The map doesn’t really make sense until you set off on the road. In Portuguese theatre maker Mónica Calle’s case, this cliché became a reality when she abandoned her original roadmap during the creation of her show Ensaio para uma Cartografia.
Mónica Calle is a professional actress and theatre maker. In Portugal she enjoys a unique status as an artist; elsewhere in the world, she is still relatively unknown. In her shows she pairs an interest in themes referring to human relationships, specifically love affairs, to a focus on the (female) body. 25 years ago, Calle founded the Casa Conveniente theatre company. Since 1992, Cais do Sodré, the Lisbon district where Casa Conveniente had its home, had been gentrifying, changing from a port district with dockers and sex workers into a hip and expensive neighbourhood. By 2014, the company, which was named after the local supermarket that was the original occupant of its building, was feeling chased out of the area and moved to a different district: “It was a year of breaking away, of reconsidering everything, of blazing a trail across the city, an emotional journey,” Calle explained to the Portuguese magazine GPS. They ended up on the outskirts of Lisbon in an district called Zona Jota, which had a bad reputation. Here Calle started creating her projects in collaboration with the local community, as she told journalist Ana Pais from the website Critical Stages: “What I felt In Zona Jota was that working there would have a consequence, not just for the community but also for my artistic work. It was stimulating, both artistically and personally. It gave me the possibility of not restricting my work to a minority, a homogenous group of cultural consumers. I believe that the whole dynamic we create with our presence in that neighborhood is inscribing its territory in the city. I ask myself: how can an artistic practice inscribe marginality in the center of a city? I have always been interested in mixing people and contexts, in creating movement.”
During the transition Calle planned to base her next show on the ‘sung ballet’ The Seven Deadly Sins by the politically outspoken German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Calle intended to use the seven districts of Lisbon and the seven regions of Portugal as a blueprint for the production. But she reconsidered: “Going through my mind was one of Leonard Bernstein’s rehearsals. I shut myself up at home to revisit the project and forced myself to watch these orchestra rehearsals.“ As Calle continued on her artistic roadmap, she ultimately created the show that is coming to SPRING in Autumn: Ensaio para uma Cartografia, which roughly translates as A rehearsal for a Cartography. Calle wonders how to create a map of a route, a city or a country? How to go back to the start? And how to continue?
The show sees 12 actresses, their ages ranging from 22 to 50, attempting to perform a classical dance, while trying to play an excerpt from a complex symphony on cellos, violins and double bass. The attempt is endlessly repeated – in the same obsessive vein in which composer Ravel wrote his Bolero: “I began by stripping everything away, from text to costumes, until I came closer and closer to the essence: challenge, effort, and emotion. We try to work with disciplines we are not trained in, like dance and classical music. We see where it takes us, and observe what is left at the core, both artistically and personally.” What about the text in the show? It comes from the conductors, yelling off-stage.
Ensaio para uma Cartografia is shown at October 31st in Stadsschouwburg Utrecht. For tickets, click here.