Archive for March, 2010

IberoAmericano Festival de Teatro de Bogota

March 31, 2010

Something of a dream came true for me last week when I was able to attend the bi-ennial theatre festival in Bogota, Columbia. I had heard excited rumours about this festival for a while: South America’s Edinburgh, host to theatre companies from all over the Latin continent, started somewhat improbably in 1998 by the aging but much beloved Columbian soap star Fanny Mikey. This was the place I needed to be to continue pursuing the marriage of my personal passion for South America with my professional interest in theatre producing.

The 2010 festival was the first since the sad passing of its charismatic founder Fanny Mikey, and tributes to her larger-than-life presence were everywhere: theatres were named in her honour, her orange curls and wicked grin were plastered across billboards, and ebullient quotes from her life adorned theatre foyers, the most bullish of which read: “Everything in life is possible; the only thing impossible is war.”

Fanny Mikey, founder of the Bogota Theatre Festival

Clearly the international theatre world is beginning to take notice of this festival: about 50 international delegates from the professional theatre world attended the 2008 edition of the festival; this year, there were 100 of us, including 6 Brits – myself and 5 representatives of the newly established International Theatre Consortium. Bogota is an extraordinary and challenging place for a festival of this scale: at 2,640 metres above sea level, the city’s air is thinner than usual, and heavily polluted by the smog of traffic fumes that permanently clog the highways, enforcing strenuous aerobic exercise on us in our dashing from venue to venue. The city is immense, and the geographical layout of the grid system is frustratingly deceptive: streets called ‘carreras’ run in one direction and cross streets called ‘calles’ run at right angles. All are supposedly numbered, but given that absolutely no roadsigns exist, very few people, including taxi drivers, seem to know which street is which, with odd diagonal streets and occasional avenues adding to the confusion. Maps seemed to vary wildly in their accuracy, and taxis are almost always 40 minutes late, their passage constantly blocked by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Given that the festival included plenty of events at obscure venues – residential apartments, old crumbling theatres tucked away in courtyards up pedestrian sidestreets, school halls, parks, etc. – most delegates missed at least one show per day from their intended agenda, despite Columbian timekeeping meaning that most shows went up 30 minutes late, and waiting on the busy pavements of Bogota soon became a significant part of the experience.

Despite having to do battle with the city each day, it was an inspiring adventure, and on the occasions when we weren’t in a rush, a wander through the back streets offered up all sorts of surreal delights, from brightly coloured murals, to mountains of fresh strawberries sold by the scoop from a barrow, to dozens of tiny theatres hidden away between shops and houses.

I was of course delighted and secretly rather proud that Teatro de Los Andes’ new show – a South American version of The Odyssey – went down so well (rousing standing ovation from an almost full house) and am hoping that its warm reception might add momentum to my campaign to get this fabulous Bolivian company’s work to the UK (see my first ever blog post on the subject). Other highlights for me included work by Chilean company Teatro En El Blanco: they presented two shows in Bogota – Diciembre, which I didn’t manage to get to see but which is coming our way in the summer care of the Edinburgh International Festival, and Neva, a weirdly comic piece about the death of Anton Chekov. Los Santos Innocentes by Mapa Teatro was a powerful piece of work (using fantastic documentary film footage, two venerable marimba players and a team of actors) about the surreal annual festival in an isolated Columbian town in which King Herod’s slaughter of innocent children is commemorated by drag queens running through the streets whipping passing victims. The site-specific piece El Autor Intelectual from Colombian company La Maldita Vanidad was also worth a watch: we peered voyeuristically from an external courtyard through a living room window into an apartment where three siblings argued over whose turn it was to look after their ailing mother, with tragicomedy inevitably turning to tragedy as the stakes got higher and higher. And an honourable mention must be made of the enjoyably bonkers show A Dentro La Casa A Fuera from Colectivo Inedita: no one seemed to have much of an idea of what was going on in this piece but it certainly ticked the ‘memorable and delightfully bizarre’ box, and what attendance at a Latin American arts festival would be complete without just that?

I could have stayed twice as long and was sad to miss the Cien Dias trilogy in particular, in which three separate directors tackle the dystopian subject matter of a world in which no murders take place, except for the one assassination prescribed each 100 day period by the state, with the murderer and victim selected by public ballot. I have heard good things about part one of the trilogy from those lucky enough to have stayed a day or so longer than my schedule allowed.

As ever, I had to sit through my fair share of the bad during the week in return for the reward of the good – only a few theatrical frogs ever turn obligingly into princes upon kissing, I find – but I quite enjoy the gamble in pursuit of discovering something new and wonderful. I do admit, however, to being grateful for the occasional interval at which I could slip out discreetly in pursuit of a glass of Malbec when it all got too taxing.

So all in all, a stimulating, invigorating, delightful week; put it in your 2012 diaries now.