Summer in Barcelona is equated with the Festival Grec

Inauguració del Festival Grec 2021 al Teatre Grec de Montjuïc. © Laura Guerrero

Summer is the time for festivals, street art and beach concerts. For street festivals and outdoor activities. In Barcelona, the summer performing arts scene has a name that calls to mind the city’s cultural roots and Mediterranean essence, a legacy that runs through its veins. The Festival Grec makes the city pulsate with theatre, dance, music and circus acts; and, above all, it is a showcase for its artistic and creative exuberance on the international stage.

If the events programme offers the true measure of a festival, its image defines the philosophy that forms the backbone of each of its editions. And the image of the Festival Grec in recent years, with Francesc Casadesús at the helm, has carried a powerful symbolism. Casadesús presented his Festival Grec as a world tour, a journey of intercultural discovery. “Comença el viatge” [The Journey Begins] was, in fact, the slogan for its first festival, in 2017. The Silk Road, Africa and Australia were some of the legs on this journey through peoples and cultures of the world, and “Noves espècies” [New Species], “Més enllà” [Further On] and “Un món de passions” [A World of Passions], were the names given to each leg. And throughout this journey, the image of the Festival Grec was fundamental and dazzling, an explosion of colour that conveyed the open, lively, intriguing and expedition-like nature of the event. “’Travelling the world’ allowed me to express my own discourse for an undertaking that extends beyond a festival”, the director explains. “Giving it a guiding thread, a small dramaturgy.”

Now, however, the journey has been completed and the festival’s image heralds a change of direction. The faun, the mythological being that embodied the Mediterranean and festive spirit of the Festival Grec from the mid-1980s until 2003, is again featured on the poster after being absent for almost twenty years. The faun heightens the playful element of the festival, a magnificent celebration of the performing arts and of the city too. A space for the community.

A city festival

The Festival Grec came into being in 1976 in a spirit of protest, as a call for freedom after almost forty years of social, ideological and cultural suffocation. Not only did it mark the departure from a form of theatre made official by the previous regime, but it also brought about the definitive recovery of the Teatre Grec as a summer stage: inaugurated in 1929 (although it was built six years earlier), the Montjuïc theatre was a witness – at times, an active one, and at other times, a silent one – to the city’s social, political and cultural evolution. From the turmoil of the Spanish Second Republic, from the darkness of the Franco regime, from the private or institutional endeavours to breathe life into a scene that suffered extended periods of oblivion and neglect.

Cartell del Grec Festival de Barcelona 2022 Poster of Barcelona's Festival Grec 2022.

On the morning of 1 July 1976, the first day of events, the profession paraded down La Rambla in a festive demonstration from the famous promenade between the Plaça del Teatre, at the foot of the monument to Pitarra, to Plaça de Catalunya. The demonstrators shouted slogans such as “We want a popular theatre” and urged citizens to go to Montjuïc and to discover a free theatre, a theatre at the service of the people, as the slogans proclaimed. “Every declaration was a manifesto, and the chance of revolt emerged from every manifesto. The banners, posters, propaganda and the Festival Grec itself endeavoured to put forward a collective response as a starting point. The inscriptions on the banners spoke of theatre for the people, freedom and imagination”, wrote Antoni Bartomeus in the catalogue Grec 1929-86: Teatre Grec de Montjuïc, published to mark the exhibition held at the Mercat de les Flors in June 1987.

The faun had not yet made an appearance on the poster of what would become the first edition of the Festival Grec (created by Iago Pericot), but the festival’s connection with the people, its commitment to local talent, its opening up to the outside world and artistic freedom have survived since then in the great summer performing arts event in Barcelona. The Festival Grec always kicks off the programme at the theatre that gives the festival its name, but it later spreads throughout the city: decentralisation has been one of the principles of the festival’s programme for years, an idea that ties in with the commitment to advocating for citizen’s cultural rights fostered by municipal policies. Community centres, libraries, museums, creation factories, the network of libraries… The idea of “community building” takes on real meaning in this festival through participatory projects, workshops and artistic laboratories. “It is a line of work that seeks to be highly diversified”, explains the festival’s director. “There are open rehearsals, more reflection-oriented activities, community projects... They are different sections with a common strategy for the Festival Grec to go as far as possible.” New forms of participation that broaden the social foundation of audiences and ensure the democratisation of access to culture.

“Weaving is intertwining many threads. We want to weave a garment the size of the city. We must make a festival that benefits Barcelona and breathes new life into it. To this end, we are committed to creating a model that is appealing not only on account of its – essential – line-up of names, but also because of its artistic value, the series of national and international alliances, the number of agents and sectors involved, citizens’ participation and involvement and its rigour and consistency”, wrote Casadesús in the presentation of his artistic venture. The stocktaking of the editions held attests to the strength of this fabric: that of 2021, still subject to the rigours and protocols of the pandemic (with reduced seating capacity and the cancellation or readaptation of events and activities), more than one hundred thousand spectators experienced the Festival Grec, which concluded its tour of the world’s cultures with the satisfaction of having completed the planned itinerary. Not even the adverse circumstances of 2020 stood in the journey’s way. “I felt we couldn’t throw in the towel, we had to fight, like every sector did”, recalls the director. “There was political support, and flexibility on the part of the team and the artists to adapt the programme to the situation. Even the audience protested so that the Festival Grec was not cancelled that year.”

Nevertheless, the journey will keep going in the years 2022 and 2023, although its coordinates will no longer be spatial, but temporal: focusing on Europe, the Festival Grec 2022 will perform a review of fundamental texts from the culture of the ancient world, classic works that will be approached from a contemporary perspective, while the 2023 edition will look to the future. Seeing where we come from to get a sense of where we are going: this is where the new journey is headed.

Support for creation

Discovering, disseminating and promoting local artistic talent and networks is another of the focal points of the Festival Grec. And, as far as this goal is concerned, the current head of the festival alludes to the highly diversified nature again to explain that support for local creation is not a temporary undertaking, but rather an on-going effort. “We don’t want this support to be fireworks, we want to see that there are artists who have grown thanks to the festival, who afford it meaning as such. And it’s not about giving a list of names, the Festival Grec has many layers, many levels, and must be looked at as a whole”, he asserts. “Institutions need to help the creative network and promote it,” concludes the director.

The co-production policy (amounting to thirty-four this year) is one of the channels that helps local companies and artists to grow. Another one is the promotion of the initiative “On el teatre batega” [Where the Theatre Beats] by Teatres de proximitat, a dozen small-format theatres committed to emerging productions. The Festival Grec 2020, which on its world tour had to stop in Latin America, foresaw the participation of all these theatres in the programme, to which it wanted to afford visibility (modelled on the strong network of local theatres in Buenos Aires). Obviously, the Covid-19 crisis prevented the planned collaboration from going ahead, but they were encouraged to work together to propose alternative, virtual activities within the festival. Cooperation with this network, born at a time of uncertainty and now firmly established, has been kept up till this day. In fact, this year will see a series of dramatised readings, some of which could become productions at the Festival Grec 2023.

Bros, del dramaturg Romeo Castellucci, es representarà al Teatre Lliure. © Jean Michel Blasco Bros, by the playwright Romeo Castellucci, will be performed at the Teatre Lliure. © Jean Michel Blasco

Barcelona’s creation factories and museums also become scenarios for resident artists in art centres, creators of proposals who engage in dialogue with the essence of each space. Unusual connections are also brought about through initiatives such as the fusion of Israel Galván’s flamenco and the Escolania de Montserrat choir, or that of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of Catalonia (OBC) with Alba G. Corral, a visual artist who already opened the Festival Grec (2019 edition) illustrating the music of the San Francisco Kronos Quartet with intriguing images.

But the main new development in this 2022 edition in terms of support for local creativity involves helping some of the beneficiary projects of the Premis Barcelona 2020 grants in the performing arts category: La Virgueria, Glòria Balañà, Cris Blanco, Atresbandes, Amaranta Velarde, the group Que no salga de aquí, Teknodrag and Alicia G. Reyero are the eight proposals that emerged from that call for entries, which enjoyed the support of the Festival Grec. Further proof (though not the last) that the city festival fosters and disseminates local talent.

Weaving networks

An event as captivating and outstanding as the Festival Grec must feature among Europe’s major summer performing arts events. The festival’s internationalisation has been an objective shared by those who have directed it since its outset. Given the tours that took the festival to Athens (2017), Singapore (2018), from Melbourne to New York (2019), Latin America (2020) and Africa (2021), the goal has undoubtedly been accomplished. Research confirms the acclaim of the Festival Grec, and the programming of shows such as Una imagen interior [An Image from the Inside], by El Conde de Torrefiel, co-produced by the festival alongside Avignon, the Wiener Festwochen and the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, make it visible: the collaboration between Barcelona, Avignon, Vienna and Brussels allows exchange strategies to be developed that, once again, speak of the Barcelona summer festival’s support for local creation and its presence beyond Catalonia. After all, El Conde de Torrefiel, a laboratory for experimentation and reflection in the realm of the performing arts, began in the city’s off-circuit and is now one of the most internationally renowned companies in Catalonia.

Besides these alliances, which have made it possible for local artists to show their creations around the world, they refer us once again to one of the most recurrent concepts when we consider the Festival Grec’s artistic mission to intertwine threads and weave networks. A network is stronger and tougher than a thread, which is why the festival has devoted time and effort to pooling collaborations and creating networks. And not only on a large scale (abroad), but also on a small scale (within Catalonia), with organisations such as the Gremi de Llibreters de Catalunya [the Booksellers’ Guild of Catalonia]. The creation of networks allows a project to thrive fully, regardless of its magnitude. Rewarding points of connection can result from the dialogue and cooperation between institutions and organisations (public or private). We must take advantage of the entrepreneurial assets of cultural agents and other projects and festivals to bring about, promote and support initiatives: this is another of the strategic directions of the modern Festival Grec. And one of the obsessions (in a positive sense) of its artistic manager.

Europa Bull, de la companyia Indi Gest, és un dels espectacles “castigats” per la pandèmia que recupera el Grec 2022. © Sílvia Poch Europa Bull [Europe Is Bubbling], by the Indi Gest company, is one of the shows “grounded” by the pandemic brought back by the Festival Grec 2022. © Sílvia Poch

Key facts about the Festival Grec 2022

Fifty-five spaces, eighty-six shows, more than fifty activities. These are the first figures corresponding to the Festival Grec 2022 that, over four weeks, from 29 June, will make the city move to the beat of performing arts. The Nederlands Dans Theater will open the edition in Montjuïc (with a programme that brings together three choreographies, one of them bearing the stamp of Marina Mascarell, dancer and choreographer already known to Barcelona audiences), but the festival will take place in various neighbourhoods and districts with activities and proposals for different audiences.

Thomas Ostermeier (Ein Volksfeind [An Enemy of the People]), Romeo Castellucci (Bros) and Christos Papadopoulos (Larsen C) are some of the international artists to star in the Festival Grec Montjuïc, along with Xavier Albertí (with his adaptation of El burlador de Sevilla [The Trickster of Seville]), Helena Tornero and Andrés Lima (Paraíso perdido [Paradise Lost]), La Conquesta del Pol Sud (Mivion [Radio Sarajevo]), Cris Blanco (Grandissima Illusione [Huge Illusion]) and Insectotropics (Orpheus). As for the Festival Grec Ciutat, it will feature companies and artists such as La Veronal (Opening Night), Àlex Rigola (Ofèlia. Panic Attack), Amaranta Velarde (Desbordes [Excesses]) and Jordi Casanovas (Immunitat [Immunity]). It will also include Imperfect by La Baldufa and Sol Picó, part of the family programme that features other prominent names, such as Agrupación Señor Serrano, Manolo Alcántara and the Groupe acrobatique de Tanger. The latter had to cancel their performance in 2021 as one of their members tested positive for Covid-19. It is not the only production punished by the pandemic to be recovered: without going further afield, this applies to Europa Bull [Europe Is Bubbling], an award-winning creation by Indi Gest, premiered in late 2019 and now returning to the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (TNC) thanks to a Festival Grec that is particularly sensitive to the conflicts that are stirring the continent.

La companyia de dansa Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) inaugurarà l’edició d’enguany del Grec amb l’obra que porta per títol One Flat Thing, reproduced. © Rahi Rezvani The Nederlans Dans Theater (NDT) dance company will open this year's Grec festival with the show One Flat Thing, reproduced. © Rahi Rezvani

“After the artistic project that, for five years, has allowed us to take a world tour, now we want to ‘go home’, or, in other words, to a Barcelona that we love, a city that is creative and proud of itself. In a world where fear is tangible again, we are committed to recovering the playful spirit of the city of the 1980s, feeling and being mindful of the things we shared and that made us great, to be able to imagine an exciting future. In fact, what is culture but a set of shared knowledge and projects?” This is the question posed by Francesc Casadesús in the foreword of the programme of Barcelona’s Festival Grec 2022. A tribute to the city and its citizens, a look at the past and to the future of Europe, a hotbed of new talent, a unique opportunity to enjoy great names on the international scene. The Festival Grec 2022 accepts many definitions, all valid, all correct, a reflection of those layers to which we referred when talking about support for creation. This is the quality that a great festival must exude, that of offering a kaleidoscope of acts and perspectives, so that everyone can make the festival their own.

Related subjects

The newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with Barcelona Metròpolis' new developments