March 23-25, 2018
Aerowaves’ annual festival, Spring Forward, this year dropped in on Sofia, Bulgaria. As always, it was an invitingly challenging three days of being shuffled between venues. This year, the added deluge of snow did not help a programme of performances often lacking in weight and clear execution although some works managed to reinvigorate an often-flagging audience.
Stand-outs included a welcome return from Christos Papadopoulos’ Leon and Wolf Dance Company with Opus. Papadopoulos is a master of the imperceptible. As each dancer mimics each note of a different instrument, each movement never ends but rather diverts onto a new plane, direction or shape. It is hypnotic, the silhouetted dancers tilting and swaying always elusively, but never dismissively. A beautiful work from a studied craftsman.
Wreck – List of extinct species from Pietro Marullo is exemplary for its vision. A giant, inflated plastic mass moves slowly through the space, rearing up, sliding and subsiding. It soon reveals its humans, naked sculptures increasingly sketched in traumatic poses. The dancers soon win their freedom, becoming at times fearful of, and at others predatory towards, the creature. Such ambitious symbolism prompts questions about creation, environmental disasters, and the anthropocene, allowing all possibilities without being limited by them.
Solos abounded in the weekend, many unsuccessfully. While for some artists this may be a conscious artistic choice, solos can also undoubtedly be reflective of limited resources. The weight of justification for their singularity hangs heavily on the lone performer. This is particularly fraught in Mathis Kleinschnittger’s “Grr, I’m dancing” Universe of a dancing bear. While Kleinschnittger is engagingly cheeky and whimsical to begin with, when he lies down to sleep on stage, his increasingly incoherent and scattered environment completely lost its audience (prompting some walk-outs).
Some solos, nonetheless, linger and prompt reflection. By their nature, they are often indulgent and introspective; this is pulled off successfully in Jesús Rubio Gamo’s Ahora que no somos demasiado viejos todavía. This is a beautiful, considered negotiation of past, present and future. He attempts to grasp, discard, re-enact and reach for movements and memories. Each movement brings him to a particular space and time, yet there is always a poignant sense of the almost.
Hilde Ingeborg Sandvold’s Dans, for Satan is likewise personal but it is far from introverted; it is examined but not reticent. A slapstick, whirlwind of sexual references, grunting and squeamish props (including a limp sausage and regurgitated milk), Sandvold pulls her audience along in a crash course through a modern, frenzied, sexually liberated world.
Many discussions during the weekend revolved around the limits of the proscenium arch, and how the showcased work is both unrepresentative of recent contemporary work, while also sometimes let down by being in the black box. It was intriguing to see Núria Guiu Sagarra begin Likes, as an informal anthropological lecture, analysing recurrent objectifcations of the body through yoga. But Likes loses this novelty when it becomes a sequence of loosely hashed together yoga and popular dance moves, and her eventual nudity, while perhaps freeing, feels unclear in its message.
If the solo rests heavily on its performer, the duet can be said to be laden with its own heteronormative history. This produces uncomfortable moments with Valtteri Raekallio’s Rehearsal on Love. The work attempts to explore a conflicted relationship but fumbling technique and misguided direction results in an aggressive power dynamic that fails to move beyond the awkwardly literal and borders on gratuitous. Jivko Jeliazkov ’s F 63.9, while nicely set up with crisp lighting and capable floor work, flounders through its overly elaborate and repetitive structure of unclear movement vocabulary.
These two duets were not the only works where a lack of technique dominated. Simona Deaconescu’s Counterbody unfortunately not only suffers from messiness, but its structure also feels amateur, the simple transferral onto stage of initial, improvisatory exercises. While learned technique is not a prerequisite to perform, especially in contemporary dance, choosing to work with certain aesthetic prerequisites can set up expectations that are let down.
The duets that succeed have a lighter touch. Aris Papadopoulos and Martha Pasakopoulou in touching.just navigate their eclectic obstacle course with deadpan expressions. The piece is a joy aurally, the dancers creating a calming reverb as they routinely trudge in a circle, popping bubble wrap on cue. Again, the theatre and its disciplined spectators threaten to overwhelm a piece that could work enjoyably in a less confined environment.
In SCARABEO, angels and the void from Andrea Costanzo Martini, the two dancers posture under elevator music, before converting into malfunctioning automisms, syncing up with the groans and squeaks of their soundtrack. The piece ends with a mechanical rebirth of two green, sequin glad bodies. The internal logic driving the piece is unclear but the awkwardness is infectious.
It is left to the groups to build the energy. NASS (Les gens), from Fouad Boussouf (Company Massala) begins hypnotically, but slips into a formally unjustified need to ‘show off’ each performer. The performers are its strength, however, flinging, rolling and careering into handstands. There is an attempted dive into examining masculinity (a topless scene that feels indulgent rather than revelatory) but the mechanics channeling the energy hint at some interesting choreographic developments to come.
Homo Furens from Filipe Lourenço doesn’t grab the audience on its opening, but its methodical repetition of military exercises induces a state of calm in the audience (an undoubtedly different experience to the exertion the performers feel). Calm is not the aim of Marco da Silva Ferreira’s Brother, where clowns and punks roam and strut through the luridly lit space; a much-needed firework at the end of the festival.
Invited to Spring Forward, but not one of the twenty selected artists, Goblin Party (Korea) present a welcome screech in A Silver Knife. Four female dancers scuttle across the stage, hooked together and sharp in their attack; these are not docile corps de ballet dancers. A sense of gendered oppression pervades as they carry each other limply across the stage, stick their heads in boxes or pull their hair in front of their eyes. Goblin Party shouts at its audience (even petulantly, nonchalantly, yet defiantly rapping at points) and gives them something to tug at. What a brattish, powerful joy.
There is still time to enjoy Spring Forward 2018: all performances have been uploaded to the Aerowaves website. http://aerowaves.org/springforward/on-demand