Investing in a
new dance generation
in Europe
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Culture Program of the European Comission

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WHERE IS YOUR HOUSE: Interview with Thomas Walgrave, from ALKANTARA (Lisbon)

THE HOUSE WITH LESS GOLD (text by Rita Natálio)

We started our discussion with a brick (not BRICS, not PIGS, but a real hard and heavy brick) . The fact that economical ruptures and public cuts in Europe became endless feverish cycles of aggression to European citizens since 2008, was the door for the Portuguese State to reduce the support to culture in Portugal in more than 40% (since at least 2010) and to abolish the public Ministry of Culture. The first irreversible brick of these policies was that, by destroying cultural policies, the Portuguese State constructed the  possibility to decide in the name of others, by forcing cultural players to reduce their strategies to minimal and basic functions.

ALKANTARA festival, for instance, is known for being one of the biggest cultural events in Lisbon. The bi-annual festival, that assumed previously the name of Danças na Cidade (that is also the name of the cultural association formed in 1993) has supported many and many radical experiments in dance and theater programming since the Nineties, from residencies to collaborative labs, co-productions, and workshops.  ALKANTARA is now one among many victims of this process of “forced simplification” or “forced disappearance” that brought Portugal to the list of the Most Unsupportive Countries in Europe.

There are many places in Lisbon right now closing their doors to the public. Therefore our function becomes very simple, we just have a key to our space and we give it to the artists!, said Thomas Walgrave ironically. But of course this is not a joke, even we laugh while we imagine the future of no-future. “We thought of bringing the festival to an annual base, instead of doing it every two years, but it’s impossible, we had to censorship our dreams, said Thomas, after explaining us that in the previous edition of the festival they had already set with partners in town (local theaters, etc) that they would change the regularity for once a year. “We had to really go all the way back….

The program of ALKANTARA for 2013 is made of more that 10 studio residencies and some sparse venues in the ALKANTARA’s space (a space with a semi-legal status for presenting public events). Giving physical space for dance and theater projects to happen became the festival’s major strategy in its year off, where the team is preparing 2014’s venues and co-productions. ALKANTARA’s strategy is therefore a brick, a possible construction upon the destruction of others

Among the resident artists invited to work on their projects, half of them are ex-Forum Dança students (FORUM DANÇA is also a DEPARTS partner), which shows us the priority of supporting new and upcoming artists. Thomas commented on this by saying: one of the consequences of the economical situation in Portugal was that all cultural agents in Lisbon did the same error. In the last years, we all have decided to support more “safe” options. For instance, in the last edition of the our festival, the first victims of budget cuts were alternative spaces, because we needed co-investment of local theaters and therefore, all these other spaces disappeared. These spaces were giving the opportunity to show more risking work, upcoming artists. There is a risk that we loose an whole generation. What will happen to the ones that are finishing performing arts school right now?

So the brick is the “backbone” of the program for this year with Portuguese young dancers like Teresa Silva, Urandia Aragão, Joana Duarte, among others. After this, there are international encounters of research: Interlocal Atelier  composed of ex- PARTS students (Veli Lehtovaara Élisa Yvelin, Mikko Hyvönen Stav Yeini and Aron Blom)  ans the portuguese duo Sofia dia and Vítor Roriz; the project City Lab, a transdiciplinary encounter inside the project Global City/ Local City about urbanism and globalization in Lisbon (participation of the Portuguese Marcia Lança; and finnally the project Sharing Research Producing Knowledge, a network between ALKANTARA, MDT (Stockhom) and Buda (Kortijk) that tries to create a bridge between theoretical knowledge and artistic processes (invited Portuguese artists are João Fiadeiro and Vera Mantero)

So, the second brick is right next to the first brick, even if it’s much more immaterial: the connection with European structures and the creation of condition for collaborative international encounters. But are European networks really supportive of  new economical scenarios? And are them collaborating with the more local sphere of each artistic structure involved?

Thomas Walgrave replied: I think there is a big mismatch between European official networks concept and the reality of the continent as it is. European funding always presupposes something in return, a local counter-investment. In our case, we don’t have this money right now, which means we are a loosing the opportunity to have European support. We decided not to make part of many networks because of this problem. I guess we would have to revise European policies in this matter of networking.

This second brick is thus being used for constructing other houses, not directly  ALKANTARA’S strategy Even if there is more real budget for intercontinental networks and projects, local investment is a big issue and not only for Portugal.  Thomas also mentioned the fact that that the gap between North and South is more and more evident, which mean that sometimes ALKANTARA is the only partner representing the South. Burocraty and admnistration are also highly complex demands in European projects, and some structures have to step back because they don’t have the know-how to apply for funding.

If we think about the possibility to construct a federalist base for political and economical alliances in Europe, the director is more afraid of the anti-democratic policies and the priorities chooses by European leaders.

To finish, Thomas Walgrave said we defended the mix between independent structures and public funding. For him it doesn’t make sense to construct a cultural policy top-down, to first construct the structures where the artists should fit afterwards (the French model). For him, we need the opposite perspective, to construct a funding structure from the artist’s perspectives and uses. And the big error of Portugal, he says, was to construct a house with the wrong brick - “to follow the French model”  - while the practical exemples (independent structures like Espaço do Tempo) gave him the opposite lesson.