In Kinshasa Electric, three brilliant young dancers from the capital of the Democratic Re¬public of Congo demonstrate how cultural influences float around the globe: dances and beats from Africa travel to the center of mainstream American culture and return home only to be reclaimed and invested with new meanings.
Cultures have always mingled, though never on this scale. The prophesy of the global vil¬lage is fulfilling itself. Isn’t this what we were after, a world without borders? A festival like Alkantara, with artists from the four corners of the planet, is proof of its blessings. But this global, multipolar reality is hard to understand and stabilize. Major decision-mak¬ing processes escape our (democratic) control, existing conceptual tools and ideological models fail to help us to formulate answers to this confused, brutal world. Things haven’t become much brighter since Thomas Bernhard wrote these words almost 30 years ago. On the contrary.
The artists of Alkantara Festival 2014 offer us ways to grasp this complexity and position ourselves in this new context. Not by simplifying matters, but by facing the confusion and putting their fingers on the erratic pulse of things around them. Some do this by exploring different methods of classifying reality: Halory Goerger and An-toine Defoort draw up unlikely ontological lists in order to reinvent humanity. Encyclopédie de la Parole categorizes speech according to criteria that reveal hidden layers in the way we communicate.
Others launch, implicitly, a call for action: BERLIN gives voice to thirty individuals, who, at key moments of their lives, rise above themselves to overcome a threatening destiny. Marlene Monteiro Freitas frees statues in her battle against petrification. Tiago Rodrigues stages the confrontation between art and the establishment in Bovary, intertwining Flau¬bert’s novel with the upheaval that followed its publication.
Still others look for answers in codes and practices of the past: Faustin Linyekula takes us on a journey to the dances of his childhood village, while mala voadora holds the protocols of diplomacy – and theater – to the light, to check their relevance in the twenty-first century. Sylvain Creuzevault returns to Marx’s Capital, not as a bible but as a Shakespearean comedy.
Many of these performances take place against the backdrop of the complex urban tissue of human relations. Tim Etchells juxtaposes the intimacy of a private conversation with billboard-sized neon signs in the city. Urândia Aragão maps physical and affective relation-ships in the urban everyday. Toshiki Okada uses a convenience store as a metaphor for the uneasy life in the megapolis of Tokyo.
More than 20 years after its pioneering days as the dance platform Danças na Cidade, Alkantara is paying a high price for its markedly contemporary, international and trans-disciplinary vision, firmly rooted in the urban culture of Lisbon. In the current climate of Restoration, it has seen its public funding cut to tatters. It is a miracle that we can still present a program conforming to our high standards, un¬der these circumstances and with a team reduced to an absolute minimum. We have our partners in the city to thank, first and foremost, whose support underlines the urgency of promoting a performing arts event of international relevance in Lisbon. While the festival has preserved the central axis of its program, it has been forced to drop the more cost-intensive performances in alternative, temporary spaces. This loss of stages for emerging artists outside the official circuit puts a mortgage on future editions, endan¬gers the exceptionally rich contemporary performing arts culture in Portugal, and strips the festival of one of its essential functions.
At the end of the year Alkantara will re-apply for public funding. Without a strong signal of the political will to maintain an international contemporary performing arts festival in Lisbon, we will not repeat the tour-de-force of this 2014 edition. Let us celebrate this Alkantara Festival as if it were our last.
Thomas Walgrave and the Alkantara Festival team