Portuguese readings in Paris

06 mar 2017

Saturday, 28 January, was a different day for the ten young persons participating in the final of the Dá Voz à Letra (Give Voice to Word) competition held at the Gulbenkian Foundation delegation in Paris. Some nerves, instances of seasonal flu affecting voices but nothing able to diminish the enthusiasm and the commitment of those who made it to the final performance in front of a jury made up of Rita Blanco, Pedro Abrunhosa and Rúben Alves. And despite the regulations allowing for only three prizes, everybody emerged as a winner on this occasion.

Chapter 9 of the Lusíadas seemed to be a bridge too far at the first reading held a week earlier in one of the few moments available to make the reading together under the supervision of Graça dos Santos, a university professor in France, director of both the touring Cá e Lá theatre company and the Parfums de Lisbonne Festival, which interweaves the performance arts, cinema and poetry between Paris and Lisbon. In the rehearsal on Saturday, prior to the reading before the audience and the jury, the director asked for joy and distraction to be able to feel the text. Helena Vasconcelos, responsible for the choice of texts, gave some instructions “don’t forget that you’re on the Island of Amours”, recommending as to the need for “greater levity” in the interactions ongoing among participants.

In the general rehearsal, during Saturday morning, there was clear progress. The six female voices present were truly nymph-like in front of the males ploughing through the lines “We follow these Goddesses and we see / How fantastic they are, how true”. Camões began seeming simple in the midst of the texts by Fernando Pessoa, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Lídia Jorge and many others. The performances only proved possible thanks to the spirit of mutual help prevailing. They had only met each other two weeks earlier at the semi-final but discovered a lot of bonds that led to new friendships. The end of the competition had also coincided with the end of an intense week of tests in school but also the period of the year when our bodies most feel the long cold of winter; here and there were the coughs and sniffles whether appropriate to the season or to the nerves but the group was ready and all set for the big final.


Everybody deserved to win

Reading out aloud in Portuguese was a habit that Bernardo Picão, winner of this year’s competition, brought home from school. Despite only having recently arrived in Paris (since September), his studies thus far were at the Liceu Francês in Oporto and the option for France was the natural progression of his academic career thus far that had no relationship with the Portuguese language given that Bernardo studies mathematics. He said the competition was “an excellent experience” and that the prize – a trip to Lisbon for two persons – is “the break that means I can relax after the intensity of the course”.

Matilde Ribeiro Machado is aged 16 and for the last 12 years has heard French spoken around her by friends and colleagues. She was just four when she arrived in France and today studies at the International Lyceum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. When her Portuguese teacher told her about this competition, she thought it would be both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge “to test her capacities for oral expression”. Matilde was far from imagining that she would be among the three award winners and out of the ten who all gave their best in this final in Paris and even considers that “everybody deserved to win”. Despite the flu and fever she woke up with that day, she managed to pick up second prize – an iPad with books in Portuguese – that now gives her “more confidence” and belief in the “possibility of attaining objectives that at the outset appear intangible”.

Testing his abilities was also among the objectives of Rodrigo Ribeiro in entering the Dá Voz à Letra competition. He studies at the Honoré de Balzac Lyceum and has been in France since 2008. His mother is of Portuguese origins and nine years ago decided to return to her land of birth and study. Rodrigo said that “he did not have the habit of reading aloud” but that he really enjoyed doing so when he started. The third prize the jury awarded him reflects his vocal qualities and the ease of expression in reading. Rodrigo perceives the award as “recognition of the importance of reading” and says he shall never forget the experience.


The importance of reading in Portuguese

The Dá Voz à Letra competition was set up to encourage reading habits among young persons aged between 15 and 18 and has already held earlier events in Lisbon and Oporto. This year, competitors came from students at schools in Île-de-France – Créteil, Paris and Versailles. While all participants attend schools where the Portuguese language is present, these students, aged between 16 and 18, speak French in their daily lives. One participant had only begun to speak Portuguese to any standard four years earlier in an effort to build up his links with the homeland of one of his parents; and still managed to reach the final out of the almost one hundred competition candidates.

In the group, there are those considering a career as an actor, such as David Silva, or those who read poetry to bring forth the depths of their emotions, such as Hugo dos Santos. For each of these young persons, these readings are also a means of remaining interconnected with the lands of their parents or grandparents. This was the very message Rúben Alves, an actor and director of A Gaiola Dourada, highlighted on stage at the end of the performance and stressing the relevance of a language spoken by millions of people worldwide. And as the adrenaline began to fade, the readings took backstage to the opportunity to talk with Pedro Abrunhosa, Rita Blanco and Rúben Alves. Amongst the photographs and the selfies for posterity, there were plenty of smiles thrown in alongside the certainty that readings in Portuguese are going to very much remain a part of their lives.

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