recent initiatives

by Ana Bigotte Vieira and Ricardo Seiça Salgado  |  translated by João Florêncio

There not being any academic department, undergraduate or postgraduate degree in Performance Studies in Portugal, it is possible to speak, with a relative degree of certainty, of an institutional absence of that paradigm of study in the country. Nevertheless, there are occasional initiatives spread across several institutions, and often outside academia, that somehow share themes common to the field. Most of the times those are one-off projects particularly focused on one single component of Performance Studies—normally performance art or the broader performing arts; less often, anthropology—which therefore neglect the broad spectrum of the discipline in the attention it pays to the social.

With no pretensions to exhaustiveness, what follows is a series of initiatives that, between mid-2000 and 2003, have become essential for thinking the non-reception of Performance Studies in Portugal or, at least, for the discussion of its implications and overview of its practices.

Conferences and Cycles of Debates

In February 2013, a cycle of conferences took place at the Teatro S. João in Porto under the title “Performing Arts and Technology.” The cycle was organised by Universidade Lusófona do Porto (ULP)—CICANT (Centre for Research in Applied Communication, Culture, and New Technologies) and included talks by José Bragança de Miranda, Paulo Cunha e Silva, Luís Cláudio Ribeiro, Francisco Luís Parreira, Carlos Pimenta, and Jorge Leandro Rosa, amongst others. The cycle, “particularly focused on the performing and stage arts, […] responded to the need for identifying and understanding the new symbolic apparatuses operating in contemporary art, projecting its possible and desirable futures, and recuperating the notion of scene as a space of dialogue open to all kinds of mediations.”

In January 2013, the colloquium “Drama and Philosophy: a recurring and necessary encounter” took place at the Institute of Philosophy of Language of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. It was organised by Paulo Filipe Monteiro, who saw the colloquium as “detaching itself from old discussions around philosophy and literature because it did not take drama as (only) literature but, rather, as performance.” Like Laura Cull, founder of the Performance Philosophy network, mentioned at the event, the colloquium was within the scope of the new emerging field of performance philosophy. Besides Laura Cull, the speakers were Paulo Filipe Monteiro, José Gil, Freddie Roken, Herbert Blau, Maria Filomena Molder and Martin Puchner.

Between October and November 2012, the Teatro Maria Matos in Lisbon hosted the cycle “Making World(s)—Politics of Performance in the Planetary Multipolarity,” an event curated by André Lepecki and one in which the transversality of Performance Studies was explicit. As was written in the programme, “we are living in a time when the global economy, the multipolar cultural diversity, and the neoliberal ideology have become agents in the production of the new ‘paracolonial’ paradigm (using, here, Aimé Césaire’s term), one in which the ‘end of politics’ is announced. That unique intertwining of forces forces us to think how the world, produced by an implacable market logic, the erratic drifts of the latter, virtual derivatives, and performances of power, requires the formation of alternatives.” The cycle included workshops, seminars, and talks with creators/researchers like Randy Martin, Florian Malzacher, José Fernando Azevedo and André Lepecki himself, all “academics, curators, and artists whose work derives from the forging of new allegiances of political philosophy, cultural studies, performance studies, and curatorial and artistic practices that resist both the ‘becoming-cultural of economy and the becoming-economic of culture,’ to use Frederic Jameson’s expression,” the programme for the event concluded.

In November 2011, Imergência was created by Epipiderme “as a way of questioning the urgency of the performative as both a singular act and an act of tension between different territories: the artistic and the lived, the quotidian and the challenging, the intimate and the public, the poetic and the ethical.” The event stood out due to its broad performance art programme and to the number of people involved who contributed to sketch the state of performance art in Portugal in three debates. Worth mentioning that in November 2009 Epipiderme had already started monthly editions of its “Encounters around Performance” at Fábrica Braço de Prata, all while supporting the creation of new works, both national and international, workshops, and artistic residencies.

In April 2011, CRIA (Networked Centre for Research in Anthropology) organised “No Performance’s Land,” which included performances at Culturgest and conferences at ISCTE—IUL. The event, curated by Paulo Raposo, brought together national and international researchers and artists for a debate that, according to the programme, tried to “rescue performance studies from a certain conceptual exile and make explicit the triumphal return of what can today be defined as a re-performative movement” in the arts and social sciences. Clearly a defining moment in the reception of Performance Studies in Portugal, the event, however, managed not to include much of the local performing and visual arts scenes due to its being based in an Anthropology department and, there having been a significant turnout of brazilian anthropologists, the discourses of that discipline ended up dominating the event.

Since 2011, the Universidade Católica de Lisboa has been part of the Lisbon Consortium, a partnership of various Lisbon institutions that offers a joint Masters and Doctoral programme in Studies of Culture which includes activities related to Performance Studies.

In 2009, the Department of Communication and Art of the Universidade de Aveiro hosted, for the third time, Performa, a series of encounters on performance research that, although primarily focused on music, welcomes “proposals with diverse disciplinary proveniences, expanded to the areas of psychology of music, musicology, ethnomusicology, pedagogy, musical analysis and philosophical reflection on musical interpretation,” like the organisation notes.

Also within the field of performance and musical interpretation, the conference “Music and Gesture” was organised by CESEM (Centre for the Study of Sociology and Aesthetics of Music) in October 2011 and took place at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Centro Cultural de Belém. Its theme was the relationship between sound, music, performance, technology, and gesture.

Going back to 2006, Culturgest in partnership with FBAUL (Fine Art School, University of Lisbon), organised a cycle of conferences titled “Performance: Studies,” in which the notion of performance was approached from various angles while nonetheless keeping its focus on the arts and associating it with the avant-garde.  Although the title of the event seemed to allude to Performance Studies, its focus on the artistic and the absence of explicit references to the field in its “broad spectrum” (to use Richard Schecher’s term) did not match those expectations. Subsequently the FBAUL students union published Marte, “What are we speaking of when we speak of performance?,” edited by Liliana Coutinho and an important contribution for the literature on performance in Portugal despite the fact that Performance Studies are only vaguely touched upon due to the publication’s focus on art. 

Still within the visual arts it is important to note the promotion of performance art at the hands of António Lago and Susana Chiocca both with the project “A Sala” (“The Room”, Porto, 2006-2007) and, more recently, with the blog to perform that “wants to be an informal platform for disseminating, debating, and archiving performance and performative  practices in the portuguese visual arts.”

Festivals and Laboratories

Regarding the festivals of performing arts that take place in Portugal, special attention should be paid to Festival de Performances e Artes da Terra—Escrita na Paisagem which, having had 9 editions since 2004, has, amongst other things, organised a summer school with renowned artists like Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The festival is curated by José Alberto Ferreira, who always aims to update its theme with each edition and to promote fearless, unprejudiced artistic decentralisation. Strongly focused on the performative and the central issues of Performance Studies, the festival has occasionally welcomed performance theorists such as Philip Auslander.

From 2006, alkantara festival has also played an important role in programming performing arts from an international context. Until 2005, then called Danças na Cidade (1993-2005), it led an intense programme of promotion of contemporary dance especially amongst young Portuguese choreographers. In 2006, it changed its name and, according to its website, it is “through international encounters, the residencies programme, the investment in national and international co-productions, the support of research, book publishing and video releases, that Alkantara affirms itself as a fundamental agent in contemporary national artistic creation and pursues its aim of promoting and spreading international contemporary art.”

Also worth mentioning are: Transforma, an organisation based in Torres Vedras which has widely privileged performative practices in its work and whose magazine ArtinSite is a reference in the area; the already historical Bienal de Cerveira; the projects LABS and, more recently, ANDLab, organized by RE.AL; the Atelier Re.Al; the festival Pedras da Água by CEM—Centro em Movimento, which occasionally, and sometimes in partnership with Fórum Dança and Culturgest, organizes workshops on themes associated with Performance Studies; also, going back to the past, from 1990 to 2008, the Festival X, organized by Olho—Grupo de Teatro and João Garcia Miguel, and Festival Atlântico, which took place at ZDB in Lisbon (1999), both marked by their transgressive point of view, both theoretical and practical, on programming performance art.

More recently there have been new initiatives like Sintoma at the FBAUP (School of Fine Art, University of Porto), and the show Pré-Reforma, organised by the FBAUL (School of Fine Art, University of Lisbon). Also, in Coimbra, there is now Line Up Action—Festival Internacional de Arte da Performance, a performance art festival organised by Associação ICzero which had its first edition in 2010.

It is important also to highlight the role played by institutions that have promoted workshops and conferences like the current programme Próximo Futuro (Near Future) or, going back to 2007, the Cultural Forum O Estado do Mundo (The State of the World), organised as part of the 50th anniversary of the Gulbenkian Foundation, both programmed by António Pinto Ribeiro.

Looking back, it is important to note the “Atelier de Preparação do Actor,” headed by Richard Schechner in 1993 at the Escola da Noite/Instituto de Teatro Paulo Quintela in Coimbra. Despite the title, “Actor Training Atelier,” indicating a kind of training specifically aimed for actors, it is important to note Richard Schechner’s presence in Portugal atthe beginning of the 1990s.

Regarding works that have explicitly followed a Performance Studies line of enquiry, those tend to be published very occasionally and dispersed amongst performing arts, anthropology and cultural journals, or almost inexistent as there is not one single periodic publication dedicated to Performance Studies understood in their broad spectrum.

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*  In 2012, ISCTE-IUL launched a Postgraduate degree in Performance Studies coordinated by Paulo Raposo. However, due to a lack of students caused most probably by a lack of awareness of the field in Portugal, the programme never actually opened.

** collaboration in compiling the data: Manuel Henriques.