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CONTEMPORARY DANCE, BETWEEN
A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
by Joaquim Noguero

Despite the lack of a tradition before the 1960s, Barcelona is well represented all over the world by its contemporary choreographers and dancers. Dance in Barcelona is now enjoying a creative period. There is space for older companies and for young choreographers who are just beginning to swim against the current. Much has been done, and this artistic aspect of the city of Barcelona is internationally recognized, but contemporary dance as a whole continues to be totally alternative, ranging from the most experienced to the innovative and experimental.
In dance, there are no commercial equivalents to the panorama of the theatre, because the theatres have been working at this for twenty years, with the consequent stabilization and natural selection. To give an example, the Gelabert-Azzopardi company premieres in the National Theatre of Catalonia (TNC), the Mercat or at Perelada because of the recognition it has received, but unlike the works by Benet i Jornet, Bernhard and the shows based on Shakespeare programmed at the TNC, Gelabert-Azzopardi goes no further than the TNC. The Victòria, Condal and Tívoli theatres, and even the Liceu Opera House, have so far only shown their European competitors or Spanish companies, with much larger budgets, ranging from Nacho Duato to Antonio Canales. Only Ramon Oller, of Metros company, has been programmed with money from the private sector (at Anexa) in Corre, corre, diva in 1998-1999, and this was surely influenced by the fact that the piece took the form of an adapted musical and counted with the participation of the well-known singer Nina.
Despite this, the sector is undergoing a moment of crisis that shows the deficiencies of the professional sector that has been working in the field for many years and which occupies the top of the pyramid (seventeen companies), which are being driven towards where they should be (or towards premature retirement) by the people rising from beneath them who are demanding, more or less explicitly, that a generational change should take place. And what result has this had? One of the large companies, Danat Dansa, has disappeared this season. Yet, at the same, and this is not a contradiction, the venues where dance is programmed are increasing. The National Theatre of Catalonia presents two or three co-productions each season; the Mercat de les Flors is seeking to recover the role it used to play in this sector in the city, as soon as its Ovidi Montllor hall opens; and the CCCB is consolidating its decision to perform in the open air, in the Pati de les Dones, during the Grec Festival.
But dance in Barcelona is not restricted to these venues, as dance has occasionally been programmed at one of the alternative venues, such as the Nou Tarantana, the Artenbrut, Metrònom or the Sala Muntaner, and since a few years ago there have also been fixed dance seasons in some districts, such as Les Corts and Nou Barris. Apart from this, as happens with the poetry recitals that have become popular, dance has taken refuge, rather than hidden, in musical venues like JazzSí, the permanent base of the IBA Group (Associated Improvisers of Barcelona). And this summer, as part of the Grec Festival, there will even be contemporary dance at La Paloma dance hall, where Tomàs Aragay of the General Elèctrica d'Espectacles company presents Paradise, a show recently premiered in France. This is all good news, because, as Domènec Reixach, the director of the TNC, says, "it would be a mistake to think that dance will be saved by the TNC or the Mercat de les Flors: this requires the involvement of more theatres, the alternative venues and the private theatres, both the theatres of Barcelona and those outside the metropolitan area, who should not limit themselves to program the minimum of dance required of them in order to obtain funding for the stable season".
At the moment, thanks largely to the initiatives of the emerging groups, the city continues attracting many new choreographers. Contem-porary dance in Barcelona includes a wide range of very diverse approaches, with radically different styles, traditions, achievements and objectives. According to Carles Salas, the choreographer of Búbulus, perhaps the common denominator of Barcelona's dancers and choreographers is "their creativity, their energy, their freshness. This is why they are recognized all over Europe, because Barcelona is a very lively city, very modern and seductive, full at the moment of audiovisual artists who can also contribute a lot to our shows". Yet, apart from these general characteristics, it is not possible to speak of a specific format for contemporary dance in Barcelona as a whole, in the same way, says Cesc Gelabert, as it is not possible to speak of a single homogeneous "contemporary theatre; we have to change our mindset, and speak of forms of dance, of the diversity of formats and styles that have found their own path".
The main companies of the city might be classified into three groups, depending on the site they occupy on the basis of antiquity, esteem, and intentions. The first group contains the historic companies, which have produced many successful shows and are well considered internationally and by critics. The three largest companies in this sector are: the Gelabert-Azzopardi company, directed by Cesc Gelabert and Lydia Azzopardi, which has been co-resident at the Hebbel-Theater in Berlin since 1995; Ramon Oller's Metros company, which won the National Dance Prize in 1994; and the Lanònima Imperial company, directed by Juan Carlos García, which has worked at the Danztheater of the Komischen Oper Berlin. This group could also be considered to contain: Àngels Margarit's Mudances company; Mal Pelo, led by Pep Ramis and María Muñoz; as well as the defunct Danat Dansa company; Sabine Dahrendorf and Alfonso Ordóñez as independent choreographers; and the unusual I. T. Dansa company, directed by Catherine Allard and consisting of post-graduates from the Institut de Teatre de Barcelona. The TAC (The Active Table of Dance Companies of Catalonia), which brings together Gelabert- Azzopardi, Àngels Margarit-Mudances, Lanònima Imperial and Mal Pelo, seeks to defend the interests of this sector.
What we could call the second group of companies includes most of the profession. In general, they receive less official funding than the above companies, and include a wide diversity of formats and proposals from people who, above all, seem to want to enjoy themselves. This group includes companies such as Nats Nus, from the choreographer Toni Mir, and Maria Rovira, of Trànsit. This group also includes the company Senza Tempo, led by Carles Mallol and Inès Boza; Búbulus, led by Carles Salas; Iliacán, led by Álvaro de la Peña; Roseland Musical, led by Marta Almirall; Sol Pico's company; Malqueridas, led by Lipi Hernández; Pendiente, with Ana Eulate and Mercedes Recacha; Companyia Mar Gómez; Lapsus, led by Alexis Eupierre; Emergències Coreogràfiques, led by Montse Colomé; Color Cia de Dansa, led by Rosa Maria Grau; Atalanta Fugiens; Cia. Roberto G. Alonso; and Cia. Julien Hamilton-Carme Renalies. There are also several individuals (such as Andrés Corchero and Rosa Muñoz, Marta Carrasco, Alexis Eupierre, Carmelo Salazar, Óscar Dasí, Francisco Lloberas, Empar Rosselló, and the theatre director Magda Puyo) and two historic and pioneering companies, which are now almost inactive: that of the choreographer Avelina Argüelles, founder member of Heura; and the Ballet Contemporani de Barcelona, which we can consider to have died after its twentieth anniversary at the Espai in 1996.
Finally, the third group consists of the more recent companies, with companies comparable to the above, such as: Projecte Gallina, led by Emili Gutiérrez; Erre que Erre, consisting of dancers who had worked with Danat Dansa; Increpación Danza, led by Montse Sánchez and Ramon Baeza; and the shows created by Tomàs Aragay for General Elèctrica d'Especta-cles, a "centre of creation", that in addition to Roger Bernat's theatre shows (always with small pieces of dance; the dancer Joan Palau participated in the recent show Flors, at the Mercat) will now include pieces directed by Andrés Waksman and the creations of Sònia Gómez (Americana, presented within L'Espai's cycle Endansa at the Sitges International Festival of Theatre).
The second group includes three of the main creative platforms of recent years: the collectives La Porta (The Association of Independent Dance of Barcelona), La Caldera (Cultural Association for the Development of Choreo-graphic Activities, and the IBA group (Associated Improvisers of Barcelona). La Porta is an independent collective of dance professionals that was inspired by similar experiences in the 1980s-1990s, such as Barcelona Tallers, El Hangar, and Visual. The origin of the Cultural Association for the Development of Choreo-graphic Activities (La Caldera) is similar to that of many other alternative venues: searching for a place to rehearse for one or more companies that feel the need for one, and then managing the space to make more money from it. Since summer 1995, La Caldera has been joined by new companies (Nats Nus, Senza Tempo, Cia. Sol Picó, Trànsit, Iliacán, Lapsus, Búbulus, Las Malqueridas and Emergències Coreogràfiques) who thus have access to some time in one or another of the spaces in the building, a huge factory in the Gràcia district. The third collective, the IBA, arose in response to an initial idea from the pianist Agustí Fernández and has just organized the first International Festival of Improvised Music and Dance, which has brought together more than 50 local and foreign artists to exchange experiences, for open rehearsals, performances, children's activities and showing videos.
The dancer Andrés Corchero accepts that this is an experimental proposal, thought the word does not appeal to him because of its connotations of elitism. "It is true that this is easier to enjoy for a spectator who is used to going to concerts of contemporary music, visiting art galleries and performance art, or to seeing contemporary dance, than for my mother or for some kid who goes to a discotheque every weekend to dance to house music. But I would like to make clear that I don't blame them for it. Those responsible are the cultural managers, they are the ones who are responsible for bringing the proposals of creative artists to the public's attention: by stable programming, by making dance known to young people in school, bringing it to television. All in all, a vicious circle".
Dance is experiencing a lively creative moment, as a point of intersection of several disciplines, as a meeting space for dancers, as a form of expression and communication in a format that is still experimental with its physical material, sometimes absolutely faithful to the laws of the body, and at other times celebrating theatre or visual arts. In fact, dance is structured into rhythms, like music or poetry. It takes place in a real space and time in order to build a space and time that is fictitious, like the theatre: it creates volumes and enters into dialogue with them, like sculpture; and it creates forms and pathways, with forms of movements and colours that may start from pictorial works or videos, a mixture of conceptual abstraction and physical realities. Dance is more multidisciplinary than interdisciplinary; it is not peripheral, but global, even when it is stripped dawn, essential, because no space is shared more than silence. Dance is not marginal, as it has so often been considered, but marginalized, by the realism of other narrative arts.
The problem is felt particularly by the historic dance companies, because, at a moment when they should have a consolidated position that allows them to continue working as rigorously as they have done over the years, they find that Catalonia is not big enough to support them all and does not provide them with any guarantees. Despite these difficulties, Barcelona's creative level is high. Yet comparisons with abroad are inevitable. Juan Carlos García, of Lanònima Imperial, thinks that "We are backward in the European context. In Europe they are backed by politicians who really support them. Here, you just can't get anywhere. Every year, a National Prize is awarded, but it doesn't represent anything, because it is promoting a very homespun, very small, culture. Some marvellous public infrastructures have been created, wonderful, huge, but they have been severely criticized for their programming. Huge amounts have been invested on facilities, but they have not been able to reach agreements on establishing some resident companies. There are some large cultural facilities, which are fantastic but underused."
The large companies are trapped between a rock and a hard place. Above them, the stopper of the institutions. Below them, the new creative artists, who are trying to take their place. Tomàs Aragay, of General Elèctrica, puts his cards on the table. "In both theatre and dance, Barcelona saw a creative explosion that put the city among the leading cities of Europe. Whether it returns to this position now depends on the public authorities, by making use of a moment of renovation. And some of the decisions should be radical, like the leading German theatre that gave the artistic management and lots of money to four guys less than thirty years old, to see what they did with it; decisions like, for example, awarding the artistic management of a space like the Mercat to young collectives who have shown their management ability, such as General Elèctrica and La Caldera. I think this would be enriching for everybody. The experiment has to be actually performed, to see which attracts more people: in the end, the market will call the tune, that's clear, and it doesn't bother me if the producer intervenes and sticks his nose where he is investing his money. It stimulates me. Just look at what happens in cinema."
In fact, some of the recent works from the historic companies are showing the urge to get closer to the public. Gelabert confesses that his last show, the most narrative he has ever produced, uses codes that are readily accessible to main-stream spectators to identify and feel what they see on the basis of their own emotional experiences. There is a definite intention to counteract some managers' accusations that until now the creative artists had made little, if any, contribution to creating a new public for dance and winning the confidence of higher bodies, at a time when, on the other hand, everything is against them. Even in the more advanced Europe countries the state is losing responsibilities to private enterprise: the famous Belgian choreographer Vandekeybus, for example, has just lost his institutional co-residence. But, of course, as there is a public for dance in those European countries, people will offer him work, just as there is work here for theatre stars. But, as Marjoliyn van der Meer asks, about Cata-lonia, "How can we ask people to understand why we have to ensure work for dancers, when there are so many graduates from other areas, from lawyers to psychologists and scientists, who have not found work in their field?".
The cake is small. And while the Catalan panorama is favourable, there is not room for a lot more. This is why there are reservations about the idea of forming a large showcase company that receives all the funding. Fortunately, the manager of I.T. Dansa, Catherine Allard, has always been very respectful when defending the advantage of a showcase company, and does not forget that if the Generalitat put the necessary resources to set up a company of this type, it should not lead to the abandonment of the other companies, where many dancers ought to be able to find work. According to Allard "Nor would it make any sense for there to be an enormous company, that left those who have been struggling for all these years without any funding".
At the moment, both Joan Maria Gual and Domènec Reixach, the managers of the two main stage facilities in Barcelona and Catalonia, recognize that local and national government find it very hard to plan things in the long-term. For Reixach, "The main problem is the amount of money that Catalonia dedicates to culture. Because if our culture is our identity, then our identity is poor. More money should be spent on culture, to make it into one of our emblems, in dance, theatre, visual arts, literature and cinema. But, of course, resources are always short, as they are in other areas, like the health services. One solution might be to guarantee a small number of dancers some degree of stability, so that they do not have to be always looking for funding for their next production. And if there is no production, there is no funding, because what is funded is shows, not companies. And this creates a vicious circle; the choreographers do not have the means to build stable dance companies, or for shared learning and ways of doing things, and nor is there time for reflection and nourishment between one show and the next. We should try to ensure that a few companies have some degree of structural tranquillity to confirm a minimum level of stability so that their work remains demanding and rigorous. This requires time, and if they have to produce shows, perform tours, etc., there is no time to stop and think".
For Joan Maria Gual, the problem of this solution is that "it generates the same problem as an Intensive Care Unit that is gradually filling up with people, who, even though they look perfectly healthy, cannot be discharged because you know that the patient would die outside. This generates overcrowding, and there comes a moment when you cannot accept new patients. So what can be done? The young people have every right to start. But the older ones would also have every right to complain if they were abandoned. It always fails on the same point; the lack of resources and the inability to consolidate the public needed to justify a social investment. Society has to be made aware that this is needed and stimulated to consume more culture, but in end there has to be a demand for it". Thus "It may have been a mistake to import foreign models when Catalonia and its context were very different. As a result of this we still have important deficiencies: no plan to increase public awareness, few resources for training dancers, few venues to perform the shows, etc. The managers are right in the middle of this, but we can not do everything. Schools and the communication media are also responsible, and even the dancers themselves, who should separate and modernize their part of the production process". Without a doubt, a tradition has begun to establish itself. Cultural facilities apart, the gaps continue to be the consolidation of experience. It is now the administration's turn to make a move. Especially those who are responsible for culture in Catalonia, if they wish to show that Catalonia is really a country.