Collaboration and Companionship : Ponto d’Orvalho 2022
The third edition of Ponto d’Orvalho took place on the 16th,17th and 18th of September at Herdade do Monte and at Quinta das Abelhas in Montemor-o-Novo. The festival, through its multidisciplinary program, aims at shedding light on the various ways in which humans can learn to think – and eventually live – like a forest. The proposition that marks this gathering, intends to invite the participants to unveil the different ways in which these highly complex, yet fragile ecosystems, could inspire a more conscious awareness of the different webs of interconnectedness between different beings.
If the inner workings of forests were the main theme of the festival, during the first day of Ponto d’Orvalho, oral transmission, either in the form of speeches or songs, seemed to be the chosen means through which knowledge, ideas and feelings were channeled. The first act that opened the festival was an intimate speech by Peter Bastiaan, a swedish-born permaculture expert and musician who has been living in Alentejo for more than three decades. Sitting on a rock with the public disposed around him forming a semicircle, his words merged autobiographical notes and stories about the region and its trees, setting the tone for a calm night dedicated to the act of listening. Later on, followed a welcome drink and the first communal meal. As it is known, the way certain foods are being produced could threaten both people and nature, and being in a region where the soil and the environment are still being deeply affected by aggressive agriculture, it would be fair to expect a particular level of attention not only to the ingredients that compose the menus, but also to their provenance. In this regard, all the vegetarian meals proposed by chef Diogo Noronha in collaboration with Cooperativa Minga, exhaustively addressed these expectations. Each dish was composed by a carefully curated selection of ingredients coming from regenerative agriculture and local producers, which were cooked always in surprising and delicious combinations, that seemed to speak about past and future food cultures.
After everyone had dinner, Coby Sey inaugurated the music stage with a concert specifically designed for the festival. The first part of the set was a selection of songs where Sey played the bass guitar while singing with his characteristic soulful tone. After that, the artist sat on the floor in order to incorporate more instruments to his palette – drum pad, synth and effects- as well as free flowing passages of spoken-word, with the result that his sound and the intensity of the performance got closer to the experimental spirit of his new album Conduit. Finally, actor José Pimentão closed the night reading Menina não pensa by Djamelia Pereira de Almeida, a grim tale about female resilience and emancipation that was specifically written for the festival. Seeing a crowd at late night listening to an actor sharing a tale before going to sleep, with no visual accountment, just the stars above them, was one of the most unexpected and memorable moments of the gathering.
The second day started early, very early – at 6:00 am -, but regardless of that a surprisingly large amount of people had woken up to witness to Isabel Costa and Violeta Azevedo’s Night-Dew, a performance that combined music and theater to homage Irmavep, a female character from early film Les Vampires. The performance began with Azevedo creating ethereal loops of sustained notes with her transversal flute, while Costa, dressed in a bat-like costume, started to move towards the musician. As the two performers were finally one next to the other, this moment of suspense culminated with Azevedo separating her lips from the instrument in order to meet the one’s of Costa.
After breakfast, Antonio Mira and Gabriela Albergaria guided a walk around the Herdade, where the two engaged in a dialogue that saw them alternating moments where the first, would share his knowledge as a biologist and expert about the region, and the latter would talk about the pivotal importance of outdoor walks in nature for her practice as an artist. The day continued with three different workshops facilitated by Gabriela Albergaria, Inês Neto dos Santos and Duarte Valadares, that approximated the participants to the practices of each artist.
As the sun started to set, the public moved towards the Barragem do Barrocal, a man-created lake now relatively shallow due to a long and hot summer. In this setting, Inês Tartaruga Água and Xavier Paes delivered a breathtaking performance in three acts that couldn’t have more in dialogue with the site chosen. As the public sat on the sandy shore of the lake, the two artists started approaching an improvised drum kit composed of cymbals of different dimensions installed on top of branches collected around the area. Once at a few meters of distance from their DIY percussion instrument, they started “playing” it by throwing little pebbles at the cymbals – alternating the high-pitched sounds of successful hits to the silence of failed throws- or directly in the water, using the lake as a vast drum skin. For the second part instead, they played three large metallic tubes using two mallets. While for the closing act, they improvised on an amplified DIY string instrument – a basin with four strings and a microphone – whose frequencies were manipulated not only by the different pedal effects to which it was plugged, but also by the amount of water from the lake that was poured into it.
Soon after dinner followed Hatis Noit’s concert, as the performance of Duarte Valadares was canceled due to an injury. The Japanese self-taught singer, by using her voice only, conducted the public on a transcendental musical experience, where her impressive vocal range subtly blended musical references from different styles and epochs, but never at the cost of losing the uniqueness of her sound. It’s worth mentioning a truly special moment during her set: while she was performing one of her songs, a praying mantis got curious and jumped on her microphone and later on to the left hand of Noit. As she noticed the little intrusion on stage, rather than overreacting, she gently indulged the will of the insect to follow the performance from a closer distance and let him stay with her till the end of the song. As the concert ended, Chima Hiro delivered an eclectic set that closed the music stage.
On Sunday, after the Brunch, we headed towards Quinta das Abelhas, a learning/research project by Marc Leiber inside of Herdade do Freixo do Meio, where he studies how to develop and implement agroforestry systems in the region of Alentejo. Having in mind the dry and monotonous landscapes that accompanied my ride to Montemor-o-Novo and considering what I have learnt in the two days of the festival about the effects of aggressive monocultures and extreme drought on the soil of the region, seeing so much green and young trees in that very same environment, felt reassuring and hopeful. After a moment where Marc Leiber introduced us to his project and the basic principles of syntropic agriculture, Inês Neto dos Santos started her food performance, accompanied by the female choir Ecos do Monte singing traditional songs from Alentejo. The artist started the performance distributing to the audience green beans and loaves of bread baked by her. After that, she invited everyone to start removing the seeds from the pods, so that she could gather the seeds and start making a sauce by crushing them with oil and garlic. The result was then shared with the public and eaten with bread. If the word companion comes from Latin – formed by two words, cum+panis, literally with + bread- and was meant to describe the ones with whom you break bread with, we could say that this performance closed the festival with a moment of companionship and collaboration around the ritual of food sharing.
If it is true that the more, we study nature the more we come to realize that the tendency is actually to associate and cooperate, then also culture has still a lot to learn from the interconnectedness of the natural world. In this sense, Ponto d’Orvalho by drawing together in an intimate scale a very heterogeneous group of individuals working across different disciplines and stimulating collaborations between them, addressed its guiding theme (Think Like a Forest) not so much in each individual act, but more as a diverse, yet cohesive group of voices from which a harmonious set of relationships and affinities unfolded during – and after- the festival. Under this respect, we could say that Ponto d’Orvalho has been able to absorb a number of teachings that culture could learn from nature, and seems to be determined to learn in the following editions other notions that will bring it closer to not only being able to think, but also to act like a forest.