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Flashback, 9-1: Sintra -- A Waking Dream
A Dance Festival Blooms Amongst the Castles, and a Dance Scene Emerges
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001, 2005 Darrah Carr
(Editor's Note: To
celebrate its fifth anniversary of being online, the Dance Insider
is revisiting its Flash Review Archives. This Flash Dispatch originally
appeared on October 12, 2001.)
SINTRA, Portugal -- The
first person I met in Portugal described his hometown of Sintra
as "a place of mountains and mist. You wake up in the morning, surrounded
by mist, so that you slide into your day as if you are still dreaming."
Indeed, Sintra embodies a dreamy, magical fairy tale. The town of
20,000, nestled in the hills just 28 km northwest of Lisbon and
about a half hour from the Estoril Coast, was once the royal family's
Summer retreat. It boasts three castles that are visible from nearly
every vantage point in the area. The foreboding ruins of the Moorish
castle snake along the hillside; the fanciful, incredibly extravagant
19th century Pena National Palace dominates the opposite mountain
top; the elegant 15th century Sintra National Palace presides over
the town center.
In addition, numerous
villas dot the hillsides, looming behind every curve of Sintra's
winding roads. The most fascinating of these, Quinta da Regaleira,
was built in the early 20th century for Antonio Carvalho Monteiro,
a Brazilian mining millionaire linked to freemasonry and mysticism.
His lush gardens hide a secret initiation well that drops 30 meters
to reveal a labyrinth of underground tunnels and water passages.
Further along the road, one finds the Palacio de Seteais, a luxury
hotel whose gardens are home to Sintra's annual, international dance
festival, Noites de Bailado. Under the artistic direction of famed
Portuguese dancer Armando Jorge, the festival presents a wide range
of classical and contemporary dance, including the following companies
during the 2001 season: Paul Taylor, Monte/Brown, the Scottish Ballet,
Russian Theatre Ballet Grigorovich, Aterballetto, and the Ballet
Deutsche Oper am Rhein.
Among the performances
I watched was the Ballet Deutsche Oper am Rhein's interpretation
of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Artistic Director Youri Vamos dedicates
himself to re-interpreting the classics on a continually deeper
level, rather than experimenting with new dance vocabulary. In his
opinion, "The object is not to make new things. Because, what is
new today? The question is not about new steps, but about how deep
you can go. If I write a book, there is not one word I use that
is new -- it is (about) how I use the words. In ballet, it is how
I use the classical vocabulary. If I try to go deeper, I see the
possibilities within this language."
Living up to this philosophy,
Vamos created the most provocative dance version of "A Midsummer
Night's Dream" that I have seen. The story-line was clear, the delivery
was humorous, and the dancers' technique was flawless. Vamos choreographed
two identical Pucks to deploy the mischievous antics of the plot.
Similarly, when Oberon was angry, his role multiplied to include
six identical, enraged Oberons. Increasing the number of dancers
in order to mirror the increasingly complex emotions of the plot
proved to be a highly effective choreographic tool. At other times,
Vamos relied on gesture to convey the twists in the story. In doing
so, he managed to interweave pedestrian movement and classical vocabulary
with great ease, so that neither movement style appeared disjointed
The evening was not only
a pleasing blend of pedestrian and classical movement, but also
a stunning match of setting and story. Armando Jorge deliberately
chooses companies whose work can be well integrated into the beautiful
setting of the palace's gardens. The festival's mission was perfectly
fulfilled in this case. Sintra being a place of misty forests and
waking dreams, it is ideal for an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's
"A Midsummer Night's Dream."
While the Noites de Bailado
are certainly a highlight of the Portuguese dance calendar, considering
the high caliber of companies invited to perform in such a spectacular
space, there is a wide range of dance activity happening in and
around Lisbon as well. During my stay, I was privileged to attend
rehearsals of two vastly different, but equally compelling choreographers:
Vasco Wellenkamp and Joao Fiadeiro.
Wellenkamp, who was the
resident choreographer of the prestigious Gulbenkian Ballet for
twenty years, founded the Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Contemporaneo
in 1998. It is a lovely company, of sixteen inspired and inspiring
dancers. Watching them rehearse reminded me of all that is both
graceful and soulful in the art of dance. I especially enjoyed Wellenkamp's
Dancas Portuguesas set to Portuguese guitar music by Carlos Paredes.
Six women arched, curved, and spun throughout the piece, reverberating
like the plucked strings of the featured instrument. His Sinfonia
de Requiem set to Benjamen Britten's score, is a tribute to victims
of the Holocaust. The dancers cut through space like birds of prey
until they eventually reached a peaceful resting place. I was also
impressed by young choreographer Rui Lopes Graca, who just finished
his first piece for this company, a fast paced work set to Japanese
Taiko drumming and filled with innovative partnering.
Joao Fiadeiro is another
a young choreographer, whose work has gained much notice, particularly
in Portugal and France. The rehearsal for his new work, Aicnetsixe,
was highly experimental in nature, incorporating text, improvisational
elements, and interesting choices of props. His five performers
explored issues of gender roles and sexual identity through various
means, including cross-dressing and explicit sexual gestures. I
regret that I could not understand the Portuguese text, for the
work was highly provocative and I imagine it would have been even
more so, had there not been a language barrier for me.
Fiadeiro is a leading
figure in the intellectual life of Lisbon's modern dance community.
Since 1993, his company, RE.AL (Resposta.Alternativa) has organized
the "LAB-Moving Projects," a series of events designed to provide
space and time for experimentation, to encourage philosophical debate,
and to share contemporary artistic thought. The results of these
labs were recently published in an interesting, bilingual (Portuguese/English)
book, "DOC.LAB." Fiadeiro's insights are also featured in "Dez Mais
Dez," a publication of the Lisbon-based dance service organization,
Noting the relative newness
of the contemporary dance scene in Portugal (its been developing
rapidly since the late 1980s), Ezequiel Santos, Director of Forum
Danca, describes the organization's goals as evolving with the changing
needs of a growing community. He explains, "In 1990, our founding
goals were to raise the level of theoretical debate within the community
and to bring dance to populations that were not familiar with it,
including the elderly, children, and special needs audiences. Through
education we prepare audiences of the future." Forum Danca publishes
a community newsletter and maintains an important documentation
center. It is currently trying to secure its own dance studio, in
order that it may offer technique classes and host choreographic
showings. Another focus s dance writing and how to provide specific
training to critics.
It was interesting to
catch a glimpse of Lisbon's experimental modern dance scene and
find it thriving alongside the country's appreciation for classical
ballet and traditional folk dance. Shortly after meeting with Santos,
I wandered over to Lisbon's oldest Fado house for a taste of traditional
song and dance. Fado, a musical genre indigenous to Lisbon, is often
regarded as Portugal's national music. It is frequently melancholic
in tone, featuring songs that deal with disappointed love or betrayal.
Between these haunting melodies, six dancers entertained an audience
of mostly tourists with traditional group dances. In bright costumes,
they interlaced with pleasing figure dances. The men really caught
my attention, however, with a form of hard shoe step dancing that
looked similar to Irish dance. Could it be the next "Riverdance"?
Maybe a 'Tagusdance"?
Back in Sintra, one finds
that the modern is also establishing itself next to the historic.
The town is host to Portugal's first contemporary art museum, which
opened in May of 1997. The Sintra Museu de Arte Moderna houses the
private collection of Jose Berardo, an impressive trove of 700 pieces
including works by Miro, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. Plans
are in the works for the museum to be attached, both literally and
philosophically, to Sintra's brand new theater facility, the Centro
Cultural Olga Do Cadaval, named in memory of a beloved Italian patron
of the arts who married a Portuguese marquis. The state-of-the-art
facilities include a spacious 980 seat theater with full orchestra
pit, a more intimate 300-seat theater, multiple vocal rehearsal
rooms, and every dancer's dream of a dance studio. The space boasts
a gorgeous sprung floor and one wall of glass doors that not only
let in the sunlight, but let out onto a terrace overlooking the
The gleaming facilities
are under the direction of the Sintra Quorum, a newly formed organization
charged with promoting, organizing, and managing the town's cultural
activities. It is a great responsibility, as well as an high honor,
for Sintra was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
It is a well-deserved designation, for within the natural beauty
of its hillsides, the town cradles an incredible array of historic
sites and cultural events, one of the most notable being the Noites
de Bailado. Indeed, the Palacio de Seteais is one of many gemstones
on Sintra's mountain fingers; the dancers who grace its gardens
make it sparkle.
(Editor's note: Travel
and lodging assistance provided by the Portuguese Tourist Bureau.)
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