June 2023

PT in Portugal: giving time a space

O Espaço do Tempo and PT in the national scene

There is a saying in Portugal: “Alentejo is not a province, it is a country.” Don’t take it wrong: the people of this region don’t want independence, and it’s not just that it is the largest province in Portugal. Known for its divine wine, hot weather and slow life, Alentejo is a different way of being and living. Here, time has a different feel to the rest of the country. It moves more slowly, but creativity certainly grows fast. Cante Alentejano, the polyphonic singing of the Alentejo recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, Arraiolos tapestries, Monsaraz blankets, pottery and painting from São Pedro do Corval… these are just a few examples of the traditional arts and crafts of this region. 

Photo: F Delventhal.
Source: Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 2.0

No wonder Portuguese choreographer Rui Horta chose Alentejo to create a multidisciplinary centre for artistic experimentation and called it O Espaço do Tempo (Space of Time). Far from the distractions and noise of a big city, Montemor-o-Novo is a place where artists can find the time to focus, experiment and give space to their visions. Let’s just place it in time: 2000, the new millennium promising hope. Expo ’98, the universal exhibition, had happened only two years previously, and we would wait four years for the UEFA 2004 European Championship to happen in Portugal – two culture-defining events that leveraged the name of Portugal. Democracy was 26 years old! As for dance, Quinzena de Dança de Almada (founded 1992), Danças na Cidade (1993, now known as Alkantara Festival) and Festival Internacional de Dança Contemporânea de Évora (1997) were the three available festivals in Portugal that aimed to showcase and promote national and international contemporary dance. 

The town of Montemor-o-Novo, currently with around 15,800 inhabitants, is now an established cultural hub and a very particular melting pot for the performing arts. With O Espaço do Tempo, Oficinas do Convento and other cultural projects, “Montemor became known among the independent artistic community. Not only by those who worked and lived here, but also by others who passed through. This increased Montemor’s visibility in the cultural field and attracted other artists who even live here today,” explains Pedro Mendes, founder of Coffeepaste and former assistant to the creative direction of O Espaço do Tempo, to whom I had the opportunity to speak at PT.23.

“Montemor is a very curious place. It has several professional structures with a very relevant activity, with O Espaço do Tempo at the head in the performing arts, and Oficinas do Convento in the visual arts,” says Pedro Barreiro, Horta’s successor as artistic director of O Espaço do Tempo since 2022. 

In 2009, O Espaço do Tempo launched the first edition of the Portuguese Platform for Performing Arts (PT). The vision was clear. “There are a lot of interesting works in Portugal today,” explained Horta at the time to news agency Lusa, “but there is a great deficit in the circulation of works, not only in Portugal but also abroad. This event is our contribution to the dissemination of contemporary performing arts.”

Fourteen years and eight editions later, the platform is steady on its mission to contribute to the national and international dissemination of emerging Portuguese and Portugal-based creators and to support new contemporary languages in dance, theatre and performance. “PT has a very important role and has been visibly determinant in what have been the international careers of several artists coming from Portugal. That is quite obvious. From the point of view of PT’s management and artistic direction, I am interested in making this more and more effective and to manage to have an ever greater influence on international programming relationships, so that we can give the artists more visibility and better conditions to work and to access other markets,” says Barreiro.

Alongside PT, Materiais Diversos, founded in 2009 by Tiago Guedes, New Age New Time (2012) created by Teatro Viriato, Cumplicidades Festival (2015) by Francisco Camacho, and DDD – Festival Dias da Dança (2016) in Porto are signs of a natural and gradual evolution that has taken place in the panorama of contemporary dance in Portugal.

“I feel an evolution,” adds Mendes. “Even with the gaps that still exist in Portugal, artists are circulating more. Just look at the names that are circulating today. For example, Tiago Guedes [currently director of Maison de la Danse in Lyon] has been all over the world, and even the structures that support artists are acquiring more skills in these areas.” Indeed, by looking at the first edition of PT, we can easily recognise a handful of names that today play a relevant role in the international scene: great examples include Tiago Rodrigues, currently director of Festival D’Avignon, internationally-recognised choreographers Tânia Carvalho, Marco da Silva Ferreira and Marlene Monteiro Freitas.

But what are the gaps to fill? According to Barreiro, “more is being done now than five, ten or fifteen years ago, but we are still a long way off. We still have a system of support – public and private – that is very incipient. There is chronic and highly damaging underfunding of contemporary arts in Portugal.”

Fortunately, PT provides an atmosphere of hope for the development of the performing arts “made in Portugal”. Apart from being the only platform in the country specifically targeted to national and international programmers, producers and theatre directors (and not to the general public), what makes PT unique? “The closeness and the relaxed atmosphere during these days,” says Mendes. “Being in Montemor plays a part in this, but mainly the influence that Rui [Horta] has had in shaping PT is what makes programmers feel at home.” 

Home sounds a good way to portray how we felt at PT these days: a safe place to return to, and to question everything that makes us restless.

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