MARLENE MONTEIRO FREITAS (Cape Verde, 1979) is a dancer, choreographer and the co-founder of P.OR.K, her production structure in Lisbon. Her work, including Bacchae – Prelude to a Purge (2017), Jaguar (2015) and Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues also Suffer (2014), is characterized by openness, impurity and intensity. In 2018, La Biennale di Venezia has awarded Freitas with the Silver Lion for Dance.
What was your first experience with the performing arts?
As far as I remember, a duet on Madonna’s La Isla Bonita, presented on an open-air stage, at the occasion of a big street party in my neighbourhood. I was around 6 years old. Together with a friend, we choreographed the movements, danced, and chose the costumes and the music. I have always enjoyed dancing and performing for people at home, at school, wherever. An aspect
of me that strongly contrasted with my otherwise timid character.
What did you want to become as a child?
A gymnast or archaeologist, later a psychiatrist.
Which performance kept you awake at night recently?
Not so recently but Romeo Castelluci’s Orphée et Euridyce at La Monnaie in Brussels definitely stole my sleep away. The entanglement between the myth of Orpheus, Gluck’s music and the real story of Els, a patient with locked-in syndrome, was masterfully done. I was overwhelmed! The piece was extreme in its contrasts and contradictions, and most of all, it presented itself, to me, as an experience of depth and of vastness. Within the opera house, a silent and unknown world resonated in the most dizzying way.
And which performance is unforgettable?
Pina Bausch’s Mazurca Fogo. It was my first year living in Europe, attending my first dance classes and for the first time seeing a Pina Bausch show. At that time, I was willingly learning not to move my hips and to adopt all sorts of other movement conventions that were a challenge to my idea of dancing. And, all of a sudden, there on stage were these magnificent dancers, with their physicality, dancing a traditional form of Mazurca from Cape Verde, aligned, moving their hips as much as they could. I was mesmerised! Images, music, dance and words were combined in a fantastic fictional world. It was a very important experience, as it helped, then and later, putting things into perspective for me.
What is your favourite place to be?
There is a moment, in the studio during the creative process when, after work and time spent on an idea, it unpredictably talks back, as if possessed of its own voice and desires. You witness a form of birth, of liberation, of self-determination. It may be simultaneously scary and wonderful, but it certainly is a moment of unique and profound joy.
Otherwise the sea – its movement, sounds, energy, taste, smell, depth, colour – its vastness speaks directly to my senses. I believe the memories it evokes plays an important part too.
Where would you like to show your work once?
My work has been shown in different parts of the world but, contrary to my wishes, not so much in Africa. So far, I have presented Guintche in Maputo (Mozambique) and Kinshasa (DRC), and that is it.
Who taught you the most in your life?
Different people at different times and I continue to learn and to be influenced to this day. But, in the first instance, father and mother involuntarily trained my gaze. One taught me to see things that were invisible to the eyes, to imagine them and to trust my imagination. The other taught me how to combine different patterns and objects, their disposition in space or in an outfit.
What does your workplace or atelier look like?
I do not have a studio of my own, I work in different places. For instance, for the creation of Mal – Embriaguez Divina, I have been working in Iceland, Florence, Freiburg and Munich. Usually, I dress up walls and part of the floor with images I have collected. I like their company and value the way their presence directly and indirectly informs the work. One of my main requests for a workspace is a good sound system.
Do you have a ritual before you go on stage or before a premiere?
Yes, but I believe in its necessity and importance as much as I am convinced it should remain private.
What is the best thing about your job?
Getting to know a bit more of the animal called Man.
Do your parents like your work?
My father passed away years ago, so he just saw things from my younger days, which he very much liked. Mother has not seen them all either. Ivory and Flesh is her favourite, I think. Usually she is very apprehensive. On the one hand, she has the impression that I am a different persona on stage, that I am simultaneously her daughter and a foreigner, whom she finds unpredictable and does not fully understand. On the other hand, she is worried whether the public is enjoying the show or not. More important than liking my work, is seeing I am able to do what I wish and have prepared myself to do. She is often impressed by the architecture of the theatres, namely the most impressive ones, the number of people and the enthusiasm of the audience. It is understandable these are aspects that impress someone who comes from a latitude where there is not a theatre culture like the European one.
Does theatre have an impact?
Yes. But music, cinema, visual arts and everyday life events are also important.
With whom would you like to collaborate once? Are there certain artists you feel related to?
I enjoy collaborating with the dancers, dancer-choreographers, musicians, stage and lighting designers and other people I work with. The number of artists whom I admire, from the most diverse fields, is vast. The more I love their work the less I can project an encounter with these artists, as I believe I could not add much to it: it is difficult for me to figure my contribution to their work. Some artists have been directly or indirectly informing the work, such as Francis Bacon, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Tadeusz Kantor, Ildo Lobo, Kazuo Hara, Benjamin Clementine, Pedro Costa, Ashraf Fawakhry, Mahmoud Darwich, Forensic Architecture… the list is endless. I am uncomfortable pinpointing only some, as there is no primacy of these against others.
Who would you like to see collaborate on a piece?
A post-mortem encounter between Muhammad Ali and Pina Bausch.
Did you ever have a special encounter with an audience member?
Several. A good example would be the woman whose nose bled throughout a show and was therefore busy with tissue the whole time. Later she came to the discussion with the artists and said she enjoyed the show as much as she bled, as indeed emotions cause her nose to bleed. An elderly woman commented how the show led her to remember how she once helped a goat giving birth and, as she was telling this, she was remembering her gestures and the animal moves and sounds in detail and in the most impressive manner.
What is the most recent note you made?
Yesterday, for the Ruhrtriennale: ‘What will be the consequences? I cannot tell, but surely there will be a before and an after: there will be a prelude and a coda. Similar tempo and melody have been imposed on big parts of our world, despite geographic, economic, social or biological contexts. There is silence, birds singing, but also anguish, tears and anxiety; ice skating rinks turned into morgues, military cars carrying coffins of loved ones, parked airplanes having their engines dressed, conference pavilions turned into hospitals, biohazard vests spilling into the public sphere. The virus is not simply threatening the biosphere, but is spilling into the imaginary sphere, it is fiction becoming reality. A new musicality is emerging, but I am afraid a virus cannot stop Man from being Man, as he is the animal he is.’
Is art your life?
I earn my living as an artist. My relationship with the work is one both of necessity and pleasure. Each creation is an avalanche of emotions and exhaustion, but that doesn’t deter me.
If you had the chance to start again and choose a new career, what would you do?
I would become a wizard, able to predict misfortunes and fight injustices. So far, I have not thought in the longterm, or of a career. I’ve been functioning on a piecemeal basis: project by project. Each project is the result of full engagement at the best of my capacities; so far this has been my reality.
Do you think the theatre will survive in the future?
Absolutely! Every social community needs its form of theatre or of theatricality. I recall Les maîtres fous by Jean Rouch (1955), an extraordinary document that gives an afterlife to an intense, cathartic, gathering of a group of people: still so intense, for us today. The pope climbing a stair in an empty square and preaching in an empty cathedral, how theatrical it is! The changing of guards, the courts, their choreographies, processions, among others. This theatricality beyond the theatre is fully meaningful to us humans and this means that humans are receptive to the emotions and meanings that space, bodies, objects and light may convey, i.e. theatre. Throughout history there have been many plagues, epidemics, wars… and theatres have resumed their activity, possibly with a renewed relevance. This will happen once again, I am pretty sure.