Dancing to the Music of Time

An old school building is the centre of a new initiative to turn the western Algarve into a centre of culture and dance.

As I arrive at the forlorn-looking school building in Almádena, there is no clue as to the grand vision that two successful artists have for this former village school. The paint peeling off the walls and an air of neglect is in stark contrast to the energy and vitality of Daniel Matos and Joana Flor Duarte, who I meet at the site.

Daniel started performing at eight years old in the Teatro Experimental de Lagos Association and studied performing arts in Lisbon before becoming a choreographer. He now creates and directs shows touring in national and international venues and festivals. Joana graduated in Artistic Studies from the Faculty of Arts, University of Coimbra. She carried out her professional internship at the Teatro Experimental de Lagos Association, where she had the opportunity to develop her credentials, working as a production director and assistant while learning skills in sound design and photographic and video recording. She is also a writer of short stories along with producing and managing Daniel’s work. 

© Filipe Correia

At the time of our interview, Joana and Daniel are preparing to perform Daniel’s show VÄRAin Montemor-o-Novo to a panel of international directors who search for shows to take to auspicious venues such as Sadlers Wells. Daniel’s show is an experimental production in sound and movement and was one of only 18 selected to be presented to some of the most eminent figures in dance. He develops his work through multidisciplinary practices, always focusing on the body as a biographical, physical and emotional research field, questioning and redesigning the idea of limit. VÄRA, without doubt, questions limits as the performers are naked. 

VÄRA (ensaio palco) Lagos 2022 © brunosimao_

Daniel and Joana founded CAMA in 2017 to decentralise artistic creation and stimulate cultural opportunities outside the large national metropolitan centres. While they have both studied in Lisbon and travelled Europe with their studies and performances, they tell me that the Algarve is their spiritual home and where they find their inspiration. They wanted a space which would support their artistic endeavours along with bringing other artists to this area while at the same time bringing art into the local community.

Lagos City Council decided to cede the premises of the former Almádena Primary School to their cultural association, which needed a fixed space. Daniel and Joana’s vision is to create an artistic hub that will act as a magnet for creative endeavours. Daniel says, “Through my work abroad, I took lots of artistic residencies in other locations, so I started to dream of bringing the same concept to my hometown: to find a creative space which we share with other artists, to share ideas and bring like minds together.”

© Joana Duarte

CAMA has already produced several shows in performative and visual spheres and workshops linked to local communities. Last year, they were invited to be artistic co-directors of the dance festival in Lagos called Pedra Dura. It featured contemporary dance performances, as well as film screenings, DJ sets, masterclasses, lectures and even a night sky observation. It was so successful they were invited to return this November, presenting shows and workshops for artists from around Portugal and abroad.

In CAMA’s new home, Daniel and Joana want to develop a base to continue to develop this work and to go further in the fields of creation and diffusion, cultural programming, sustainability, audience education and development. “There is a lack of cultural education here in the Algarve. If you attract artists here, the local population will learn from them and they, in turn, will find inspiration from the local community.” This innovative pair have even established a relationship with the Lagos Science Museum to form a bridge between performance and science concepts.

They are now re-imagining the space, which retains the dusty remnants of an antiquated school room complete with coat pegs, blackboard and even the old stove in the corner. They want to create an office space where they can work and invite visiting artists to join them. However, one corner of the space will provide a base from which to pursue their other vision, i.e. to catalogue the history of Portuguese dance. Many new waves of dance have started in Portugal, including Nova Dança Portuguesa, which appeared in the 1990s and questioned contemporary dance. Encontros Acarte in Lisbon attracted artists from abroad, but documentation about this period is not easily accessible, especially since it is a project organised by a private entity. Joana and Daniel wish to consolidate records for future artists to refer to and Lagos Library has agreed to subsidise them in building a research section.

© Filipe Correia

It is difficult to see beyond the junk left by the scouts who previously used the building, but Daniel and Joana see new windows, a library, and sofas, with an area to store technical equipment and costumes. Outside, there will be a bar and cooking area which they will also invite the local community to use. Then, in the old school playground, they need to build a studio. Daniel tells me that heated spaces are a particular rarity in Portugal, with dancers often injuring themselves rehearsing in cold studios. They envisage light and heat and maybe even some lodgings for visiting artists.

Needless to say, this will all require money. CAMA is currently exploring avenues for cultural funding, but Joana and Daniel are also keen to attract private entities and sponsors to share in their vision of bringing culture to the south of Portugal. “We are trying to be contemporary while respecting cultural heritage,” explains Joana. “We do feel there is a new cultural movement in this area which could tie in with tourism, but it’s a slow process.”

I have found myself carried along by their excitement and I wish to help them succeed. Sadly, I don’t think offering my painting skills will be quite enough but, with the south of Portugal attracting more and more artists who find inspiration in the natural light, beauty and traditions, Joana and Daniel’s vision seems to follow a new cultural trend. Their new hub may no longer be a school; however, I hope it will eventually become a centre of learning, creativity and enlightenment.

Main image: Joana and Daniel outside the old school in Almádena

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