Stone cold

Next weekend, Monteiro Freitas will arrive in Israel for the first time to perform this work during the Israel Festival in Jerusalem.

Scenes from Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer (photo credit: PIERRE PLANCHENAULT)
Scenes from Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer
In 1953, filmmakers Alain Resnais and Chris Marker made a short film that tracked the consequences of colonization via African art. The 30-minute, black and white movie Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die) became something of a cult piece and continues to be evaluated and studied by cinematographers to this day. It was also a seminal resource for choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas’s work Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer.
Next weekend, Monteiro Freitas will arrive in Israel for the first time to perform this work during the Israel Festival in Jerusalem.
“The piece started with the idea of statues,” explained Monteiro Freitas over the phone. The Lisbon-based, Cape Verdeborn artist speaks perfect English with an enchanting accent. There is not a hint of condescension in her voice as she describes her choreographic practice, rather a genuine desire to be understood.
Monteiro Freitas left Africa as a young woman to pursue a career in performance.
She studied at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels and continued her academic pursuits at Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkien in Lisbon. On stage, Monteiro Freitas, 37, is dashingly charismatic, wild and precise. She has performed in works by Boris Charmatz and Loic Touze and has collaborated on creations with Trajal Harrell, Cecilia Bagnolea and Francois Chaignaud (who will also present work in this year’s Israel Festival). Her body of work includes Paradise-Private Collection, (M)imosa and Guintche.
Of Ivory and Flesh premiered in Montpellier in 2014 and has run the festival circuit since, racking up enthusiastic reviews. Perhaps the largest scale production in the up-and-coming choreographer’s arsenal, this piece harnesses a chaotic energy into something that is political, poignant and mesmerizing.
“I meant to work on in-animation and animation, on inanimate material and an inanimate physical state. When I thought about statues, I really thought about stone. Normally as I work, I try to find the contradiction in the idea that I have. If I think statues, I think of movement, if I think of ivory, then there needs to be a boat and a party somewhere. There needed to be a situation that would induce movement. Finally, I decided it was going to be a ball of statues.”
With the idea of statues in mind, Monteiro Freitas entered the studio, first alone and then with the other three performers of Of Ivory and Flesh. “The idea for all of my pieces starts much before we begin working. I start collecting music and images on my own. For this piece, I worked intermittently in residencies and only a couple of months before the premier did the cast come together. For me the center of the work is always the work with the performers. This is the core of the whole project. I define some things before starting working with the group but I also look for structures within the piece as we work. We do a lot of listening to one another and to the piece itself. We have to listen to what the piece wants to tell us about itself.”
Together with Andreas Merk, Betty Tchomanga and Lander Patrick, Monteiro Freitas delved into this stone party.
“It started to develop a dichotomy between movement and static, hard and soft, hot and cold, life and death, visible and invisible, silence and noise, absence and presence... A statue that replaces something else,” she said.
The result of their research is 80 minutes of nonstop action that include singing, dancing, text and music. “People ask if it’s very tiring or it’s very hard. But for us, from the inside, there is something that is really fun about performing this piece. Its energy generates more energy. Movement and rhythm generate themselves. It’s a ball. We sing, we dance, we play music. We always work with the fiction. If we sing it’s not because we sing in the piece it’s because we sing in this ball. If we do text, it’s not text, it’s a speech.”
For Monteiro Freitas, performing Of Ivory and Flesh means revisiting a very specific place. “The piece has its own identity. It has a name it has a geography, a climate, a nationality. Yes, it has an age. It’s already three years old. It’s an entity. It has its organization. It has its own life. It speaks for itself. It says more things and more precisely than any one of us can say.” 
Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer will run at the Rebecca Crown Theater on Thursday, June 2 at 10 p.m. For more information, visit