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PostTip: Grec Festival Reviews

So here it is! The Grec Festival. In this PostTip I am going to gather brief reviews of the first shows I have seen (last seen first), while later ones will be published separately.

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

CONCIERTO/CONCEPTO, BRODAS BROS (7 July, Teatre Grec) – I had already seen this local group of urban/hip-hop/electro funk/soul dancers twice, and each time left the venue impressed by their skills, creativity and infectious high spirits – yet on their first appearance at the Grec theatre they set their aspirations even higher by conceiving a rich, dynamic mix of dance, music, acting and anything else that might turn this into a real happening. Mission accomplished: I think any member of the surprisingly varied audience would confirm it was indeed a fun night, a feel-good ceremony to praise and remember. From the compelling opening act to the final jam-session and the exhilarating flashmob, Brodas Bros and their guests (including Marcus, the amazing Spanish beatbox champion) rocked the amphitheatre and left their mark on this festival. They specialize in just a few areas of the wide universe of urban/hip-hop dance, and despite their commitment to stretch their language the performance was a bit repetitive at times; it would be nice to see them include other styles (like krump) in the future, but they are great in what they do and I can only wish them the best for the next Christmas season, when “Concierto/Concepto” is set to shake the Mercat de les Flors (from 20 December to 6 January). If you like this kind of dance at all, or if you simply want to have a good time, do not miss it.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10 + wow!

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

BALLANT EN LA SORRA (5 July, Teatre Grec) – Now this is what I call a nice show! And the funny thing is, this tribute to the life of revered flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya is much less pompous and sashawaltzly pretentious than “Body Remix”. Not that it lacks a certain ambition, mind you: the fusion between flamenco and contemporary dance is well thought-out, but the result is straightforward, disarmingly human and at times poetic, without the slightest hint of art-house stuck-upness. Yes, the dancers look a bit green here and there and some choreographies verge on the simplistic (end-of-year school show, anyone?), but among other virtues the study of organic group movement is commendable: the scene in which the main bailaora is surrounded by the other dancers, whose gestures come alive as a breathing expansion of hers, is simply stunning. Hats off to the musicians too, whose live performance is a pleasure to witness. This show has moved me and made me understand something more about flamenco: I would advise it to anyone.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7/8 out of 10.

Ok, we've gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Ok, we’ve gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

BODY REMIX/GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (3 July, Mercat de les Flors) – Mmh, no thanks. I must admit the show is professional and does have a certain edge, but I seldom appreciate this kind of conceptual art. I am under the impression its only goal is to show how smart the choreographer is, which ironically makes me feel like there is really nothing left to invent (which by the way I find totally untrue). This particular show boasts, er, uhm, dancers on crutches (CHOIR: OOOOH!). How illuminating. As for the rest, I tend to bear deliberately disturbing pieces only if they strike the proper balance between shadows and lights. If you want to punch me in the guts, why don’t you try to make my heart melt first? Otherwise it’s all in the brain, and I frankly get enough of that in the daytime. In this performance, the few moments of grace disappeared among a stormy sea of wandering aural and visual impulses which added up to a big handful of nothing. And as cool and artsy as it may be, nothing is, after all, exactly what it is – that is, nothing. Besides I often got the feeling these dancers – almost none of which impressed me at all – were the first non-believers in the general vision and the specific gestures they were asked to recreate. And if you cannot get your own dancers to buy into your vision, imagine the audience. Some people actually liked the show, so take it with a pinch of salt… But I honestly would not advise my best friends to see this, and that includes you.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 5 out of 10.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

Finally, a note on Teatre Grec itself: is it just me, or they have gone a wee bit too far with the spending cuts this year? Since the pleasure of a night at the Grec depends in no small part on the legendary pre-show cocktails in its gorgeous gardens, I find it quite counterproductive that any sign of a decent dinner has been scraped out in favour of execrable hot-dogs and hilarious 3€ sandwiches that have clearly been inspired by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. At this rate, physicists will need to make a huge effort to catch up by discovering an even smaller particle by next year. Such poor food makes early arrival hardly worthwhile, unless (1) you have already eaten, (2) you bring your own dinner, or (3) you go for the restaurant, which thanks to clear price cuts is more affordable this year.

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2012 Grec Festival: Long-awaited

Another year, another Grec

Another year, another Grec

Give it a try if… What Barcelona offers in terms of world-class performing arts leaves you hungry for more.

Steer clear if… Your main concern in summer is where to get the best bikini wax.

Every year, as I climb the steps leading up to Teatre Grec and reach its impeccable gardens, two feelings invariably take over: I am grateful for having the chance to savour its magic one more time, and bewilder at the idea that someone might not even know it exists. If you are one of them, wait no longer.

Out in the Open

Built on Montjuic in 1929, when the prettier sister of the current economic crisis was raging, Teatre Grec was modeled after a classic open-air Greek amphitheatre. It has turned into a symbol of the performing arts in Barcelona, and every summer it opens its doors to host part of the events of a festival which has widened its scope in the years by adding more and more locations in town. Theatre, music, dance, circus and more: several recognized international productions, complemented by a selection of top-class national projects, enrich the program of this festival, considered by many the peak of the cultural season in Barcelona. A responsive audience – mostly locals, joined by a solid expat segment – usually flocks to the Grec without reserve. They hardly forget to reach the gardens in advance to enjoy some food or a glass of cava and do some gossiping, catwalking or hunting for this year’s summer romance, making this a social event as much as a cultural one.

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A Subprime Edition?

The crisis seems to have left its mark on this year’s edition. The 2012 Grec Festival will only last for the whole month of July, one or two weeks less than usual – and the prestige of some shows is perhaps a bit less patent, an inevitable reflection of a tighter budget. While a quick online check suggests that both Jane Birkin and Toquinho may have lost a bit of their shine lately, relative newcomers like Esperanza Spalding and respected veterans like Pascal Comelade ennoble a program that otherwise struggles to fly high in the musical department. Theatre looks more promising, with an ambitious production of “The Master and Margarita” and an Icelandic take on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” at Teatre Lliure among the jewels of the crown. Circus shows have apparently been emphasized (see “Le Grand C”), while dance proposals verge on the weak side, apart from shows like “Poppea//Poppea” at Mercat de Les Flors or “Concierto/Concepto” (do not miss either!).

A still image from the bizarrely titled "Poppea//Poppea" (photo by Regina Brocke)

A still image from the bizarrely titled “Poppea//Poppea” (photo by Regina Brocke)

Keep the Faith

The festival management – led by newly-appointed director Ramon Simó – has generally lowered prices this year, but also reduced some discounts (just 20% off any show if you see three or more), conceived an irritating redesign of price areas and allowed Tiquet Ramblas to turn the buying process at the box-office into a disgraceful obstacle race in which every possible detail has become a hassle. Yet as I said, never mind! It is always worth making the effort to work your way up to the Grec as often as you can afford – and the other locations are definitely worth a visit.  So do your homework by studying the program (usually published in the second half of May, this time at the beginning of June), and buy the tickets with your most interesting and dependable friends a.s.a.p. to get good seats. Get there early on the chosen night/s, bringing a light jacket just in case; as you wait for the performance, pick a sandwich bar or a café in the gardens and let the summer in. Or even better, book a table with significant advance at the slightly upscale associated restaurant, which boasts amazing views and interesting food at a premium price. See you up there!

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.

Visit Grec Festival – Official website.