Daniela Cruz in Cristina Planas Leitão’s UM [unimal]. Photo © Susana Neves

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PT19: On being, enduring and becoming the performing body

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Daniela Cruz in Cristina Planas Leitão’s UM [unimal]. Photo © Susana Neves
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This is a edited version of a longer text originally written in Finnish, commissioned for Liikekieli.com magazine (FI)

Riikka Laakso
Controlling, uncovering and being the performer’s body, at the 2019 Portuguese Platform for Performing Arts

The 2019 Portuguese Platform for Performing Arts offered an insight into the vivid field of dance and theatre. The organiser O Espaço do Tempo, holder of an international artist residence programme, has during its 18 years of work offered inspiration for choreographers such as Jefta van Dinther and Marlene Monteiro Freitas. This year the platform, familiarly called PT19, was an intense mixture of 17 original works: from Turning Backs placing the audience in the centre of the action to Tânia Carvalho’s intimate midnight concert, to Jonas & Lander’s spectacle with a swimming pool and drones, or to meticulously elaborated research-based performances on dance and society.

Three performances lead my thoughts to the performer, to the hard-working and tireless body constantly offering itself to the audience.

In Cristina Planas Leitão’s UM [unimal] the dancer Daniela Cruz enters the stage and, following the choreographer’s instructions made audible by a microphone, takes off her clothes. She then puts on a uniform for the performance: a dark fashionable jumpsuit and black combat boots. From now on the choreographer connects with her through headphones; only they know what is said. The dancer starts an endless marching, following a beat that fills the space. By accentuating the tiny but visible transformations of the body, the marching movement slowly transforms from the hips into a sexy Beyoncé-style walking, or grows into a spatial shift that captures the small intentions of the head. The body’s multiple tiny gestures become material for individuality, they are possibilities for change, while the almost obsessive marching machine mutilates all human details, creating a violent and desperate ambience. In our current time, considered with questions of abuse or limits in relation to performers, a dancer waiting for instructions from a faceless choreographer – placed in the darkness of the theatre balcony – inevitably suggests questions on power, hierarchy, authority and artistry. If the dystopic structure was supposed to be questioned by irony or by the resistance of the living body, unfortunately it didn’t reach me.


Dancing machine: Daniela Cruz in Cristina Planas Leitão’s UM [unimal]

A long-time actress and director, Mónica Calle has since 2015 been building the project Rehearsal for a Cartography, where (around) 12 performers keep gathering in front of an audience to rehearse certain tasks. Naked. Physical tasks, such as repeating a movement in strict formation to recordings (three in total, played in full each time) of Ravel’s Bolero. Or a musical task, where the performers, with little previous experience on playing an instrument, rehearse a fragment of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with violins, cellos and double basses. The bodies discover these places of rehearsing – filled with not-knowing and imperfection – where discomfort is revealed through vibrating skin, fragile and false notes, or faces expressing extreme concentration. Textures of vulnerability and humanity. This two-hour performance employs repetition and duration to remove masks and abandon control: to be able to reach the intimacy of a body – a site of the performer’s privacy – struggling to succeed.


Performance or rehearsal? Textures of vulnerability and humanity in Mónica Calle’s Rehearsal for a Cartography. Photo © Bruno Simão
Performance or rehearsal? Textures of vulnerability and humanity in Mónica Calle’s Rehearsal for a Cartography. Photo © Bruno Simão

A third piece reflecting on the performer’s role does that by actually removing the performers: the spectator has no bodies to look at, but becomes active in the work. Turning Backs – a proposal by Lígia Soares, Rita Vilhena and Diogo Alvim – seats the audience on two large benches, literally back-to-back. I’m leaning on a tall, bony male-back, squeezed between two full-figured co-spectators. A sensation of excitement and odd safeness. Words start to appear on the screen in front of us, we read aloud, I enjoy the perfect British English of my partners, resonating in my body through the contact. A dialogue between the two benches, receiving a different input from the screens. Then playing with rhythms, loudness and whispering: we turn the textual score of the screens into sound, and decide how to interpret it. A pleasure in reading together, annoyance with quite repetitive dramaturgy, a hint of boredom or momentarily playfulness flows from body to body. Directly and with no censure. We are asked to get involved, but sometimes we just prefer to turn our backs: to decide not to perform. And face the challenge to be intimate with strangers, in silence, touching.


The set for Turning Backs (devised by Lígia Soares, Rita Vilhena and Diogo Alvim) waiting for the performers – that is, us – to enter
The set for Turning Backs (devised by Lígia Soares, Rita Vilhena and Diogo Alvim) waiting for the performers – that is, us – to enter

The small town of Montemor-O-Novo is ideal for continuous and unexpected encounters. The PT19 participants – programmers, artists, curators, writers – bump into each other before and after performances, over lunch, walking from venue to venue. This sharing between strangers, old and new collaborators or well-known colleagues becomes special in the Portuguese Platform. ‘The egos are left outside, and we step into a world more on the skin,’ says Ángels Margarit, director of Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona. A sharing of impressions, reflections, deep conversations. PT19 radiated sensitivity, dedication and serenity on multiple levels. 


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Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal
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Videos of all 18 performances at PT19 – together with artist interviews, credit and contact details, and what “Springback says” about each of the works – are available to all Springback Members. Sign in first, then visit springbackmagazine.com/members/be-there

Not a Member? Find out about this and many other Member benefits at springbackmagazine.com/membership

For more about PT19, visit portugueseplatform.pt

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