April 24-26, 2020
Many, many years ago, I went on holiday to Opatija; so long ago that it was then Yugoslavia. Now in Croatia, it was a huge shame not to be able to return to the seaside town, a real jewel of the Adriatic, and its bigger and interesting neighbour Rijeka for Spring Forward 2020. But all credit to Aerowaves and all those involved for still getting this year’s festival on, albeit in an alternative digital form.
As always focusing on emerging choreographers, the 22 films of performances shown over three days, all with Q&A sessions with the choreographer and artists afterwards proved a sometimes stimulating, sometimes frustrating mix. Nothing new there!
But let’s not pretend that watching online in any way gives a similar feel to being in the same space as the performers. It is a very different experience; often a very problematic one. Remember, these works were not intended to be dance film or made as ‘dance for the camera’. The two-dimensional picture too often gives little sense of depth, feeling or emotion, although if it does, you know you have a special piece. Atmosphere too, which it is too easy to forget also comes from the audience, from the communal experience of watching.
Almost without exception the group pieces shown held the attention better than the solo ones. That was hardly a surprise. It’s difficult for any solo work to hold the attention for 30 or 40 minutes, and watching on a small screen makes it doubly hard. With the eyes focused on a single place, it is very tiring. Anything lit dimly brought extra problems. While shadowy lighting may well be atmospheric in the flesh, here it contrived simply to make it difficult to see what was happening.
My personal festival favourite was Postmodern Cool by Oslo-based choreographer and dancer Inés Belli, a jazz meets postmodern, past meets present work that held me from start to finish.
The dance is indeed cool and laid back. The choreography makes much use of relatively simple, repetitive jazz movement, mathematical patterns full of straight and circular motifs in space. In their simple black tops and trousers and white shoes, with just a daring flash of colour in their red socks, the five dancers are committed and super-focused, yet make everything look effortless and natural. They manage to combine authority and precision with fleet footwork and a sense of personal exhilaration, working together cleanly, always connected despite the ever-changing formations. And while Jordan Fields’ music alone would probably be monotonous, when put together with Belli’s dance, that works a treat too. It all somehow felt remarkably genuine. I loved it and would love to see it live.
Very different in feel but just as good was BEAT ‘I just wish to feel you’ by Jenna Jalonen, part of Finnish group, Collective Dope. A duet for her and Belgian dancer Jonas Garrido Verwerft, it’s full of energy, momentum and superb partnering, with dashes of narrative humour tossed in for good measure.
The theme is that simple, universal one: a man and a woman getting to know each other. There are references to dating habits and clubbing as the pair’s different dance languages meet (she’s a contemporary dancer, he’s a b-boy).
The physicality is superb as the couple switch between lifter and lifted, living and lifeless, always with remarkable ease. More and more aggressively, they lift, throw and knead each other, their bodies seemingly able to take whatever is thrown at them before it all turns into a wrestling match. As things slow down, BEAT gets scary too as references to self-harm come to the fore too. Completing the whole is Adrian Newgent’s live music, mixed in response to the action so well that’s it’s impossible to tell who is driving who.
Also from Scandanavia, which seems to nurture young choreographers like no other region, came Cheers by Oslo-based Kristin Helgebostad and Laura Marie Rueslåtten. Helgebostad was a cheerleader in her teens and here goes back to that time in what is a celebration and a deconstruction of cheering.
All the components are there: cheers, tribal chants with the volume ramped up, pyramids, acrobatics, sometimes obvious, sometimes moulded or even turned on its side, as when pyramid formations are constructed with the dancers lying on the floor. Naturally, there are pom-poms. I particularly liked one image of them together, pulsing like a group of amoebae.
Forget the idea of cheerleaders as sexualised objects, however. There’s plenty of energy and athleticism but here, the dancers are in are shorts and jackets, minus make-up, hair rough and ready.
Cheers is at its best in the tighter sections where most or all of the cast are in unison. It’s then that the underlying tension really comes through. When the cohesion breaks up, the focus dissipates, although I very much suspect that would be much less the case seen live. The film gave one of the better balances of close-up and distance of the festival but did tend to grey out the colour.
Like Róisín O’Brien (click here for her report), I also rather enjoyed A complementary set_Disappearing with an Impact by Choi x Kang Project from Korea. The mechanical and minimalist movement of dancers Choi Minsun and Kang Jinan that matches the tock-tock of the metronomic percussion accompaniment drew you in totally. Like all good minimalist live art, the work’s success lies in its subtle development. The dance also keeps coming back to things we have seen before, allowing us to make attachments to the past, even if what we now see is slightly different. I’m less sure about the final ten minutes, when music, visual and movement all change, however.
I’ve always had a fascination for maps. Perhaps that’s why The Angular Distance of a Celestial Body by Alessandro Carboni also made an impact. Beautifully shot and much more of a ‘dance for the camera’ film than most others, it’s a reflection of cartographic process: a representation of the Earth’s surface and events upon it, where the symbols on maps are replaced by the body.
On the floor are two unidentified, gender non-specific bodies (actually Ana Luisa Gomes and Loredana Tarnovschi, although we never see faces). Their colourful carnival-inspired costumes by DEM stand out against the grey of the background. The chaos of those costumes also contrasts starkly with the order elsewhere as the pair manipulate a geometric structure of cotton threads and weights in a way that reminded me of delicate weaving.
Most compelling of the solos I caught was Joy Alpuerto Ritter’s Babae. However, I can’t help wondering if that’s because I had previously seen in live during the Akram Khan Company-curated Portraits in Otherness programme at Sadler’s Wells in 2018. The connections to Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance are there for all to see. The detail in the choreography is remarkable as Ritter shifts between ritual, trance and everyday movement. There’s one moment where her hands almost hold a conversation, like two birds chirping away.
Elsewhere, the sliced, diced and rehashed combination of pop video clips, film of Muhammad Ali and John McEnroe, and live action that frequently mimics them that is Unauthorised by Iris Karayan was hard-going. The work certainly has drive, and often rhythm, but the collage of influences struggles for focus.
I also struggled with bir şey (which means ‘a thing’ in Turkish) by Ekin Tunçeli. An autobiographical, instrospective piece, it exudes a sense of insecurity and tentativeness. The loose, mimed gesture, of which there’s a lot (too much) was uncertain too, carrying little weight and little sense of real purpose.
Finally, back to a group and on a brighter note in every respect, inspired on her personal experience of ovarian cancer, The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus by Léa Tirabasso manages to be absurd and grotesque, playful and liberating. She conveys the body in all its contradictions: dysfunctional and chaotic yet vibrant, wild and animalistic, even; healthy and vigorous but that has suffered and been damaged. The illness is absurd too: full of life but carrying the threat of death. With moments of humour, it’s about the potential of the body, the power of the mind and spirit and the flesh. It’s a celebration. Just like Spring Forward.