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On the treatment of own and foreign references

«Programme Commun» opening ceremony at Arsenic, in Lausanne ©Coincidencia

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Programme Commun

25 March to 5 April 2019

On the fifth edition of the Swiss International Festival of Performative Arts Programme Commun, held in Lausanne, three COINCIDENCIA guests from South America met. The three programmers talked about the possibilities and difficulties of intercontinental planning and art dissemination.

Written by Katja Zellweger

«We receive two thousand dollars of state subsidy per year.» The conversation circle smiled sympathetically. «In our case, the State has sold everything – there are no cultural productions fostered by the State, so to speak.» The other heads nod in agreement, well acquainted with the situation. So went the lunch in which the COINCIDENCIA delegation lively shared experiences about their common field of work.

The delegation could not be more diverse: Cristina Castro is a dancer and choreographer of Salvador, Brazil, who in 2005 founded the Festival Internacional Vivadança (Vivadança International Festival) and has since organized it. Pamela López runs the program of the cultural centre Gabriela Mistral (GAM) in the Chilean capital, which is mainly subsidized by private financiers. In addition, she teaches Cultural Administration at the University of Santiago. Italian-born Pierpaolo Olcese, who lives in Argentina, is firmly rooted in the great free scene of Buenos Aires with his house of shows called Galpón de Guevara. He is also in charge of programming and organizing the Festival Internacional de Circo Independiente (FICI) (International Festival for Independent Circuses).

Pierpaolo Olcese, Cristina Castro and Pamela López at Arsenic during Programme Commun ©Coincidencia
Pierpaolo Olcese, Cristina Castro and Pamela López at Arsenic during Programme Commun ©Coincidencia

Festivals as centres for contemporary art dissemination

Cristina Castro recognizes the importance of planning festivals well in advance. The festival organized by her, Vivadança, receives from the State of Bahia a long-term set support, a rarity and also an exception in Brazil, as she stresses. «This support, even if small, is much necessary. It allows us to make better planning and, especially, to invite foreign groups, an important component of our festival.»

Since the new Bolsonaro government demoted the Ministry of Culture to the level of secretariat, there is no longer any effective plan for the support of festivals. In addition, the laws connecting large enterprises to cultural financing through tax reductions have been visibly relaxed and, therefore, an important contribution has ceased to exist.

In a country like Brazil, which has continental proportions, tours are not easy to pull off. «We do not have good roads to tour through the five regions of Brazil, nor do we have a support plan to promote national tours for performing arts.» The Vivadança festival, which happens in northeast Brazil, is geographically located away from the cultural events’ central axis. Touring in Bahia also means putting the northeast of the country on this axis and, with that, deepening the knowledge on Brazilian culture, says Castro. «So, our festival allows artists from the Bahia region to connect to networks and debates. For this reason, I see the festivals as centres of dissemination, above all, for the contemporary art.»

Another point raised by Castro is that of the elemental and strengthened confrontation of a society’s cultural roots. Especially in Salvador, the first capital of Brazil, which was founded in 1549 by the settlers, there is a great legacy of African culture and dance. «The theme is very important. We seek and create our own references», she says, casting a retrospective look at her own dance training, marked by a very European orientation. That is why festivals, in particular, should have the responsibility of providing new artistic reference points.

The eternal stigma of the circus

Pierpalo Olcese has the great advantage, like Castro, of being able to invite productions – such as the Swiss performer Simone Aughterlony or Companhia Alias, from the Brazilian Guilherme Botelho, active in Geneva – who speak a universal language: dance, physis and clownish jokes need no translation. On the other hand, other adjustments are necessary: in the Galpón de Guevara an average of eight different productions are shown per week, remaining in the same sequence for several weeks. At this rate, it is almost impossible to accommodate an invited international production. In the circus festival, however, there is another setting. Even so, it is always necessary to communicate to foreign guests what is possible and what is not: «we cannot adjust our light fixtures and sometimes we also need to improvise. When, in June of last year, we saw our budget being cut by almost half over a period of a few weeks, we were lucky that everyone showed a lot of understanding and attended anyway».

In the (European) performatic world, Olcese must deal with the eternal stigma attached to the circus arts. In Argentina, however, the «clown criollo» tradition is very deeply rooted. Which means that, often, the clown art can be seen even on the streets, which leads to «full houses», says Olcese. «Even though, because of inflation, our cash revenue has dropped about 70%, ticket sales are rising.» Olcese also recognizes such an appreciation for the clownesque in Argentina in the preference for naturalism and the family theme, ubiquitous behind the scenes of the shows. «In Switzerland and Europe, on the other hand, I miss the old theatrical action métier. The type of theatricality as I learned it as an assistant to Brenno Besson, a pupil of Brecht, I see very little of nowadays.»

Institutional exchanges

Oclese leverages internationalization, insofar as he renders fruitful the different aptitudes of the respective scenes. Thus he organizes, within the circus festivals, residences and cooperation between Argentinean clowns and European circus playwrights. Castro is also enthusiastic about the success model of residences, international collaborations and co-productions: «Challenges are very productive and inspiring. Projects like this require a lot of adaptation and it is necessary to find and use common denominators.» On the other hand, Pamela López, promoter of GAM’s program, in Santiago, Chile, is interested in the idea of residences that are not subject to mandatory production. «For this, there is no financing structure in Chile.»

On her visit to the Théâtre du Vidy, López had another idea for a possibility of cooperation. «In the context of cultural management of venues, synergy could be best employed. I imagine the following: a person leaves an institution, like the Chilean GAM, and goes to Vidy, which is similar from the structural point of view. There, they do a kind of internship in management for two weeks, to better understand the work structures of a venue that develops its own productions. This could lead to an intercontinental exchange between institutions.» With the tours of its own productions, Vidy generates approximately 20% of its revenue. It is a system, according to Lopez, that could be fruitful as a model for institutional cooperation. After all, López and GAM also reflect on significant possibilities for exchanges, such as virtual platforms and common networks for content digitalization.

Speaking of Programme Commun productions – of which many are on successful international tours, such as those of Ntando Cele and Stefan Kägi / Rimini Protokoll from Switzerland or Angelica Lidell from Spain, Thomas Ostermeier from Germany, Jérôme Bel from France or Samira Elagoz from Finland – López believes that the scenery and production mechanisms can sometimes cause problems for tour planning. Although a work like «Granma. Les trombones de La Havane» (Granma. The Havana Trombones), about the Cuban revolution, may be interesting and promising for the Chilean public, it does not place the theme of degraded socialist ideologies as exclusive to South America. «The documental play fits the European context precisely because it brings aspects of other cultures to the public. These cross-cultural themes and the interest in other social contexts always draw my attention in the European theatre, because I come from a very homogenous culture.»

The Programme Commun Festival, which has been taking place annually since 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland, has shown 17 productions this year. The artistic directors of the events venues Théâtre du Vidy, Arsenic and Théâtre Sévelin were responsible for the program of the performing arts festival.

The event promoters invited by Pro Helvetia were:

Cristina Castro, Brazil: Dancer and choreographer who founded the Festival Internacional Vivadança (Vivadança International Festival) in Salvador, Bahia, in 2005, of which she is the artistic curator and director. Since 1998, she is also part of the dance program committee of the Vila Velha Theatre, in Salvador. In 2012 and 2016 she was jury member of the Solo Dance Festival in Stuttgart (Germany).

Pamela López, Chile: Former dancer and cultural administrator, she is program director of the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Centre (GAM), in Santiago, Chile. In 2018, she was part of the curatorial committee of the Fringe Festival, in Scotland. She teaches cultural administration at the University of Santiago.

Pierpaolo Olcese, Argentina/Italy: Founder and director of Galpón de Guevara, a production and event house for the theatre free scene, contemporary dance and physical dance, as well as contemporary circus. In 2016, he and Leticia Vetrano founded the Festival Internacional de Circo Independiente (FICI) (International Festival for Independent Circuses).

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