PARTICIPATING SCENOGRAPHERS

Anna Alcubierre / Paco Azorín / Cube.bz / Sílvia Delagneau / Max Glaenzel / Eugenio Szwarcer

We could say that Anna Alcubierre, Paco Azorín, Cube.bz, Sílvia Delagneau, Max Glaenzel and Eugenio Szwarcer form part of a generation. They trained mainly at the Institut del Teatre and almost all of them started work in the late 1990s in a context where cultural policies and economic investment were very different from today.

We think that what defines this generation is not a specific identity as a group but the heterogeneity of how they understand and approach scenic design. From the lighting work of Cube.bz to Szwarcer’s use of video and documentary languages, from the close link between Azorín’s stage direction and scenography to Glaenzel firmly assuming the role of scenographer, or Delagneau’s character design to the bridge between Alcubierre’s stage and exhibition spaces, they have all given a wide and personal meaning to the old, beautiful and controversial word “scenography”.

In a country as small as ours this plurality means richness and possibilities. But alongside the economic, political and social transformations we are experiencing, it places us in an uncertain and changing setting full of questions about the future.

Our desire has been to avoid a retrospective show where they are a theme to be exhibited. The idea of sharing a play, a reflection on recent cases of social conflict using their tools and artistic languages has been a valuable material for the creators. The stand we present has been built around their contributions.

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EUGENIO SZWARCER

Eugenio Szwarcer

One of the best compliments he recalls receiving for his work was from a woman director who called him to participate in a project “because you are the only person I know that, if it was necessary, would create an ugly scenography.” Born in Buenos Aires in 1976, Eugenio first trained in Argentina and later in Barcelona, where he studied Scenography at the Institut del Teatre. His career began in small format productions at the Sala Beckett, and has developed in partnership with directors such as Joan Ollé, Juan Carlos Martel, Carme Portaceli and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Since 2009, he has put most of his energy into the documentary theatre company La Conquesta del Pol Sud, of which he is cofounder along with the stage director Carles Fernández Giua.

We meet Eugenio in a room at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, where they are rehearsing Raphaëlle, the third part of the trilogy on women, history and identity started in 2014 with Nadia and developed with Claudia (2016). Unfortunately, we had to turn down his invitation to visit him in Berlin, where he lives and, as he tells us, “goes to rest.” Thus, we have to an exercise our imagination when he insists that the space surrounding us is not at all like his studio or his usual work space. His facet as a scenographer cannot be separated from his facet as a video artist, two professional fields that, in his case, become one. The inclusion of videos in the performance space (while avoiding the standard screening formats and using volumes and props as support for the image) and the exploration of the possibilities of interaction between action on stage and the virtual nature of the image are some of the focuses of interest that have always revolved around Eugenio’s projects.

However, the artistic approach he has taken with La Conquesta del Pol Sud has given him a series of challenges. “I was very used to working with animation and, when I started doing Nadia, the decision that the whole video material had to be real was quite radical.” But above all he emphasises the creation process. With La Conquesta, a totemic idea of scenography is blurred, and he delves into a work process in which the needs of the production are much more horizontally distributed among the members of the team, the focus is more on dramaturgy than on technical solutions and the different roles are not understood as separate plots but as part of a single narrative.

The relation with the performers, who are not actresses but witnesses who speak in the first person, has also meant a great change in his way of thinking and designing. “We don’t make any decision about the space, the costumes or the mise-en-scène without discussing and agreeing on it; we don’t do anything without the main actress being fully aware of what we are saying, or without her feeling involved.” The aesthetic decisions, therefore, play second fiddle, and the link of the materials with the biographical or historical contents the performers channel become the main artistic challenge of projects that Eugenio describes as “the mise-en-scène of a relationship” and where both Carles and he physically share the stage and questions with the actresses, in an exercise of erasing the line that separates the inside from the outside.

It is not surprising therefore that Eugenio ends by saying that he finds fictional projects increasingly harder, although he seems a little surprised by his own words. “I find myself in a very intimate process, in which I have moved from thinking that I could do everything to realising that I can’t, and that I need to concentrate on what interests most me.” You can consult the projects of La Conquesta del Pol Sud on its website:
http://www.laconquesta.com


MAX GLAENZEL

Max Glaenzel

While we are negotiating our way through the groups of tourists and people pushing their shopping trolleys along the narrow pavements of Carrer Nou de la Rambla, where Max has his house-studio, we try to recall all the stage designs by him we’ve seen. Impossible. Every time the list seems complete, another one comes to mind. Born in Barcelona in 1971, Max studied Industrial Design at the Massana School and, as he tells us, he got into set design “by chance”. The first time was in 1993, as an artistic tandem with Estel Cristià, with whom he would spend much of his career. And since then the scenographic entropy has continued, resulting in an innumerable number of ephemeral spaces.

The shelves of Max’s studio, on which around twenty models from past projects sit together, help us to remember. And, yet, Max describes the moment in which he currently finds himself as one of crisis and transformation. Regularly working with Sergi Belbel, Carlota Subirós, Àlex Rigola and La Veronal, among others, his work has always been in keeping with the current performing arts. And although he trained in commercial theatre and fringe theatres, with directors who have a classical concept of the misè-en-scène, the new projects he is involved in, marked by the change in both economic and cultural paradigm of recent years, are forcing him to undergo a certain process of unlearning. “Curiously, now that I am grown up,” he tells us, “I’m finding myself breaking structures.”

He explains that he has never had a generic methodology that he could apply to any project but that he has always understood each piece as a game for which he had to invent new rules. This means that, instead of regarding ‒ technical and aesthetic ‒ innovations with suspicion, he throws himself into them. This is the case, he tells us, of digital drawing tools and, indeed, we can see, next to a model, a SketchUp design on his computer. “Our generation trained in a context of a strange balance between precariousness and privilege. The privilege was, in our case, entering the professional world very directly. The current generations, in contrast, have had to train themselves exclusively in a state of precariousness and this means that their artistic ideas are much more daring and exciting. Sometimes, I have the impression that I came late.”

But whether he designs the scenography for a traditional play such as La rosa tatuada directed by Carlota Subirós (2013) or for an installation project such as Macho Man by Àlex Rigola (2018) or a dance piece by La Veronal such as Pasionaria (2018), all his creations are characterised as highly detailed and, in each case, as a small self-contained world. These are some of the features of his work that we have in mind when he points out that he is still looking for himself as a scenographer, and that he is not even sure if the term “scenographer” is the best way of defining him: a question that fits well with his rejection of the idea of “method” and the curiosity that leads him to give each of the spaces he designs its own atmosphere and reality.

Pinning him down a little, we ask him whether all the transformations of the performing arts to which he makes reference will lead to the extinction of the theatre spaces and rituals as we know them. And if it is true that, as Enrique Olmos de Íta used to say, “the seat manufacturers have no future.” Max quickly answers that, if the theatre ritual is meaningful for him it is because this is the space where he has reflected on reality (both as an individual and in a group) very intensively and that he hopes that this special intensity, which he experiences in the process of research and rehearsal, can somehow be reflected in the audience; for the audience to become part of the discussion group. There is something basic in this ritual, he notes, that must be reinvented and must not be lost. “We must not take the seats out completely.”


PACO AZORÍN

Paco Azorín

Despite having an extensive professional career with over 150 scenic designs for opera, theatre, dance or musicals, Paco Azorín (Yecla, 1974) still defines himself as “a boy”. A boy who got interested in the performing arts thanks to the freedom offered to him by a small box of biscuits where as a child he could allow his imagination to take flight and play at being the creator he would become as an adult: “It was a window on another dimension, a dimension much more interesting than life itself.” The most scenographic of directors and the most director-like of scenographers, as he defines himself, trained at the Institut del Teatre. Since then he has become a creator with one of the most extensive and varied careers in the performing arts today. His activity, however, particularly focuses on the field of opera and zarzuela, influenced by the passion of one of his uncles, a great music lover, for these genres.

This infinite curiosity has taken him to erase the borders between his work as a scenographer and as a stage director, adopting the two roles together in many of his productions. He explains that the scenographer works with stable, solid materials while the director works with human material, far more volatile and equally interesting. As a scenographer he is especially involved in the dramaturgy of the space, in its narrative capacity, while, as a stage director, he confesses that he always starts his work with a spatial metaphor. Two different approaches to performance that, in Paco’s case, seem to fit together naturally.

Whatever the professional position he adopts in any process of creation, Paco is sure that if anything makes this process exciting, it is the dialogue established between all the agents involved. For him, the director is never a totemic figure: “The director-dictator forms part of the 20th century.” He feels comfortable being in the shoes of the director as the person charged with orchestrating the talents of the whole team.

Although he carries out much of his artistic work in the world of opera ‒ a genre that, very often, still seems rooted in the codes and dogmas of past centuries ‒ he is convinced of the need to demystify the performance space. He convincingly argues that “you cannot do 21st century opera in an 18th or 19th century building.” He tells us that, from his point of view, opera has forgotten everything interesting provided by 20th century avant-gardes and that is destined to perform a triple somersault from the codes of the 19th century to those of the 21st. Faithful to his idea of the need to define the stage and its relationship with the audience, he argues that opera must cease to be an elitist genre if it does not want to disappear. All these thoughts, characteristic of the professional who regards any creative process with innocence and curiosity, are evident in many of his projects. His productions always include technological elements and contemporary references to bring classic themes and characters to the audience and to establish a prolific dialogue between what we call “classics” and the contemporary perspective. Good examples of this dialogue could be his versions of Tosca (Gran Teatre del Liceu, 2014) and Fuenteovejuna (Ópera de Oviedo, 2018).

Talking to Paco, it is easy to see that, for him, life and the stage are absolutely connected. He tells us that recently he has been looking inwards in search of the questions and conflicts that will become the creative engine that will shape his projects. For him, the stage is the best place to learn new things rather than the place to recognise everything already known. Once again the curious outlook of the boy who still has everything to discover becomes apparent. This idea of freedom comes up repeatedly in our talk: we live in a world where we only find second hand ideas, so the artist has to be militant about his freedom of thought. Only by exercising this freedom (the mother of all other freedoms ‒ of expression, demonstration, etc. ‒, he says), will every artist be able to achieve, if only for an instant, the plenitude of his or her creative identity. “Without ritual or spirituality there is no action or performing art.”

You can consult Paco Azorín’s projects on his website:
www.pacoazorin.com


SÍLVIA DELAGNEAU

Sílvia Delagneau

The first time we met, Sílvia Delagneau (Salamanca, 1981) warned us: “I’m a costume designer and scenographer but not an orator.” For her, theatre means “being and doing”, it means presence and action, intuition and creation, collective knowledge rather than individual reflection. It is, in the end, potential freedom. We are not surprised when we enter her website and see the message: “Maintenance mode. Sorry for the inconvenience.”1 Sílvia seems to be in constant transformation, always working, searching, creating. But never in isolation. She makes it clear that, for her, the most exceptional characteristic of performing creation is teamwork; a group that emerges out of “the need to share things that are closely linked to our way of life.” And she confesses: “I’m hopeless, as you can see.” Sorry for the inconvenience.

Sílvia is highly renowned for her work as a scenographer but, above all, as a costume designer. She has worked with creators such as Àlex Rigola and Albert Arribas and with companies such as Indi Gest, Agrupación Señor Serrano and La Veronal. She tells us that theatre had never formed part of her family tradition. “It was by seeing things that I didn’t like in theatre that I decided I wanted to do theatre; to meet people that wanted to do the same things as me.” She began her professional career as a photographer and through this discipline she realised that what she liked most was looking in order to later create a fiction that imitated reality. Through this idea of recreation, Sílvia shapes a very personal poetic viewpoint in all the projects she participates in. Like the members of the Agrupación Señor Serrano say, Sílvia is “a person who, in her creations, manages to add layers and layers to what is real until she conceals it. A way of understanding scenography and performing creation through installation and the visual arts.” It is rare to find a performing creator with so much artistic personality that, when we look at any project she has participated in, we can immediately identify her hallmark without checking the credits of the programme.

Out of photography came the desire to work on special effects make-up. But, in this field, Sílvia missed the artistic dialogue that collective creation affords. Perhaps for this reason, and as she explains, almost at random she started creating scenic spaces and costumes with the group Indi Gest. And maybe ‒ who knows ‒ it is this innate trust in intuition, or her creative promiscuity, or the lack of family tradition, or the fact of having begun to work as a scenographer almost by chance, or perhaps her self-confessed hopelessness, or her endless curiosity, that has given Sílvia’s work a completely free, playful and very personal vision. When you speak with Sílvia you have the constant feeling that everything is possible and everything is yet to be done. And that it must be done. Or, at least, you must try.

Although she usually works as a costume designer, Sílvia warns us that she not only designs costumes: “When I design I don’t think of street clothing, but of concepts. Lately, rather than dressing a character, what I do is design a possible dramaturgy”: a body-language, probable actions, a specific performativity. This expanded vision of the craft of costume designer gives Sílvia’s work an inevitably contemporary perspective. It is no surprise, therefore, that in the credits of the show Ivànov, by Àlex Rigola, Sílvia appears as “character and mask designer” rather than “costume designer”. In fact, while we talk with Sílvia, we realise that her work table is covered by tiny bananas, miniature animals, cuts of cloth, sketches, model cars… Objects that invite play, action.

Our talk with Sílvia ends with two reflections that seem to have a key importance in her way of understanding creation. The first has to do with what interests her most about theatre: the process of creation, teamwork. “I’ve never done commercial theatre. If doing commercial theatre means having shorter creation processes, it doesn’t interest me.” You need to have time to make mistakes: “Not all the ideas are good right away; you need to try again and again.” And she complains about the poor dialogue established within the artistic panorama of Barcelona: theatre, dance, performance, art intervention, the visual arts… seem to be looking in different directions.

Sílvia’s second reflection concerns a widened conception of the idea of theatre space: “In our generation, we’ve been told to be respectful with our use of the public space. And perhaps this respect has meant that we don’t make the environment our own. This possibly also happens with the theatre space […] What we have to do with the seats is to fill them, no matter where they are.” And, out of the blue, she begins imagining performing possibilities in uncommon spaces: “Perhaps we could start by occupying the pews in churches.“ And, as if it were completely natural, the meeting does not end with a reflection on theatre but with proposals and ideas for a new show. As we mentioned, for Sílvia, theatre is action rather than thought.


1 Consultation made on 10 May 2019.


CUBE.Bz

Cube.bz

Behind the mysterious name of Cube.bz is one of the most prolific creative couples in Catalonia: María de la Cámara and Gabriel Paré. Based in Agullana (Alt Empordà), these designers ‒ trained at the Institut del Teatre de Barcelona and on the main fringe stages ‒ jointly explore space and light. “We are not really interested in working these two fields separately.” Binomials seem to be the natural ground where they feel more comfortable: they work together in the Empordà region and the rest of Catalonia, they move indistinctly between the design of the performance space and lighting… It is in fact in these intermediate areas where they find the most fertile ground for their creativity. Although they have a studio in their country house in Agullana, they point out that in the end their creation and research process takes shape on the stage. “The motorway is our studio.” This versatility and mobility has also become clear in our meetings. We have visited them twice. The first, on the stage of the Teatre Grec in Barcelona while they were completing the premier of the show El monstre al laberint, directed and choreographed by Constanza Brnčić; the second, in their country house in Agullana.

Their curriculum is so extensive and varied that it is impossible to summarise. They have worked with artists and companies such as General Elèctrica, Àlex Rigola, Societat Doctor Alonso, Marcel·lí Antúnez, Albert Pla, Los Corderos and Rosalía. But, apart from their productions, if something defines them it is their work methodology: research as the main motivation and a very personal artistic vision that is never subordinated to that of the artists with whom they work but directly dialogues with them, establishing ethical and aesthetic understanding that nurtures any process in which they participate. An artistic and political viewpoint on the creation that feeds off references as (seemingly) disparate as American rationalist architecture, Camarón de la Isla, the Lumière brothers, Alvar Aalto, Caravaggio, rumba and punk.

They work in dance, theatre, music, cinema, art installations and architecture: “We transfer what we learn in the world of art installations to the world of theatre and what we learn in the world of music to the world of dance. It is in this ambiguous environment of the living arts that we feel more at ease.” They exemplify this inseparability of light and space through the figure of the architect: “An architect would never be asked to design a building and, later, someone else to decide where the opening to should be placed to allow in natural light.” Light affects the materials and volumes of the space and, therefore, María and Gabi find it contrived to conceive them separately. This relation, however, also takes place the other way round: “We work the light elements as scenic elements. A spotlight not only lightens but also has a specific performative presence. We conceive the performance space by taking into account the arrangement of the lighting material in a spatial sense.” Just as with other scenography professionals we have talked to, María and Gabi have a more extensive vision of what was traditionally related to design and lighting: “We don’t work with light just so scenery can be seen properly but to create a dramaturgy, a three- dimensional space.”

They both relate this particular idiosyncrasy of their work method to the circumstances in which they began their professional life: “We began working at a time when the contemporary dance world was beginning to think beyond dance alone and was approaching the world of theatre: a time, what’s more, in which there was a significant crisis that affected the whole sector. This means that the limits are blurred.” This learning method, which inevitably involves experimentation, clearly reflects the artistic personality and creative curiosity of María and Gabi.

The first meeting with the “Cube” (as they are known in the sector) ended with a reflection on the cultural policies that concern the alternative living arts and performing research: “It’s clear that the cultural policies on the living arts involve a distribution of resources that should be rethought. Alternative proposals are always left with a tiny slice of the cake [in comparison to more classical proposals]. And the most classical proposals feed off alternative and research proposals.” For María and Gabi, the theatre has the same function as any other artistic discipline: it disturbs, makes you think, nourishes and creates a society with a critical spirit. However, they emphasise that the most experimental living arts have the capacity to combine reflection and criticism with entertainment and diversion: “And it seems that nobody is aware of this.”

You can find out more about the work of Cube.bz on their website:
www.cube.bz


ANNA ALCUBIERRE

Anna Alcubierre

The person that covered the walls of the CCCB with swarms of Sebaldian black butterflies1 and filled the rooms of the Arts Santa Mònica with constellations of lights and shadows to accompany the sound textures of Brian Eno2 prefers to avoid overly restrictive classifications when defining herself and describes herself as a “translator of contents”. Born in Vic in 1972, Anna studied Interior Design at EINA but moved into scenic design because, as she says, “it is more entertaining if behind a project there is a story.” After completing her studies in Scenography at the Institut del Teatre, she developed a varied and extensive professional career in theatres and museums, while also dedicating herself to scenic and exhibition design.

The blurring of the border that usually separates these two fields became the name of the studio Anna founded in 2010 and where, since then, she has carried out her projects: Espai e. As she tells us with a smile, this mysterious “e” represents her desire to not restrict herself to just one kind of space. “The e,” Anna tells us, “could be exhibitional, ephemeral, ecological…” And we have the feeling that she deliberately leaves the list open. Anna confesses that, when she was a student, “I wanted to be the best scenographer in the world.” During her time in Paris (where she studied the post-graduate degree in Art

Direction at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs), she realised that for her it made no sense to constantly contemplate her navel, and that she wanted to live more peacefully and not aspire to be the best scenographer in the world. Looking at the projects she has developed since then gives you the feeling that many decisions, not only life but also aesthetic, come directly from this early personal resolution. Contrary to the idea of genius and creation, Anna constantly talks about research, exploring contents, and teamwork; far from any desire to stamp a style on her projects, she opts for simplicity; rather than ostentation and spectacle, for ecology and sustainability, and she values the choice of recyclable materials and waste reduction the hallmark that characterises her work, and how she understands it.

However, her projects reflect an unambiguous personality. If we had to choose just one adjective to describe Anna’s studio, this would be without doubt “open”. An adjective that stays with us as we review the projects she has carried out since 1997, both in the theatre field (where she has worked above all with Carlota Subirós and Carme Portaceli) and in exhibitions (with multiple projects for CaixaForum, at La Pedrera or the TNC foyer). The size of the space, the emphasis on atmosphere and the choice of a very limited number of colours and materials (if not just one) are frequent denominators of her designs. Very often it is the multiplication of a single element that finally shapes an entire exhibition apparatus, in which a given object serves, at the same time, as support for the materials exhibited, as a landscape and as an organiser of the space, whether they are construction barriers,3 metallic Meccano structures4 or goods containers5.

We suddenly realise that we have been so carried away talking about exhibitions that we have almost forgotten theatre. Anna assures us, especially in project phase, that they are two almost identical worlds. The main differences she highlights is that they have nothing to do with creation tools or processes, but above all with cultural structures and policies; “the theatre is much more full of personalisms and fashions, it has a far smaller market and bad habits in the management of cultural facilities that, luckily, we don’t find in the exhibition field. Can you imagine yourself as the director an art museum that self-programmes?”

You can consult Anna Alcubierre’s projects on the Espai e website (only in Catalan):

www.espaie.cat


1 Sebald Variation, 2015. Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. Design of the exhibition space jointly with Jordi Portell. Exhibition curated by Jordi Carrión.
2 Lightforms / Soundforms. Brian Eno, 2017. Arts Santa Mònica. Design of the exhibition space jointly with Jordi Portell. Exhibition curated by Lluís Nacenta.
3 Estat d’excepció. Canprosa l’any 1902, 2018. TNC foyer. Exhibition curated by Albert Arribas and Ferran Dordal.
4 El cinema és fantàstic! 50 aniversari del Sitges Film Festival, 2017. Filmoteca de Catalunya. Exhibition curated by Diego López.
5 7 Ships, 7 Stories, 2015. Barcelona Maritime Museum. Exhibition curated by Enric García and Mireia Mayolas.