logotipo festival alkantara

Will anyone be able to say
"I know enough about the past to dedicate my time to the future?"

With this question, one of many in Monday, Cláudia Dias and Pablo Fidalgo Lareo set the tone for the 14th Alkantara Festival. Monday starts in the magical year 1974 (of the revolution but also of the famous Ali-Foreman fight in Kinshasa) and is just one of the many works in this contemporary arts festival that look to the past or seek a connection to a tradition.

The dark clouds gathering over the European continent (and pretty much the rest of the world) have upset the classic progressive-conservative antagonism. These days, to be “progressive” in the widest sense of the word (that is, to believe that we can do better, as a society, than we are doing now) means to try to hold on to/preserve/defend a set of values against the forces that are eating away at them. So the progressives struggle to conserve, while the conservatives fight to change.

This could be cast in a negative light. Instead of creating new visions for a future, we progressives seem perhaps too focused on our fighting retreat. But as we look back, we are reminded that progress is never a linear process, and we are prompted to reconsider our relationship with history.

Some of the artists of the festival, coming from parts of the world that were at the breaking point not too long ago (decolonization, revolutions...), give voice to a growing understanding that we have to return to the point where we broke with the past in order to understand who we are, where we are now (and maybe this breaking point wasn’t as radical as we had dreamed?) and where we are going. This idea is very much present in the work of Lisbon’s Artist of the City Faustin Linyekula, who over the past ten years has used his body on stage, and those of his co- perfomers, as a medium to connect to the past. Both Taoufiq Izeddiou and Radouan Mriziga, born and raised in Marrakesh, link their contemporary dance practice to the heritage of a rich Islamic culture in very opposite ways, but always far beyond the clichés that infect the way the west looks at the Arab world.

Others investigate the origins of their own artistic practice. Takao Kawaguchi digs into the post- WWII tradition of Butoh and one of its most radical and colorful founders, Kazuo Ohno. Chris- tiane Jatahy and tg STAN both use the words of Anton Chekhov to describe contemporary phenomena like emigration. Contos de Joselín revisits a hidden treasure of Galician popular culture and its ever-relevant stories about power, death and money. Joris Lacoste draws on the endless resource that is the spoken word, superposing the vocal expressions extracted from the hullabaloo of the world – political speeches, phone conversations or a gym class, words of hate and love – to allow the fullness of their theatrical, dramatic, tragic and comedic power to reverberate. Roger Bernat invites us to step into film history to explore the difficult relationship between the public and the intimate. And Collectif Jambe returns to the origins of games, to understand basic notions of rules and laws in society.

In opposition to the globalization of culture, the facade on a market globalization that threatens our fundamental control over our destinies, artists tend to focus on local issues, albeit with universal resonance. Setting his youngest brother Yasser against the tragic backdrop of the Lebanese Civil War, Rabih Mroué lays bare fundamental questions of memory and representation. Arkadi Zaides looks through the camera lenses of the B’Tselem project at the impact of half a century of occupation on Israeli society.

However different their motivations and languages, these artists have one thing in common: their looking back is never nostalgic, but always critical, delicate and sharp, often with a serious sense of humor. El Conde de Torrefiel’s portrait of Europe’s lost generation; Federico León playing ping pong with his creative process; Philippe Quesne bringing together Plato and a bunch of moles in a cave, somewhere between Altamira and an atomic bomb shelter – all are examples that depth and lightness need not be contradictory.

The Alkantara Festival 2016 remains an exercise in doing lots with very little. Although the precariousness of our condition has basically not changed since we publicly assumed that the continuation of the festival was in danger in 2014, we have opted to extend the crossing of the ocean, like much of the Portuguese cultural sector. Heartened by the recent changes in our political landscape, we hope culture will be able to restore its viability and vital role in society’s major debates. The near future will tell if this is another naive assessment of if there truly is dry land ahead.

Thomas Walgrave and the Alkantara Festival team