|In 2011 Brazil’s contemporary dance Panorama Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary. Founded in 1992 by the still active choreographer Lia Rodrigues, the festival has provided a cumulative total of some 100,000 people the opportunity to experience contemporary dance in its 20 years. After serving as the festival’s guest curator for the first time in 2001, dance critic Nayse López succeeded Rodrigues as its second director in 2005. In recent years the festival has been actively collaborating in productions with artists and organizations in Latin America, Europe and Japan as well. We spoke with Ms. López about the trends in Brazilian contemporary dance and the Panorama Festival.
[Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi, dance critic]
Development of contemporary dance in Brazil
In Japan until now we have not had many performances of Brazilian contemporary dance. Artists including Grupo Corpo, Deborah Colker, Ismael Ivo and Bruno Beltrão have come to perform in Japan. And, the Brazilian-French artist Mourad Merzouki has come with a work using young people from Rio de Janeiro’s Favela slum. Today we would like to ask you to tell us about the history of contemporary dance in Brazil and the Panorama Festival. To begin with, would you give us a brief summary of the history leading up to the start of the festival?
Historically, dance in Brazil has been influenced greatly by instructors from abroad. In the first half of the 20th century Russian ballet instructors laid the foundation for the later establishment of Ballet Brazil and other movements. There were a number of Russian ballet dancers who had visited Brazil during world tours and eventually ended up making Brazil their base as ballet instructors. For that reason, Brazilian contemporary dance was influenced to a large degree by the Neo-classical movement of the 1930s. In the 1940s and ’50s there were Russian-German instructors who introduced modern dance to Brazil. Besides dance, there was also a strong influence from German Expressionism in theater. Many Europeans fled to South America to escape the World Wars, and among them were many artists who settled in Brazil.
In 1930, Brazil had a military coup d’etat that put in power the dictatorship of President Vargas. With the adoption of a new constitution in 1946, Brazil had a short era of democracy, but another coup d’etat in 1964 installed the military dictatorship of Castelo Branco. During that era until the late 1980s, most of the theater works in Brazil were either ones with strongly political themes supported by the government, anti-government underground works or the theater classics like Shakespeare. In short, the first half of Brazil’s 20th century was strongly colored by cultural colonialism, while the second half was subjected to censorship by the dictatorial government, and both of these influences prevented Brazilian artists from creating works that reflected their true voices. Of course there was ballet from the 1940s at our national (state) ballet companies, which sometimes performed contemporary works as well, but most of the performances were of the repertory works.
During the 1960s and ’70s the scripts of new plays had to be submitted to government censors and approved before they could be performed, but that censorship process wasn’t necessary for dance works. Nonetheless, when a new work premiered, an officer from the censorship bureau would come to see the performance within a few days, and there were cases where the contents were judged to be unsuitable and the theater was ordered to halt performances. In a dance work, however, it was often difficult to explain what specifically was objectionable, so most of the censored works were simply described as “violating the morals of society.” In short, they were order to cease performances because there was nudity. It wasn’t a case where the artists themselves were necessarily trying to make clear-cut political statements.
At the time, Brazil was essentially closed off from the rest of the world by the government, so information about the movements of political activism in Europe and North America in the 1960s and ’70s wasn’t coming in. About all that people had access to was secret showings of films that people managed to smuggle in from New York, and all the information gained that way was already dated. It was the same with information about dance technique. The first information about New York’s Post-modern Dance movement didn’t reach Brazil until 1975, when a member of Twyla Tharp’s group came to Rio de Janeiro as an instructor. So, it was about ten years late.
Then, when the country was freed of the dictatorship opened to the outside world in the 1980s, you began to see artistic works showing greater diversity. I believe that the first truly contemporary dance works began to appear as Brazil entered the 1990s. One of Brazil’s representative dance companies today, Grupo Corpo, was active since the 1970s, but it didn’t become well known until we entered the ’90s. Deborah Colker also became famous in the ’90s.
In Rio de Janeiro, the Mayor appointed a woman as director of the Arts bureau in the 1990s. She was a great fan of dance and the first to create a system for allocating city budget for the support of contemporary dance companies in the city. This was the start of public support for dance in Brazil. At the time there were only six or seven dance companies in Rio, but they became recipients of annual budget that made it possible for them to create works on a regular basis.
That was also around the time when I began my career as a dance critic.
So, you were still active as a dance critic before becoming director of Panorama Festival, weren’t you? Early in the 1990s when you began that career, was there enough demand for dance criticism in Brazil to make it a profession?
No, there wasn’t. However, it is also a fact that the ’90s were a very unique time of great individuality in Brazilian dance.
At the time, I was working at Rio de Janeiro’s largest newspaper. There were no journalists there who could write about dance at the time, and I myself actually started out writing about film, not dance. That was in the ’80s before there was public money supporting dance, so there weren’t even people who were professionals in creating dance works. So, newspapers didn’t cover dance performances and there weren’t any dance critics.
However, once dance companies were receiving financial support and were then able to mount productions on a regular basis, there became a need for journalists who could review them. At our newspaper the woman who wrote our theater reviews was getting on in years. She said she didn’t understand the contemporary dance field and asked me to go and see some of the performances.
Once I started seeing them, I quickly became captured by the art of contemporary dance works. In 1985 all production had come to a halt in Brazil’s film industry for political and economic reasons, and even in the 1990s the movies that were being made were rather poor in terms of content. Films were being made at a pace of just one a year, so there wasn’t much to write reviews about, and more than anything the few films we had were definitely lacking in interest. It was the same in literature, so it was a time when the public naturally turned to more commercial things. In contrast, contemporary dance was experimental and there were many interesting works being produced that dealt with a variety of issues. These factors all led me to begin studying so that I could write dance reviews. Still it was hard to go and see performances after a hard 15-hour workday at the office. Finally, I reached the conclusion that I couldn’t do both and decided to go independent as a critic in 2001.
Soon after I went independent, the Panorama Festival’s director Lia Rodrigues invited me to serve as a visiting curator for the festival. There I took on responsibility for the festival’s international exchange projects and launched the new project BODIES AT RISK (Corpo em risco
). That had me working with Brazilian choreographers. Ceno was in charge of coming up with the project image and the now important Norway-based Iranian artist Hooman Sharifi joined in the project. Both of them were young at the time and shared the concept of beating the dancer’s body against the floor, although they did it with different approaches. The solo piece that Hooman Sharifi presented in 2001 told about becoming an exile after the Iranian Revolution. He is a big man, but again and again he stood on the stage and just let his body fall flat on the floor. It was a very powerful work in which that act of fall continued for 50 minutes. He toured Europe with that work and it became quite famous. The work provoked a lot of discussion about whether it is right to deliberately injure one’s own body like that, but I have continued to bring a lot of controversial works like that to our festival.
I continued to work on Lia’s projects for the festival. Meanwhile, she was finding it more and more difficult to run the festival and also devote sufficient time to her own company, so in 2005 she decided to leave the festival. She asked Eduardo Bonito and myself to carry on leadership of the festival, and that is what I have been doing since.
Development of the Panorama Festival
Would you tell us next about the Panorama Festival?
When it first began in 1992 it was a very small festival, but it got a reputation as a festival that presented cutting-edge works. Budget-wise it was financed on a very small scale and had a lot of problems that reflected conditions in Brazil at the time, but from 2004 the conditions in the government improved and we were able to get financial support and build our connections overseas. On our website you can see a collection of our posters from the past 20 years and you can see that at first they were hand drawn and very simple (laughs). Of course they were posters done by professionals but they also had an amateur feel and were full of hand-made familiarity.
Now the festival has grown so large in scale that we even feel like reducing its size a bit. In the 20 years of the festival there were times when we did programs with political orientations, but in addition to that we are proud of how many artist have started out in Panorama and gone on to be leaders of today’s Brazilian dance scene. For example, Bruno Beltrão, the leader of Grupo de Rua, has done all of his premiere performances at Panorama Festival. Also, as an artist he has personally drawn inspiration from works of other artists that were invited to Panorama Festival. Bruno is now 39 and younger than the generation of artists now in their 50s, but I think that for all of them we can say that Panorama played a crucial role in building their bases as artists.
Although she didn’t have much relationship with Panorama, there is the artist Deborah Colker who does more commercial productions is also in her 50s. She tours Brazil with productions that are very acrobatic like Circe du Soleil and also using grand-scale sets. In 1993-94 Panorama presented her maiden works, but nothing after that.
Would you tell us about the size of the festival’s programs and the budget?
For the 2011 Panorama we had a program of 37 works, and in other years the number has generally ranged from 30 to 35. The philosophy with the Panorama Festival is that we want to attract audience that doesn’t usually go to dance performances, so we set the price of the tickets low. For this year’s festival, with a company like Rosas that requires a large budget, the price of a ticket would be about USD$10. And this is the most expensive of any tickets for performances in our festival. We balance the program overall with performances for a larger general audience and performances of a more experimental nature. The venues for the festival include national (state) theaters, municipal theaters and culture facilities around the city of Rio de Janeiro. This year we use 10 theaters in all.
This year’s festival had the largest budget in our history at one million euro. It is supported with funding from the City of Rio de Janeiro, the state government and corporations. Since ours is not a festival sponsored by the local government, we run it independently. This is a strategy that our founder, Lia [Rodrigues] had from the beginning, and we stick by that stance firmly, making sure that state support does not exceed one-third of our budget. So, even if we lose some of our sponsors we can still continue to operate the festival, albeit on a smaller scale.
We have a total of 15 to 18 sponsor organizations, when you include the international organizations we have partnerships with. We receive $400,000 from the City of Rio de Janeiro, and from the Goethe Institute we receive 6,000 euro worth of ticket sales. We get support in a number of forms. We also get support from the Japan Foundation in Japan.
As a festival, what do you do in the way of growing your audience or nurturing audience?
That is a very difficult thing. Dance is an art form that is difficult for the media to pick up on or cover, because there are many works that are famous internationally but unknown in Brazil. Let me mention two things that we do in this area.
One is to thorough communication of our activities to the dance and theater worlds. Five years ago we began an educational program with two people working on it full-time. They maintain contact with schools, NGOs, social networks, youth program organizations and the like and put together programs of performances of works dealing with the themes of discrimination or gender problems that these groups face. And we distribute a lot of free invitation tickets. Last year we had a total audience of 3,000 people for this program.
Another thing we do is to provide quality works for child audiences. There are many works for children around that just foolish and very few that of truly good quality, so this is a very difficult task. What’s more, forcing children to see low quality performances when they are young can give them a lasting impression that dance is something boring that they don’t like. That becomes a remote buy real factor inhibiting efforts to nurture audiences. This year we have four works for children in our program, and one of them is a very good work by a British artist inspired by the Japanese monster Godzilla. In addition to theater performances we also have works that are performed at parks. These child programs are for schools, and they also expose a lot of the children’s parents to dance for the first time.
In Europe all of the large urban centers today have many festivals for the performing arts and going to dance performances is a part of life. In Brazil, however, going to see dance is not a part of most people’s lives. Unlike music and film, dance is still a difficult art to promote, so we are always experimenting with new ideas to grow the dance audience.
A festival to change the arts environment
Do you have any other new programs you would like to tell us about?
Since last year we have changed the focus of Panorama from purely dance to include a broader range of the performing arts, such as installations using the human body and video works. In the night performances at the Festival Center we now have musicals and sound installations and DJ shows.
We also have a residency program for young artists. It started with a program in Portugal in 2005-06 in which we chose three artists each from Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon and gave them the opportunity to work with any artist in the world on a collaborative project. One of the artists from Portugal chose to work with a Japanese musician. I believe the Japan Foundation helped fund that residency. The second residency program held in 2007-08 involved 22 artists from the UK, Brazil and other South American countries. The programs in 2009-10 and 2010-11 was planned to strengthen connections among the countries of South America and it had artists from four South American countries (Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil) working with amateurs to create works. None of the funding for this project came from Brazil by the way. All the funding was provided by the EU, as part of a large European program held once every three years. We have already received funding twice under this EU program, so I don’t know when we will be recipients again.
We also have two other residency programs besides this. One is the KYOTO EXPERIMENT in Japan and the other is a joint one with the government of the Netherlands. The years 2011 and 2012 have been designated “Years of the Netherlands in Brazil” under a Foreign Ministry related program. Related to this, Marcelo Evelin will be co-creating a new work with a Dutch artist. Another Brazilian artist, Thiago Granato formed a duo with a Dutch artist and performed to our 2011 festival. Their work will be further developed as a finished work for performances in the Netherlands in 2012.
As a festival, we make it our role to find interesting artists and help them get funding, or, when we have available funding we find a suitable artist to commission a work from. For example, it is often difficult for young artists to get funding by applying to foundations by themselves, but if our festival gets together a group of three or four young artists and form a project, the possibility of getting funding is better because of the reputation of the Panorama Festival itself and the fact that the festival will provide the venue for the work when it is finished.
Working in these ways to improve the environment for artists is one of the new missions we have adopted at Panorama. We believe that our festival is not simply for presenting performances but should also become an entity that provides an improved arts environment for the artists and the audience.
Are there other large festivals in Brazil?
In dance there are four large festivals, all of which have histories of over ten years of operation. There are also other smaller festivals and there are some performing arts festivals held from time to time in the south that feature both theater and dance. There are also many theater festivals. And, there are hundreds of festivals held as contests for performers from dance schools. One of the issues I am addressing is how to get those audiences to come to our festival. The performers who are studying ballet or jazz dance at schools only compete in these contests and they never come to see contemporary dance performances. They are dancing ten hours a day but they never go to see [professional] performances. I find this unbelievable, but it is the reality in Brazil.
For example, Marcelo Evelin is based at a national (state) ballet school in a small conservative town. However, the students of that school are told by their teachers that they shouldn’t go to see Marcelo’s performances. This is a phenomenon that is also seen in other parts of Brazil, where traditional dance teachers have a strong resistance to contemporary works. There are three universities in Rio that have dance departments where many students study ballet, but again they do not come to contemporary dance performances. There are also people who go to university to get a license to teach hip hop, but even if they are interested in teaching hip hop in the future, they are not interested in creating works as professionals. Also, in Brazil there are many students who go to university for religious reasons. In order to bring young people to their church, many churches have youth choir or theater groups, and some also have dance groups. Many of those young people end up going to school to get licenses to teach, but they don’t come to see cutting edge contemporary dance.
Panorama Festival programs works that often have strong political orientation or experimental works that are often difficult to understand. The woman who works on our educational program advised us to stop programming works that have men dancing naked because it makes the school teachers angry. She says that if we don’t take those kinds of precautions it won’t be a democratic program and people will come to fear our festival. A friend who organizes a film festival in Rio came to saw one of the performances on the Panorama Festival two years ago. It was a difficult work and there were about 200 people at the performance. After seeing it she said that the work was just too difficult and the 200 people that saw it will probably never go to a dance performance again. Before she left, she added that those 200 people will probably come to the film festival instead. That may be true, but it may also not be true. But, I thing things are the same anywhere. Growing your audience is a very difficult thing to do.
As in the case of residencies, your festival appears to engage in a lot of collaborative projects with countries outside of Brazil. You have worked with Itaú Institute Cultural Observatory and with the British Council.
I am not a member anymore but Itaú was a conference on international cooperation held in 2005. It was originally started in 2001 by a woman dancer from Uruguay as a network for closing the communication gap on the South American continent. It is like the Performing Arts Network that has been started in Asia. Not only is South America a large continent but its countries have quite different and unique cultures. That makes sharing information difficult to begin with. We started the network in 2001 with the aim of getting together for meetings and it developed as we good government funding to hold workshops for choreographers and dancers and get to know each other. The network now has a 10-year history.
Today with the spread of the Internet it is easy to get and disseminate information quickly.
That’s right. Now the information flow is the same whether you are in Rio or Brussels or New York. That is a very good thing, I feel. Because it means people are sharing concern for the same issues. However, it has also led to a phenomenon where all the festivals you go to are showing the same works.
This is not only true in dance but in music and film as well. In the end, you have a situation where creative activities are being overly influenced by who gets the grants and what the critics say. Because what the critics write about works influences trends and whether they get invited to festivals or not. Take Bruno Beltrão for example. Two years ago he was unknown, but now his works are being invited to festivals everywhere. I have known him since he was in his 20s, but his performances in Paris when he was 30 attracted many producers and there was a big sensation where people started calling him a new genius. His performance of H3
in Brussels was a great success. After it William Forsythe came backstage and shouted, “You are a genius. You will become even more important than me!” I said, “You shouldn’t say things like that. He is still only 30. You will ruin his career.” Bruno is still making works with genius, but he and artists like him are always back-to-back with that kind of danger. In Europe now you see the same artists at every festival, but two years from now you it will be different new companies that have taken their place at the festivals.
Our festival has been received support funding to start our website, which is now being operated by specialized staff. We post everything in English and Portuguese and we are trying to listen to voices coming from many parts of the world besides the mainstream from Europe. We post articles about dance in places like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina. Also, two years ago we started a social network on the Internet that has been very successful and now has 4,000 members. When we first launched it, there were doubts about the meaning of it in some people’s mind. They would ask, for instance, what good such a network could be, what kind of connection could a writer in Bolivia possibly make with a ballet dancer in Rio? Rather than things like that, we just wanted to create a network where people who wanted to work together with other artists could meet. Now it has grown into a network that covers the entire South America continent. We are also able to use it to raise funds for international workshops and meeting, and there are exchange programs too. It also reaches beyond South America to countries like Mexico and Central America as well as Spain and Portugal where we share the same languages.
I went to Japan in 2009 to attend TPAM. It was when Itaú organized a conference about the potential of TPAM’s Asia Performing Arts Network. Singapore’s Tang Fu Kuen was there. There, I had an opportunity to talk about our experience with our network in South America, and the first thing I was asked was how we were able to create discussion between the different regions. The Internet is the only way. That’s because there are no foundations that will offer money to pay for airfare just so artists can get to know each other. The best way is for the artists to get to know each other on the Internet. On the Internet there are site you can use and translation software, and there are also ways they can meet if they show and interest in each other.
On the 2011 Panorama Festival program there were works by women artists from Ecuador and Uruguay we originally connected with on our network. We had only actually met them two times. The rest of the contact we did by Skype. By the way, these works were supported by the Iberana Foundation, which offers grants for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries.
You also have strong connections with Europe, don’t you?
Because inn Europe there are a lot of festivals presenting programs rich in variety and quality. However, the relationship with Europe is not a simple one. South American governments don’t provide things like airfare for overseas tours, but the governments of countries like France, for example, will pay for the travel expenses when one of their companies goes on a performance tour to South America. But, that is because there is a clear political motive for supporting performances in South America. Behind the support from European countries is often the desire to preserve the influence of their colonial periods. It can also be said that this factor is the same between Europe and the countries of Africa and Southeast Asia. We oppose this and refuse to follow such policies. For example, when they come to us with a proposal that they want a certain company to tour South America, we answer by saying that we are not interested in that company but another one that is smaller. Brazil’s economic situation has been improving in recent years and the Brazilian government has begun to offer support for performance tours. If our artists are invited to perform in Japan, for example, there is a chance now that we can get funding for the transportation cost. This is something that can be said for most of South America now.
My friends in Southeast Asia often talk about the South Korea government recently. That’s because they are told that if they organize a tour for a company that has the approval of the Korean government the Korean side will pay all the costs. Since that makes it possible to present works without any financial outlay on their part, there are times when the festivals will put those Korean works on their program. And it is not just Korea. As the economic conditions in Brazil, India and particularly China become better they will be providing full support for their officially recognized companies. But, there is a need to be careful about this kind of support. If you don’t, festivals may become little more than travel agencies.
How the arts can become independent
When a festival receives attractive offers like those there is certainly a temptation to accept it, because all festivals are strapped for money, and that is a dangerous trap to fall into when running a festival, isn’t it?
Last night I heard something very surprising. I was talking with the person in charge of culture activities at the Brazilian Embassy and a professor from Waseda University and I asked them about government support for the arts and culture, I was shocked to hear that it is just 0.1% of the national budget. That is a very small percentage, isn’t it? Even Brazil allocates 0.6%. The United Nations is said to recommend 2% as the ideal amount and at least 1% if that isn’t possible. Among the EU nations 1% is the minimum, while France allots 6% and Germany 3-4%. What’s more, I’m told that in Japan’s case that figure includes the traditional arts and culture. That means there must be very little support for the contemporary arts in Japan, it would seem.
I would like to ask your views on the subject of just how independent the arts should try to be from government influence and funding.
Historically, there has been a tendency until now to think that art works are naturally supported by government funding. France established its first agency for cultural affairs in the 18th century, and many nations followed that example. Even in France now, that model has broken down. That is because not all of the arts can depend the nation for support. Now we are seeing that the Internet and other communications modes are helping many people get away from that historical logic.
I believe that from now on “Internet funding” will become very important. For example, if we look at the case of solo works, we will see successful cases of “crowdfunding,” where the artist or producer introduces the project on a website and offers advance-sale tickets to raise funds to implement the project. In a case were it takes $20,000 for an artist to put on eight performances, that money can be raised in time for the performances by selling tickets in advance. There is no need to set up a website with the necessary tight security system, you only have to input your data on a crowdfunding site. A friend in Rio used this system to recently publish a book. Say, for example, that it takes $10,000 to publish a book. You can raise that money through a system where people who make an investment of $5 will get the book sent to them when it is published, while people who invest $10 will get the book and a T-shirt and people who invest $100 will get their name listed n the book as publication supporters. My friend was able to raise the desired amount in just three weeks.
In Brazil’s music world there is a system called the Cube Card system. By using this system, young musicians are able to remain active without depending on the support of a big record label or government funding. It is a square card that is used like currency. For example, there could be a case where a person has a band but doesn’t have the money to rent a studio, and you own a studio. By using the Cube Card you can have that person use your studio time without any actual exchange of money. In short, the card can be used as a means for artists to barter with each other for the skills or assets they each have. The card serves as virtual currency in that bartering process. In Brazil there is a strong communal function in society, which is where this concept comes from. The fishery industry for instance has its own generic currency, and so do a number of other industries in the country. They serve to stimulate the community economies.
I believe that in the arts world we need more of the idea that “we are our own assets.” Of course, there will always be things that have to be paid for in normal currency, but by exchanging services on a barter basis we can significantly reduce the amount of financial transactions necessary. It is not a fundamental solution for everything but it can be used as a means to solve some specific problems. Artists have to use their imagination in a number of areas like this in order to become less dependent on the state for support.
That is wonderful to hear about. Are dancers in Brazil today able to live as professional dancers using systems like that?
In Brazil what you would call professional dancers are either freelance or they are members of the big national (state) companies. Since most companies have funding support, the member dancers are paid a salary like employees. Freelance dancers are hired for individual projects, so they work on a succession of three- to six-month contracts. The contemporary arts have close relationships with the universities, so most of Brazil’s dancers are graduates of universities or graduate schools or are in graduate school. They may be studying graduate students or be teaching at the university level and many of them do their creative work while studying or teaching theory at the universities. Today many young people are studying dance at universities, and many on fellowships to study or create works.
So, most of the dancers in Brazil come from the universities?
That is not necessarily true in the case of technical dancers. Because the universities don’t teach dance technique, young people don’t go to university in order to become dancers. It isn’t that the universities are producing dancers. Most of the dancers have been studying dance from childhood and they go to university to heighten their intellectual skills. People understand that dancers also need theory, and that dance is not technique alone. That is why there are some people who dance as a career for 20 years and then go to university in their 50s to get a background in theory. And there is a relatively new way of thinking in the Brazilian dance world that is basically a contemporary dance concept saying that even if you don’t have a background of training in traditional dance forms like ballet, you can still become an expressive artist.
Latest trends in Brazilian contemporary dance
The other day I listened to a lecture by Christine Greiner. Speaking about Brazilian dance, she said, much like yourself, that she didn’t want people to view Brazilian dance in the context of the usual stereotypes of Brazil as a culture of samba and football. I watched a number of videos of works by Brazilian dance artists, including Marta Soares, Alejandro Ahmed, Vera Sala and Lia Rodrigues. It may have been due partly to the preferences of Christine, but there seemed to be an especially large number of “nondance” style works. On the other hand, all of the Brazilian dance companies that have come to perform in Japan seem to present works characterized by very physical dance movement, while also having a good balance of concept and artistry. Do you have a special interest in nondance at the Panorama Festival?
Let’s make something clear about nondance first. The work of artists like Jérôme Bel and Thomas Lehmen in the latter half of the 1990s came to be called nondance. However, nondance wasn’t created as an independent movement. Rather, it emerged naturally within the context of the development of contemporary dance. There isn’t time to go into this in great detail, but when contemporary dance reached a point where it had to go beyond the limits it had reached, artists began asking the question, “What is the moment dance is no longer dance?” In film, Godard asked in the same way, “Is film still film when all of the recognizable attributes of film have been removed?” If you take away the story, if you remove the time framework, if you remove acting method and the soundtrack, what will be left, he asked. In visual art, artists had already been tackling that question of “What are the elements that make art, art?” from the latter half of the 1950 into the ’60s. In painting, Pollock and the artists around him took that question to the point where they could say, “The result doesn’t have to be painting.” As a way of thinking about art, that was a very complex and philosophical question.
The same thing happened in the dance world in the latter half of the 1990s. This is because dance moves in a slower flow than the other genres of art. Jérôme Bel surely wanted to experiment with questions like “What do you need to do on stage to have it recognized as dance?” or “When you start to do dance does the audience have anticipation about when it will end?” Dance in the 1990s not only made reference to philosophy of the day but also used approaches based on the science of brain function. Richard Dawkins had an especially big impact. Also, the brain scientist Daniel Dennett contributed to knowledge about the body.
Most people watch dance with Cartesian idea that there is thought and there is the body but dance is performed without thinking. They think dance is not done with the mind but with movement of the arms and legs. But, in fact, dance is a process of thought, and standing in a space and thinking is the same as dancing. In the 1990s there was a proposition put forth that even if the dancer is not taking steps, the work can be considered dance if there is choreographic thought involves. That led artists to stop dancing and start thinking. This conceptual approach to dance influenced many Brazilian artists. Thus, the decade from 2000 to 2010 became a decade of experimentation in conceptual art in Brazil.
Among the videos Christine showed was the work O Banho
by Marta [Soares] in which she is in a bathtub and barely moves at all. In Vera [Sala’s] work Impermanencias she made a huge nest out of the steel rods used in construction and hung it from the ceiling in a wonderful installation. She placed herself in the nest surrounded by steel, but it was not a case of “not moving.” Rather it was a case of setting limits on the body’s freedom of movement. She is a marvelous dancer and her works in the past were full of movement, but she turned to this type of [limited motion] works in recent years. In contrast, Grupo Corpo presents works in which the dancers are constantly in motion. The group’s artistic director, Rodrigo Pederuneirasu is an intellectual and the foundation of his thought as a choreographer is what forms the human body can create and whether those forms can create communication. That is his approach.
Among the other artists participating in our festival is Meg Stuart, whose works sometimes make you wonder what in the world she is trying to do. In that case, prior to the question of making it easier for the audience to understand comes the more fundamental question about the need for communication itself. That leads to a state where the artist intentionally avoids showing any keys to her intentions in a work. Alejandro Ahmed is the type who spends a lot of time in working out dance movements, so he seemed to fall behind this [nondance/conceptual] trend and thus didn’t appear in our festival for a while. But, now that there is a growing trend calling for works with more choreographed dance movement, he has returned to our program.
As for Jérôme Bel, when you look at his recent work The show must go on
with an understanding of the intention (philosophy) behind the work, you will find it to be an excellent work that deals with the theme of collective memory and the body. Even it you don’t know that, it is a work that you can enjoy purely for its humor. So, it is not the case that Panorama Festival is selecting works on the basis of whether they dance or nondance. Rather, our choices reflect the trends that emerge in each era.
The relationship between Brazil and Japan
Brazil has many immigrants from Japan. Can you see any influences of Japanese culture?
Japan is far from Brazil and it is expensive to travel there, so few people do. But, there are a good number of choreographers and other artists in the performing arts in Brazil who have been influenced by Japanese culture. Many Brazilians have attended workshops held in Paris or New York taught by Butoh dancers who studied and performed under Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Although these Brazilian dancers may not use the body exactly the same as in Butoh, there are Brazilian choreographers who create works based on the theme the spiritual approach behind to traditional Japanese use of the body and movement.
However, I don’t think there is any need to make easy connections between Brazil and Japan today. If you go to the Japanese towns in Brazil you will find young Brazilians who are wearing the same fashions as Japanese teenagers and listening to J-pop. But outside the Japanese towns there are very few connections to Japanese culture. I don’t like J-Pop but I find many very interesting Japanese composers and visual artists and I want to make them more familiar to the people in Brazil.
Since there are Brazilians studying in Japan, I think it would be good if we get more collaborations going with Japanese artists. In the 2012 Panorama program we are planning to collaborate with KYOTO EXPERIMENT festival in Kyoto Japan and I hope it will lead to more points of contact between Japanese and Brazilian contemporary artists.
Finally, I would like to ask you about the Japanese artists you are interested in and the projects you have planned for the future.
In European festivals you often find the stages of chelfitsch
and faifai on the programs. When I saw them several years ago in Tokyo before they became well known I thought their works were good with their sharp, underground air. Most South American festival program directors come in contact with Japanese works at American or European festivals, and I think it is good that they can get to see Japanese artists there.
Christine Greiner, who has come with me to Japan this time, has worked with the Japan Foundation office in Sao Paulo for 15 years inviting Japanese artists to Brazil. That is one reason why many works by Japanese artists have been performed in Sao Paulo. Of those, the biggest production was True
performed by Takao Kawaguchi
. This year we present a work in our festival a trio work with him, Dick Wong of Hong Kong and a Chinese artist. Also, we are planning a residency program with Tadasu Takamine
in collaboration with KYOTO EXPERIMENT.
In the KYOTO EXPERIMENT this time we were able to introduce some companies in Japan that are already famous, and we had Marcelo Evelin’s work Matadouro
invited to Japan. It is a powerful work with a strong political message. Marcelo is an important figure in the Brazilian dance world. He has been active in Europe for 20 years now and currently serves as full-time curator for the Hetveem Theatre in Amsterdam. His company Demolition Inc. is from a stark, impoverished area in northeastern Brazil that doesn’t even have an art museum, and this work was born in that environment. Brazil isn’t only Rio de Janeiro. I thought this was a work that I thought would communicate to the Japanese audience even without any connection to the images of the Japanese community in Sao Paulo. As Christine points out, the roughness of Marcelo’s physical movement and other elements have very interesting connections to Japan. And, even if it is not intentional, it is especially interesting how it became like a mirror reflection. I hope we will be able to introduce more artists like Marcelo in Japan.
Also, in the future I want us to find ways to share information about Japanese contemporary art and performing arts translated into Portuguese and information about Brazil translated into Japanese.
Thank you very much for your interesting talk.