By Inês Faria and Vasco Almeida
Lavrar o Mar Cooperativa Cultural
When choreographer Madalena Victorino undertakes a project, she embraces it with all the strength she is capable of – which is immense. For her, the separation between professional and personal life is tenuous: they both have the same value. Her love for what she does makes her tireless. From Madalena we learn the importance of detail, attention, sensitivity and sympathy: both with people and with the world around us, even with objects.
Madalena Victorino (1956) is a member of the choreographers who, in the late 80s and during the 90s, developed the “New Portuguese Dance”, and has a prolific work as a choreographer, which goes from the big stages to the most unlikely places. In her creations of collaborative art, she brings together people who have an artistic experience of their own bodies along with people whose experience with their bodies is existential, that is, individuals with very diverse corporal knowledge, which complement each other. Madalena Victorino is passionate about people –both the human body and the human mind– and that fascination is reflected in her work. The enthusiastic way she applies in every community project is a powerful driving force for the people who are involved, even for those who start out somewhat hesitantly or fearfully. People from outside the art world, whom we would never expect to see cross-dressing, exposing themselves, embodying themselves into bizarre characters, overcome every limit, they transform themselves to our eyes, reveal to us that they have as much art deep inside them as any artist. This is Madalena’s philosophy, to democratize and use dance as a weapon for inner revolutions that may lead to necessary revolutions in society.
Madalena Victorino is originally from Lisbon, but she lives wherever her projects bring her. For example, in 2018, she stayed for a month at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, creating dance performances in the entire hospital. Her introduction into the dance world began with a trip. At the German School in Lisbon, her physical education teacher noticed that she had a great creative potential and helped her to get an audition at The Place, in London, where they used the principles of the American choreographer Martha Graham. Despite the lack of contact with the work of this choreographer and the fact that she had never seen any modern dance pieces, at the age of 18, Madalena travelled alone by train to London to attend the audition.
London, thanks to its cosmopolitanism, signified a huge opening of horizons for her. A week after she enrolled on this course, she got a job in a hotel, where she managed to stay. She made friends from Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Cuba. At the grand auditorium of Goldsmiths College, she had the opportunity to enjoy live performances by great names in dance and performance, such as Martha Graham, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, Steve Paxton or Trisha Brown. She also saved up all her money to attend the new dance performances from Pina Bausch, whose work became another big reference for her artistic career.
For two years she attended the contemporary dance course at Martha Graham’s school. There she realized she wouldn’t be a dancer, but instead her future would be shaped by choreography creation and the exchange, the education and communication of the art of movement. At that time, she joined the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she Studied Dance Education. It was only when she got a scholarship from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, during her third year, when life in London became easier. Prior to that, she cleaned houses, ironed, cleaned hospital corridors and worked in restaurants.
When she returned to Portugal in 1980, her work immediately assumed a communitarian aspect. At the beginning of her career, she visited the villages of Viseu, introducing Pina Bausch to the rural women. At the Ateneu Comercial de Lisboa, she created a dance atelier for non-professional students, with after-work sessions. It was then, in the course of a year, when she created A Queda Num Local Imaginado with her students, a show that got her a mention in Expresso, an important Portuguese newspaper. Madalena was one of the first choreographers who created movements for many Portuguese directors’ plays, such as João Brites, João Perry and Rogério de Carvalho.
In 1986, she took part in the curriculum design for the first dance bachelor’s degree in Portugal, at the Escola Superior de Dança, where she lectured for two years. In 1900, she joined the Associação Fórum Dança foundation team, the first independent Portuguese structure of dance working as a research area, international creation, education and community practice. Between 1996 and 2008 she was in charge of the direction of performing arts programmes for children at the Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB). Under her leadership, the CCB played a pioneering role in the creation of educational services in the field of arts, bringing to Portuguese children and adolescents high-quality works that were being created overseas. In her acceptance speech for the Coimbra University Prize, which she was awarded in 2017, Madalena stated that this was an embryonic stage for the so-called educational services of all the theatres and cultural centres in Portugal, and also of some museums; it was the beginning of serious and innovative programming for the youngest.
In 2009, with Giacomo Scalisi, her partner in both life and work, and Miguel Abreu, she founded Festival Todos, with the aim of bringing together the interculturality existing in the city of Lisbon. In the same year, her show Vale, based on the natural and cultural heritage of the Tagus Valley, made in collaboration with local contestants, was awarded a prize for Best Choreography by the Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores.
In 2012, Madalena Victorino and the musician Pedro Salvador began working on the Companhia Limitada project, which tackled the theme of urban loneliness, focusing on a specific space: the Intendente neighbourhood in Lisbon. The first phase consisted of a series of performances in local residents’ homes who, for physical or psychological reasons, were unable to go out onto the street. “That first Companhia Limitada was almost invisible, because we toured around people’s homes, they were shows for just one person” (Madalena Victorino, interview, May 2016). “In a second phase, in 2014, the project focused on the solitude in the streets of Intendente, through the show Povo Bú; in this performance, they conceived an imaginary village “that came from various places in the world (as well as the people that lived there) and went through some of the most “hidden, abandoned and ugly” spaces of the neighbourhood” (Caetano, 2016, p.4), through a street performance that brought together professional artists and residents. The trilogy ended with the show Estação Terminal, which was on stage at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II from 12th to 22nd May 2016, and, in June 2016, this was presented at Largo do Intendente. This third performance approached loneliness in a more complex and abstract way than the previous ones, trying to communicate the feeling of being on the edge of society. Here, loneliness had at its roots such varied reasons as gender identities, the belonging to a different culture, disability, imprisonment or ageing. Estação Terminal brought into the theatre a series of “special guests” (named by Madalena Victorino herself), among them some members of APEDV (Association for the Promotion of Employment for the Visually Impaired) and homeless people, who built dance, music and theatre performances together with professional performers, in a show of about three hours.
In the book Passionate Amateurs (2013), Nicholas Ridout claims that theatre can challenge the capitalist experience of time and work: «Theatre (…) offers at least an image, and sometimes even the reality, of social relationships between people who cannot be defined by the work they do. » (Ridout, 2013, p. 18). Madalena brings to the stage people who have no place within the social body, who occupy a very subordinate position in the organic division of labour. From the movement of the body, audience and performers truly open to each other’s presence and, on stage, each one can redefine their identity and dissociate themselves from the stigma associated to their social position.
Madalena Victorino lives in Aljezur since 2016, when she started the cultural project called Lavrar o Mar – as artes no alto da serra e na Costa Vicentina, with Giacomo Scalisi. This project, which was included in the government programme 365 Algarve until 2020, aims to boost the Aljezur and Monchique region culturally, starting from the local reality to artistically interfere and have a positive impact on the lives of the inhabitants and on nature itself.
This is a reality that Madalena, who has been living here since 2016, has increasingly discovered. Between Aljezur and Monchique, between the sea and the mountains, there are foreign young people with alternative philosophies of life, organic farmers, people looking for some rest from urban life, elderly English and German people who come over to enjoy their retirement, greenhouse workers from Eastern European countries, but mainly from countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India, and, finally, the local population, which is generally very old. Lavrar o Mar is the title of a book by psychiatrist Daniel Sampaio about the turbulent adolescence, as well as a fishing technique of the region in which the nets embrace the sea, instead of being thrown vertically. And Madalena wants exactly that, to embrace and create turbulence, a good one, between these human beings who, despite sharing this territory, live isolated from each other.
This approach became clear in her 2019 creations, EVA PORO #1 and EVA PORO #2, where artists from the city joined rural people to build together a contemporary performance of movement and sound in the Algarve landscape. These performances aimed to recover rural work practices that are disappearing, as well as the people who perform them. Nicolau, a local landscape architect, who is also a barnacle collector, beekeeper, transhumant shepherd and a true connoisseur of nature, was one of the mentors of the creation, by teaching the cast the techniques of agricultural work. Through this creative method, traditional knowledge, apparently obsolete, is honoured and revitalised by placing the people who master it at the centre of creation, passing on their life testimony to the artists who in return will pass on their performative testimony to the local people. EVA PORO was also an opportunity to connect children from different school systems in the region, from public schools to international schools and alternative education systems, by including them in the cast.
Hans Georg Gadamer, in his speech titled O carácter festivo do teatro (1954), stated that theatre is a reunion of people who are “raised above their everyday life and uplifted into a kind of universal communion.” (Gadamer in Monteiro, 2010, p.154). Each of Madalena Victorino’s performances is a party where a strong sense of humanity is created between the people in the audience, and this is ultimately symbolised by the moment of sharing food between performers and audience, something the choreographer always insists on including in her creations.
QUANDO is Madalena Victorino’s most recent creation: a performance in the middle of nature, in the heart of the Monchique Mountains, in which the audience follows an almost one-hour walking trail to reach a river surrounded by mountains – a wonderful scenery that few people have been lucky enough to glimpse. The walk serves as a transit point between individual daily life and the whole world, which fits incredibly inside that narrow valley, in the words of the performers, which are quotations from activists, artists and philosophers from all over the world; in their movements, which are references to hard work in mines of Russia, China, Indonesia and South Africa; and in the presence and contributions of Mr. Valentim, a shepherd from Aljezur, and Mr. Armenio, the town’s former postman. QUANDO is a show that describes contemporary society and reflects on its challenges. It is a shout of the present about the impact of the human being on an increasingly unstable planet, about the protectionist reconfigurations of borders, about the fear of the unknown and about the hard work that leaves marks on the body.
The artistic experience with Madalena Victorino is an experience of love. She creates magical places where the distance between audience and performers, between artists and common people, between professionals and amateurs is shattered. Places where equality prevails. Her shows do what any form of art should do: they suspend everyday life in order to make us reconsider and reconfigure it. In each of her projects, Madalena Victorino dives into the world around her, opens up to what others have to show and teach her, and returns it in a poetic style, as a communion, as a dance, as a party.
Further materials to Madalena Victorino’s works:
- VALE (Video Eva Ângelo): https://youtu.be/OsH4eVTNWeM
- Contrabando (Olga Ramos): https://vimeo.com/510792091/973d039202
Questions for further discussion
- How and to what extent can community art empower socially and economically disadvantaged groups?
- How can dance enhance our knowledge and our attention regarding our own bodies?
- How can one reduce the usual distance felt between performers and audience to achieve a more impactful experience?
- What are the best tools to make a community art’s performance more enduring in the viewers’ memory?
- What is the best methodology to transform cultural aspects into art in site-specific performances?
CAETANO, M. J. (2015). “Das ruas do Intendente para a festa nos corredores do Teatro Nacional”. Diário de Notícias. Available at: https://www.dn.pt/artes/interior/das-ruas-do-intendente-para-a-festa-nos-corredores-do-teatro-nacional-5167379.html
LOURENÇO, G. (2016). “Esta ‘Estação Terminal’ é uma viagem ao outro”. Visão. Avaiable at: http://visao.sapo.pt/actualidade/visaose7e/ver/2016-05-19-Esta-Estacao-Terminal-e-uma-viagem-ao-outro
MONTEIRO, P. F. (2010). Drama e Comunicação. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.
RIDOUT, N. (2013). “Theatre and Communism after Athens”. In Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism, and Love (pp. 5- 32). University of Michigan Press.
Inês Faria was born in Lisbon in 1998 and lived there until I she left to Bologna in 2018 to do her Erasmus. Inês graduated in Communication Sciences in Nova University of Lisbon, and it was during her bachelor that she had the opportunity to meet Madalena Victorino, for whose work Inês had already fallen in love by the age of seventeen. Inês decided to interview her for a journalism project and their friendship was born there. In 2020, Victorino invited Inês to collaborate in the collective creation of the performance QUANDO, through an artistic residency of one month and a half, from September to October 2020, which Inês qualifies as a revolutionary experience. Inês’ dream is to write and direct her own movies, for which she is currently doing the master of Cinema, Television and Multimedia Production at the University of Bologna. Inês believes in performing arts as a powerful instrument for social transformation and even for revolution, and that’s the reason why Madalena Victorino’s work is such an example.
Vasco was born in Lisbon in 1996 and in 2018 completed a bachelor degree in Tourism Management at the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo do Estoril (ESHTE). Vasco has always found himself creating authentic experiences, for small groups, involving local culture, nature, gastronomy and art. For the curricular internship that concludes the tourism management course, Vasco looked for something that resonated with his motivations, deviating from the usual way of interning in large hotels or tour operators. This is how he ended up embracing an internship at Festival TODOS, an intercultural and transdisciplinary festival in Lisbon, where he ended up meeting Madalena Victorino and Giacomo Scalisi (the programmers of the Festival TODOS). After this internship, Madalena and Giacomo invited Vasco for a paid internship as a production assistant in the Lavrar o Mar project, which takes place in Southern Portugal, in the rural area of Aljezur and Monchique. This implied a major change in Vasco’s life. In 2019 he was invited to manage the communication of this project and indeed this is his current occupation. For Vasco, one of the greatest joys of this role is having the privilege of being able to work with and learn from Madalena every day.