Festival Grec de Barcelona
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The Festival Grec de Barcelona (or Grec Festival of Barcelona) is an international theatre, dance, music and circus festival. Over the course of its history, this long-standing event has become a major summer attraction in Barcelona.
The festival takes its name from its main venue: an open-air theatre (the Teatre Grec) built on Mount Montjuïc for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. At first, this “Greek Theatre” was the only venue used for festival productions, but, today, the Grec programme embraces many other theatres, cultural over the city of Barcelona.
The Grec Festival is promoted by Barcelona City Council, but no other public administrations are involved; rather, the shows are organised and produced by a large number of theatres and promoters.
The main sources of income for the festival are public grants, sponsorship and ticket sales. In 2010, a total of 101,181 tickets were sold for the events on the programme.
The festival pursues a two-fold mission: firstly, to stage the most outstanding works by Catalan artists and companies, providing them with support by producing their shows for performance at the festival; and, secondly, to present all the most interesting shows from Spain and the rest of the world every year.
Indeed, the Grec Festival is Catalonia’s main showcase for works produced abroad, and in recent years the organisers have been keen to internationalise the event even further, focusing on presenting the most innovative pieces from such countries as the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan and France.
In the years leading up to the restoration of democracy in Spain, the Barcelona theatre scene witnessed the birth of an innovative, independent approach to the performing arts, a movement that broke radically with the more conventional fare that had dominated the listings in the city until that time. The key figures in this alternative scene were, precisely, those that, in 1976, set up the Assembly of Actors and Directors. This Assembly was able, in just a few weeks, to programme a summer theatre season at the Teatre Grec in Montjuïc.
Nearly 47 years after its inauguration, Barcelona’s little-used “Greek Theatre” had fallen into a semi-abandoned state. Besides setting an example in self-management, the first Grec Festival both salvaged the theatre in Montjuïc and achieved considerable public success.
For the first two seasons, then, the Assembly of Actors and Directors organised the Grec Festival. The event did not take place in 1978 but, following the first democratic elections after the end of Francoist Spain (1979), Barcelona City Council took over the task of organising the festival.
From that moment, the Grec became increasingly consolidated and enjoyed constant growth. In 1980, the programme was opened up to include productions from other countries, and this aspect of the Festival has been strengthened in recent years until now, along with support for local artists and productions, this international dimension is one of its essential characteristics.
Over the course of its history, moreover, the Grec programme has gradually occupied more and more venues and spaces, spreading to different areas of the city and supporting the work of alternative theatres and companies whilst always maintaining a balance between initiatives of this type and shows aimed at broader audiences. Moreover, the organisers have long worked in close cooperation with the private sector.
The latest stage in the Festival’s history has been marked by a clear interest in emerging, innovative art and the search for new audiences, as well as a firm commitment to dance and the circus (besides the usual programme of theatre and music) and to internationalisation, a focus that helps to bring the most interesting new productions from a particular country to the attention of Barcelona audiences every year.
The Grec Festival of Barcelona has staged countless productions that now form part of the city’s theatre history, many featuring world-famous writers, directors and performers: from Dario Fo to Lindsay Kemp, Pina Bausch, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Jan Fabre, Peter Brook, Sasha Waltz, Michel Piccoli, Krystian Lupa, Robert Lepage, Matthias Langhoff, the Cheek by Jowl theatre company, Ko Murobushi, Romeo Castelucci, Ryoji Okeda, Virgilio Sieni, Pippo Delbono, Tom Bentley-Fisher, Saburo Teshigawara and the Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, amongst many more, as well as Lluís Pasqual, Mario Gas, Núria Espert, Els Comediants, Dagoll-Dagom, La Fura dels Baus, Paco de Lucía, Cristina Hoyos, Carles Santos, Nacho Duato, Carme Portaceli, Àlex Rigola, Calixto Bieito and Cesc Gelabert, to mention but a few Spanish artists and companies.
Moreover, the long list of outstanding musicians that have played the Grec include such prestigious artists as Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Lou Reed, Manhattan Transfer, Joe Cocker, Celia Cruz, Maria Creuza, Caetano Veloso, UB40, Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Laurie Anderson, Santana, Youssou N’Dour, Lokua Kanza, Keith Jarrett, Concha Buika, Antony and the Johnsons and Ryuichi Sakamoto, amongst many more..
The Festival venues
Teatre Grec. Built in 1929 in a disused quarry, this “Greek Theatre” is the veritable soul of the festival. The original idea came to the French architect Jean-Claude-Nicolas Forestier, curator of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, when he visited the quarry and mentioned that it was the ideal site for a theatre. Ramon Reventós i Ferrerons and Nicolau Maria Rubió i Tudurí were finally commissioned to build the Teatre Grec, though Forestier landscaped the gardens.
Teatre Lliure. Founded in 1976 by a group of performing arts professionals linked to the world of independent theatre, the Lliure is one of Barcelona’s great centres of theatrical creativity. Though its original site was in the Gràcia neighbourhood, its main stage is now in the former Palau de l’Agricultura de Montjuïc, which is equipped with first-rate facilities. The Sala Fabià Puigserver theatre seats 736 spectators. In 2010, moreover, the Teatre Lliure also recovered the original theatre in Gràcia, with capacity for 250 spectators.
Mercat de les Flors. The Art Nouveau building that houses the Mercat de les Flors was built for the 1929 Universal Exhibition and was converted into a theatre in 1985, opening with Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. The building, which is crowned by a spectacular dome measuring twelve metres in diameter, was decorated by the Majorcan artist Miquel Barceló. Since June 2007, the Mercat de les Flors has also housed the Centre for Movement Arts, whose mission is to promote research, production, creation and promotion in the field of dance and the movement arts. The site contains three theatres with capacity for 664, 320 and 80 spectators respectively.
Teatre Nacional de Catalunya. Designed by the architect Ricard Bofill, the National Theatre of Catalonia, which opened in 1996, is now one of the most outstanding cultural facilities in Barcelona. A central element in the urban regeneration of the area around Plaça de les Glòries, the TNC is a complex formed by a main building that takes its inspiration from the Parthenon in Athens, with two theatres seating 870 and 450, and a second building occupied by services and a third theatre with capacity for 400 spectators.
L’Auditori. Another driving-force in the redevelopment of Plaça de les Glòries and surrounding area, this Auditorium, devoted to music, is housed in a building designed by the architect Rafael Moneo. Opened in 1999, L’Auditori is the home of the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra (OBC) and the Catalonia College of Music, as well as housing the Music Museum. Its four theatres seat 2,200, 600, 400 and 152 spectators, respectively.
The theatres of Barcelona. Shows on the Grec Festival of Barcelona programme are staged at both public spaces and theatres and private venues of varying size, from the Teatre Romea and La Villarroel to alternative sites such as the Sala Beckett and La Caldera centre for dance..
Cultural facilities. The Grec Festival organisers have never hesitated to programme show at venues not originally designed for theatre productions. For example, in recent years, plays and dance performances have been staged at such sites as the Library of Catalonia (a cultural facility housed in the former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, one of the most outstanding Gothic buildings in Catalonia), Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, MACBA), the Picasso Museum, the Centre for Contemporary Culture (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, CCCB), the Joan Miró Foundation and the CaixaForum art centre.
The following have been directors:
- 1976-1977: Assemblea d’Actors i Directors (Assembly of Actors and Directors)
- 1978: The festival did not take place
- 1979: Barcelona City Council Culture Department (Rafael Pradas and Joan-Anton Benach)
- 1980-1983: Biel Moll
- 1984-1985: Joan Maria Gual and Josep Anton Codina
- 1986-1987: Marta Tatjer
- 1988-1995: Elena Posa
- 1996-1999: Xavier Albertí
- 2000-2006: Borja Sitjà
- 2007-2011: Ricardo Szwarcer
- 2012-2016: Ramon Simó
- 2017: Francesc Casadesús