Sofia Dias and Vítor Roriz


© Bruno Simão

Choreographers of O lugar do canto está vazio, presented on July 23, at Teatro Rivoli

What was the main challenge you faced when directing O lugar do meio está vazio for Companhia Maior?

Maybe we can start with what we thought was going to be one of the main challenges and which turned out not to be: the generational difference between us and the cast of Companhia Maior. It is true that we belong to different generations and we were able to prove it in several talks and in the way the cast related to some text and movement proposals. But we realized right away in the first essays that the fact that we share the same métier, the same defects or professional traits, makes us closer than we thought at the outset. We seem to share some sensitivity towards the ephemeral, a desire to be in the present, to transcend the banal. This need for transcendence and even urgency is very much under the skin of the Companhia. And everyone connected to the performing arts is well aware that what we do is perhaps one of the few things that best reflects our ephemeral condition, where each show is unrepeatable and only exists when it is shared with others.
One of the most interesting challenges of this project was dealing with the various theatrical codes that coexist in the Companhia. Codes on how to say a text, how to walk on stage, how to look at the audience, how gestures accompany words, etc. Some of these codes are closer to what is conventionalized as current, others are more easily relegated to another time of making theatre. This conflict between theatrical codes interested us because it allowed us to question our own prejudices. And this was perhaps one of the greatest achievements of this process, reconciling and respecting the individual history of each interpreter, their codes and ways of doing things and not forgetting that we all belong to the same present or that time is not one.
O lugar do meio está vazio reminds us of an absence or an unfilled place, but if we talk in terms of segregation and representation, it is not difficult to recognize that there is an absence of “larger” bodies on the performing arts stages. And this has as much to do with a job precariousness that can only last until a certain age, as with the place that older bodies occupy in our society and their permanent devaluation due to the overvaluation of the new. The Companhia Maior can be seen as an answer to this segregation. In an ideal world, these people would be working in other companies or projects despite their age—as happens with several members of this cast. But as we are far from this ideal, the Companhia also serves to draw our attention to the specificity of these bodies, to challenge us as a public, confronting us with our own bodies and with our social and cultural prejudices.
We hope that O lugar do meio está vazio will also be able to continue this role of the Companhia and challenge our look. It made us choreographers think about how our look is set at a certain pace, at a certain speed, at a certain notion of efficiency and technical virtuosity. And that's also why we avoided smoothing some of the edges of this piece due to the artistic need to question conventions.

Usually, as creators, you staging yourself. How was this transition from the duo to working with a collective with the specifics of the Companhia Maior?

This is the second project in about 20 shows and performances we've created together since 2006, in which we're not on stage to perform — the first was here in Porto with Companhia Instável, in 2010. It's therefore natural that the choreographic material and the composition itself seem inseparable from our bodies. When we work with other people, we are forced to make a kind of split, sometimes felt violently, between our body of performers and our body of choreographers. This is not evident to us at all, because many of the composition decisions result from the experience as interpreters, which makes the ways of making-thinking are very intertwined. Furthermore, improvisation occupies a large part of the research process along with the obsession with experimenting and testing various possibilities of articulation between materials, which means that a large part of the process takes place without immediate results or without foreseeing an end. And then there is the intimacy in which our essays as a couple take place, full of inconsistencies, discontinuities, communicated in a language that may seem foreign to the ears of others.
So, in working with this company, we not only had to let go of our body of performers, we had to structure the first rehearsals in a more or less orderly way to gain some confidence from the cast. What turned out to happen faster than we expected, not to our credit but because of the availability of these people. And from the trust we built together, we were able to enjoy research and experimentation while avoiding thinking about the end result for a large part of the process.
We also had to make an extra effort to finish the piece earlier than usual for us. It often happens that we arrive at a final structure just a few days before the premiere. And this was something that we couldn't do in this project, but on the other hand we were able to invest more time in the composition of the periphery than what happens around what seems to be the main action.

The performances of Companhia Maior were, in many cases, linked to theatre creators, in which the narrative was more present. How did you approach your method? From what point/concepts/materials (or others) did you trigger the creative process with those bodies and those voices?

It is true that in the Compahia's history there are more theatre and dance's performances. And it is also true that most members of the Companhia are more intimate with the word than with the movement. But the diversity of languages ​​not only theatrical but also choreographic that the Compania has performed since its foundation in 2010 is remarkable. It is a situation very close to ideal for any company. Therefore, it is not surprising the enormous availability and openness of these interpreters. And that was key to relating to some of our search tools. Some of the proposals we made to the company could be very frustrating because of their difficulty, namely, the dissociation between word and movement. But luckily humor is something that abounds in this group of people and it was essential in dealing with the sense of failure or error.
In the first rehearsals, we avoided talking about ideas and concepts, we experimented mainly with research tools, choreographic materials and gradually introduced the formal aspects that interested us to continue in this project. It was only halfway through the process, after we had spent a great deal of time having fun with the research tools, that we dedicated some essays to sharing the thematic lines and the conceptual dimension of the piece.
We researched the analogy between sleep and death, as an interruption of a waking state or suspension of life. One of the first dramaturgical lines of the piece organized it into falling asleep, sleeping and waking up. We have always been interested in the before and after sleep, those moments when perception changes gradually, consciousness flows between inside and outside, sensitivity expands and our identity becomes vague. Two of the texts spoken in this performance are descriptions of these moments. This expanded quality of perception is also reflected in the oscillation between the concrete and the abstract and between the text and the movement of the piece. Furthermore, sleep allows us to talk about the relationship between the collective and the individual. Because sleep also means an interdependent relationship, it is made possible by living in a community. When sleeping, we abandon ourselves to the care of others, to their surveillance. Perhaps this intimacy with sleep has given the piece a more contemplative or immersive tone where each performer is a version of himself in a kind of altered state of consciousness.
Despite sleep being a recurrent theme in this piece, there are other themes and ideas that cross it as a choreographic movement or spoken text and that allow us to escape a certain thematic unity. Most of these ideas and the texts of the piece were inspired by the readings of authors such as Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary, Marguerite Yourcenar, Peter Sloterdijk, among others.

Interview conducted on July, 2020, by Vítor Pinto (TMP’s communication office).