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- Published on Wednesday, 15 June 2011 14:35
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For many, the Festival Grec, also known as the Barcelona Festival, constitutes the cultural highlight of the summer. Six weeks of theatre, dance, music, circus and cultural events for all tastes and ages. Traditional and avantgarde projects by internationally renowned artists and the finest local talent. Some events are free, others quite pricey, most fall somewhere in between. In short, the festival truly has something for everyone. And given the length and volume of this list of somethings, I'll share my top picks. There's a whole lot more going on though, so after reading this post, I suggest you check out the festival's website or pick up a printed programme at Palau de la Virreina or other cultural institutions around the city.
This year's edition opens with a little festival within the festival, a night of visually stunning, acrobatic magic 30 metres above ground and two concerts. The opening event is free and aims to underscore the Grec's desire to be a cultural event that involves the whole city and is embraced by the local population. In other words, a true Barcelona festival. The inaugural festivities on June 30 feature the Belgian group Theater Tol and their aerial theatre performance Pedalejant cap al cel (Cycling in the Sky) as well as concerts by Canteca de Macao with their fusion of Mediterranean and Latin influences, and La Troba Kung-Fu who blend rumba, rock, dub and cumbia.
Top Theatre Picks
The festival once again features a variety of artistic disciplines, but theatre is definitely the strongest element of this edition. The first theatrical production to catch my eye is a new interpretation of Kafka's classic Metamorphosis by Icelandic group Vesturport featuring original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. That's enough to get me into the theatre, but the description of how the actor playing Gregor Samsa performs his entire insect transformation using nothing but body language definitely cinched it. (July 5-7, Teatre Lliure)
The second production to draw my attention, mainly due to its relevance to our current political/economic situation, is Too Late! (Antigone) Contest #2 and Alexis, A Greek Tragedy. They're actually two pieces belonging to a series entitled Syrma Antigones by the Italian group Motus. Both use the classic Greek tragedy as a point of departure to address pressing issues. The former uses the context of family and the mass media to examine power relationships. The latter sets the story of Antigone against the backdrop of present day Athens, specifically the death of Alexandros-Andreas Grigoropoulos, who was killed by police in 2008. By juxtaposing the classic text and contemporary images, Motus explores theatre not as entertainment, but a call to action. (July 29-30, Mercat de les Flors)
Other interesting theatrical productions include the surrealist and visually fascinating stage version of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita by British company Complicite and directed by Simon McBurney. Calixto Bieito, one of the most interesting Catalan directors, tackles Calderón de la Barca in El Gran Teatro del Mundo, which brings together Spanish and German baroque traditions, actors and opera singers and the music of Carles Santos to create an "experimental cantata". The Hungarian-born musician and director David Marton reinterprets Mozart's Don Giovanni for the 21st century. The infamous womanizer is now a woman and opera, jazz and electric guitars collide onstage, with a bit of Marquis de Sade thrown in for good measure.
El vídeo no el veu ningú (No One Sees the Video) is a production by the Grec 2012 festival and the Centro Dramático Nacional of Martin Crimp's play. The inspiration for the play came to Crimp, one of Britain's most exciting contemporary playwrights, while transcribing market research interview tapes and realising that behind the most banal, innocent or ridiculous statements often lie the darkest truths.
Top Dance Picks
Dance is the other strong suit of this year's Grec, starting with boDY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS by Canadian group Compagnie Marie Chouinard in which dancers explore the limits of the human body by performing with canes, crutches and other aids usually associated with reduced mobility (July 2-4, Mercat de les Flors). In Ballant a la Sorra, dancer and choreographer Maria Rovira (Transit Dansa) traces the rise of legendary flamenco artist Carmen Amaya from the poverty-stricken Somorrostro to performing at the White House (July 4-5, Teatre Grec).
The most fascinating of all dance performances, however, is Walking Next to Our Shoes...intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking... The first part of the title is a reference to a Zulu expression for "being poor", and the piece by South African choreographer Robyn Orlin talks about war, disease and poverty. But it does so in a way that at least on paper sounds really wild. An opera singer, two dancers, an actor and 10 South African singers who perform isicathamiya, a type of Zulu a cappella style. The performance combines perfectly synchronised vocals and movement. Costumes and set design are made entirely from recycled materials. This definitely sounds like the most original thing we'll get to see at this year's festival. (July 7-8. Mercat de les Flors.)
As in years previous, the Grec pairs up with the Associació Marató de l'Espectacle to present Dies de Dansa, a festival dedicated to contemporary dance in urban settings. From July 6-9, groups and artists from different countries will perform dance pieces outdoors, interacting with the urban space in new and surprising ways. All of the performances are free.
And of course there's music. Pascal Comelade, Jane Birkin, Muchachito, Cabosanroque, Esperanza Spalding, Toquinho, Quimi Portet, Katie Melua, Omar Faruk & Tomatito, Jane Birkin are just a few of the artists performing at the Grec 2012. Plus, there are seven circus shows, including the Circ Cric, which will be performing in an enormous tent next to the Magic Fountain, and a long list of cultural activities, from outdoor cinema and conferences to workshops and lectures. Get ready for a very busy July!
Festival Grec 2012, July 1-31
Inaugural event on June 30 at 9pm on Passeig de Lluís Companys
Various venues throughout Barcelona.
Plays are performed in their original language with Catalan overtitles.
Photo: Grec 2012 poster; Pedalejant cap al cel / Theater Tol.