Teatro do Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s new municipal theatre. It is dedicated to the creation and presentation of experimental artistic projects, along with the discursive practices that surround and permeate them. The TBA intersects artists who are emergent and established, Portuguese and international, from the various areas of the performing arts (theatre, dance, music and sound art, performance), with an audience that is given the tools to be adventurous and the urge to return.
For the TBA:
- focussing on experimentation means being open to a constellation of artistic approaches;
- emergent is someone who is beginning, something that still has no name or those who are underrepresented;
- being an inclusive, green and accessible theatre is a daily and encompassing objective;
- being located in the centre means being aware of the margins;
- a theatre can slow down or speed up, exist at two or more speeds;
- programming is experimenting.
António José da Silva, a Jewish playwright born in Rio de Janeiro premiers Vida do Grande D. Quixote de la Mancha e do Gordo Sancho Pança at the Teatro do Bairro Alto, also known as Casa dos Bonecos. It is here that with the use of puppets he presents his eight jocoserious operas, until he is arrested by the inquisition and, in October 1739, executed. During the 18th Century, Lisbon was the stage for two more theatres known as “do Bairro Alto”: the Academia da Trindade (1735.1739); and the Ópera do Pátio do Conde de Soure (1760-1771).
When Her Ladyship, accompanied by her entourage, deigns to honour that Theatre with her presence, suddenly there are only felicitations, whispers and bustles; and, so that this excessive pleasure does not turn to immodesty, laughter hides within the corners of the mouth. It is quite something to see the obsequious respect with which she is received by all! All make way, all bow, falling over one another; and, when there are no seats left, that is when Her Ladyship is shown to the best seat: all is aflutter; the porter flails, the usher teeters; the chocolate is spilt; the sweets disappear; the lights seem as stars; the architectures Doric; the voices harmonious; the instruments increasingly sharp; the singers perfectly tuned; the duets impeccably adjusted; offstage, all runs as smooth as if lathered in soap; and, finally, it even seems as though the soul of the wire within the cork bodice infuses true spirit and renewed breath.
Dedication (“à mui nobre senhoria Pecúnia Argentina”) from Teatro Cómico Português, a book of plays by António José da Silva, published in 1744.
On the 1st of March, the ballerina and choreographer Maria Magdalena de Mello opens the Centro de Amadores de Ballet, a dance studio and school on Rua Tenente Raúl Cascais, 1A. According to the Diário de Notícias newspaper, it was “a building with sober lines, which inside conceals a cheerful and functional room, a sanctuary for dance created with great love and able to meet the needs and objectives if a great dance school”. Maria Magdalena de Mello died a few months after the opening. The work of its founder is continued by two of her former students; Anna Mascolo was also invited to teach there.
Luís Miguel Cintra and Jorge Silva Melo establish the Teatro da Cornucópia, an independent theatre company that, due to restrictions imposed by the censorship of the time, begins by staging classics by Molière and Marivaux. Still attending the Faculdade de Letras, Cintra had already presented António José da Silva´s Anfitrião (Cornucópia is the name of one of the characters in the play).
The building of the Centro de Amadores de Ballet is ceded to the Teatro da Cornucópia by doctor Machado de Macedo (husband of Maria Magdalena de Mello), through the Secretary of State for Culture, João de Freitas Branco. While not strictly in the Bairro Alto, this space is given the name Teatro do Bairro Alto, paying homage to António José da Silva’s puppet theatre . The first play staged there, on the 1st of July, was Gorki’s The Philistines. Since the revolution of the 25th of April 1974, the company began to focus on contemporary dramaturgy.
We had a project for the use of the building: theatre, film, music… A project for immediate and indispensable construction work: above all the acoustics. The rumble of the echoes was a thing of terror. And a door for the rear of the stage, to allow use of the lower part of the stage, even when there are performances. (…) We don’t want this room and this performance to have to go through the validation and assessment of the audience of “cultural intermediaries” that frequent the openings. On the contrary, we want this room to be a place for reflexion, for confrontation with ideas, of ideological debate. We have already contacted dozens of neighbourhood commissions, commercial commissions and cultural centres so that, by organizing collective visits, the performance can be collectively assimilated and critiqued – here, for however long it lasts, here, through the debate that will occur whenever possible , in the workplace of the following day. (…) Can we do it? Who is interested in our doing it? Who will close the doors on us?
Jorge Silva Melo, programme for The Philistines
The end of the Teatro da Cornucópia is announced. The company directed by Luis Miguel Cintra (after the exit of Silva Melo in 1979) and scenographer Cristina Reis, opens the doors of its theatre for the last time on the 17th of December, to present a recital of texts by Apollinaire. More than 40 years of work representing authors such as Shakespeare, Brecht, Müller, Gil Vicente, Strindberg, Genet, Lorca and Pasolini. The 127 performances presented shaped several generations of artists and audiences.
280 years after the death of António José da Silva, the Teatro do Bairro Alto reopens in 2019, a new municipal theatre in Lisbon managed by EGEAC. This initiative results from a reorganization of the municipal theatres, which also includes the reformulation of the role of the Teatro Maria Matos and the opening of Lu.Ca – Teatro Luís de Camões, dedicated to children and young audiences.