6 to 9 February 2019
Five South American programmers have been invited by Pro Helvetia to visit the Swiss Dance Days 2019, in Lausanne. On the occasion, they could see up close the promotion of the local culture, challenges of the international festivals’ cycle and expression forms of dance.
Written by Katja Zellweger
All eyes are on Teresa Vittucci. She sits on a mirrored platform, in a higher position, and looks at the audience with wide eyes. Then, the artist draws the attention of her «spectators», first with her red-painted nails and, after, using her whole body. With a laptop, she broadcasts live her show on stage to an interactive online platform and to the room. On all channels and before all eyes, she uses here the mechanisms of the scenic art: exhibitionism and voyeurism. Her solo performance «All Eyes On» is a parable about the business that revolves around winning people’s attention and seeking to achieve it.
Her play, however, is also a perfect example of how the Swiss Dance Days work, since, in this 10th edition, the attention of programmers from all over the world is focused on the selected works from 15 independent dance companies in Switzerland.
«It’s amazing how Switzerland protects its artists»
COINCIDENCIA, the Pro Helvetia Program that promotes exchanges between the Swiss and the South American culture, invited five programmers to participate in the Swiss Dance Days and introduced to them dance venues, people responsible for the programs and Swiss artists. Talking to the five programmers of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, their interest became clear: the possibilities and impossibilities of cultural promotion and cooperation with concert halls, festivals and artists, and, of course, what was being presented on the stage.
The intention of the festival causes admiration in Diana Theocharidis, choreographer, dancer and director of the Argentine programme at the Teatro de la Ribera: «Inviting 250 programmers from around the world to introduce them to Swiss artists – it’s amazing how Switzerland protects its artists.» She was also enthusiastic about the configuration of the space in the concert halls, which became visible at the Théâtre Vidy: «Such a busy foyer, where many people debate about art and what they saw, is wonderful. It is evident here the willingness to support art, whether with a spacious foyer, well-equipped spaces or an international tour network. «According to her, in South America, with its great distances and little financial support, the setting up of such a network is much more complicated.
Graciela Casabé, director of the Buenos Aires Performance Biennale, who was previously director of the Buenos Aires international Festival (FIBA) for ten years, shows an enthusiasm similar to that of Diana. Greeting Vincent Baudriller, director of the Théâtre de Vidy and former director of the Avignon Theatre Festival, as an old friend, she speaks from an experience of many years: «In South America you can only get funds once a year, and it is never enough to finance a whole project.» With such an insecure financial situation, she says, it is difficult to organize periodic residences, develop joint projects, and set up co-productions with European artists in a stable way. Like many colleagues, she was inspired by her visit to the «L’Abri Multicultural Centre», in Geneva. The shelter, located in the centre of the city, has been renovated and offers three very different spaces for young artists dedicated to the scenic and visual arts. «The interconnection of disciplines thus enabled is innovative and very useful for artists», says Graciela, who, as a programmer of performances, knows what she is talking about.
Improvisation and economic fragility
What caught the eyes of Janaina Lobo Gonçalves, dancer, choreographer and organizer of the JUNTA – International Dance Festival, in Teresina, Northeast Brazil, were especially the different timeline conditions. Since subsidies are always very different and are paid in an irregular way, setting up a program for a season or fixing a date for a festival more than a year in advance would not be possible: «We have to improvise much more». So, in 2018, JUNTA, the festival of which she is one of the organizers, took place in November, and in the two previous years, in June. The date of 2019 is not set yet. «With this planning insecurity it is difficult to organize tours. In addition, Brazil is quite at the margin of the rest of South America, which other countries are well articulated.»
Her Brazilian colleague Fabrício Floro, in charge of the SESC Dance Biennale, in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, has more resources and more stable structures set up for longer periods. Yet he also sees many infrastructural deficiencies compared to Europe. Its employer is a private, non-profit national institution founded in 1946 that, in São Paulo alone, has 39 centres focused on culture, training, sports, leisure and health: «Although SESC is a private organization, for us, the exchange with the respective state government and public institutions and their support are very important. This is the only way we have been able to create and form continuously, for 73 years, an audience that we seek to achieve with artistic actions that may give Brazil a historical, social and political reference. »
Chilean dancer Rocío Rivera Marchevsky, choreographer and co-director of the independent international festival «Danzalborde», in Valparaiso, knows very well the «economic fragility» of these dance festivals and companies. «The institutional discourse makes a reasoning error. Artists are considered the weak point of the system, but it is the opposite. We are the only stable factor, the Olympic gymnasts of adaptation in a system that changes constantly.» Asked about matching the festival dates in South America or within each country, she thinks that this would be desirable from the ecological and economical point of view. But there is a lack of regular support to guarantee yearly festivals and, thus, an adjustment of dates. This matching of festival dates also carries the risk that the same things will end up being shown everywhere. «In addition, entertainment venues with good infrastructure are only beginning to emerge now.»
Focus on scenography and performance
And what about the Swiss dance presented on the Swiss Dance Days? What attracted the attention of the South American guests at this event was the focus on scenography and on many conceptual works. Fabrício, from São Paulo, speaks in this sense of a «great aesthetic attention to the scenario, which is close to the visual arts». Rivera, in turn, often uses concrete space as a setting in her works. As a dancer with a focus on contact improvisation, she likes to work with a site-specific approach and does not see the presentation space as a black box, but rather as a living place full of stories. «In Lausanne I have seen many works closed to black boxes, which can adapt their fixed scenography to neutral spaces. They correspond much more to the usual logic of the programmes.»
The dancer Janaina is also interested in the joint experience of dance, which she intends to take from the space of rehearsals to the public space. Because of this, she was delighted with the idea of «Dancewalk», presented by the company Neopost Foofwa. «Dancewalk – Rétroperspectives» is a performance created by Frédéric Gafner, a professional dancer from Geneva who wanted to break with the traditional seriousness with which the dance is treated and seen. Dressed in jogging clothes and dancing to the music of a trombonist, he has presented, in all parts of the world, «Dancewalks» in which anyone can participate. Finally, «VR_I» by Cie Gilles Jobin was also a highly praised work. The play can only be seen and experienced with a complete virtual reality equipment. Graciela was impressed with the aspect related to dance, and Fabrício, with the history construction and dramaturgy. Diana, on the other hand, found the technical possibility fantastic, but didn’t like the visual product as much.
The critics of the «Neue Zürcher Zeitung» newspaper missed virtuous choreographic works at the Swiss Dance Days and saw in the work of the Swiss independent dance groups «what is called ‹No Dance›, conceptual dance or performance». Diana made a similar remark: «Little was seen of what was traditionally called dance and that used to be shown in the companies.» On the other hand, she, like all Coincidencia guests, praised the «interesting and original visibility of the conceptual work» in the play «Sekunden später… … zog sich die Gestalt in die Schatten züruck», by Cie Nicole Seiler. The title [«Seconds later … the figure retired into the shadows»] is a commentary, represented on the stage, which appears in the play and which, on the one hand, constitutes an observation and, at the same time, a kind of choreographic instruction. In addition, projected shadow images show the movements of the two protagonists in slow motion, and their footprints are also reproduced on the stage. The company complements this technical and graphic level with a very corporeal level: a young female dancer and an older male performer move on the stage. The presence of the body of an older person was perceived very positively by several programmers. «This is the first time I’ve seen an old man dancing like that. In Brazil this is never shown this way», says Fabrício. For them, this was contrasted by the presence of the four young men in Philippe Saire’s «Actéon», who discussed on the stage the masculinity today. «In Brazil, the current role of women and, along with that, of men in patriarchal society is discussed in all channels» In all channels – this is and remains being the unofficial motto of these Swiss Dance Days.
The Swiss Dance Days, created in 1996, are held every two years in alternate cities in Switzerland. A jury composed of Swiss dance programmers (in 2019: Vincent Baudriller, Théâtre Vidy of Lausanne; Anneli Binder, Dampfzentrale of Bern; Patrick de Rahm, Arsénic of Lausanne; Catja Loepfe, Tanzhaus of Zurich; Philippe Saire, Théâtre Sévelin, of Lausanne; Stefano Tomassini, LIS/LAC of Lugano) selected, among 150 works assessed, 15 to be presented on stage. In addition to the presentations, there is a Salon des Artistes and other articulation events.
The delegation at the Swiss Dance Days was composed by
Graciela Casabé, Argentina: Founder and director of the «Buenos Aires Performance Biennale» since 2015, president of the Babilonia Foundation for Arts, Science and Culture, from which emerged, in 1997, the «Buenos Aires International Festival (FIBA), that she directed from 1999 to 2007.
Janaina Lobo Gonçalves, Brazil: Dancer and choreographer, coordinator of the Teresina’s Municipal Ballet, in the Northeast of Brazil, and teacher at the Lenir Argento Dance School. In 2005, she founded Junta – International Dance Festival of Teresina, which she directs along with Jacob Alves and Datan Izaká.
Rocío Rivera Marchevsky, Chile: Choreographer, dancer, performer, teacher and graphic designer. Founder and director of the Mundomoebio/escenalborde Dance Company, as well as co-founder and co-director of the platforms «Escenalborde – Contemporary Performing Arts» and «Danzalborde International Festival», in Valparaiso.
Fabrício Floro, Brazil: Curator of the SESC Dance Biennial in 2017 and 2019, dance sector assistant on the Department of Cultural Action of SESC (Social Service of Commerce) in São Paulo.
Diana Theocharidis, Argentina: International dancer and choreographer, member of the board of directors of the National Cultural Foundation of Argentina, responsible for the Teatro de la Ribera programme.