is cyclical and all things progress into repetition; to melancholically verify that nothing will ever feel as authentic as in those days; or to confirm that ours is the time when the good stuff happens. Be as it may, we have a possibility of looking at dance today with a perspective, with a sense of historical reflection. André Lepecki’s confessed proximity with the dance scene provided him with a particular nerve, an appetite for intrepid opinion above critical analysis and a youthfulness in manner. Truth be told, so were many of the artists he reviewed.