Emerging artists take the stage at Spring Forward

Various venues, Val-de-Marne
April 5-7, 2019

Róisín O’Brien

Presented annually by Aerowaves, this year’s Spring Forward took place in Val-de-Marne, France. A festival showcasing the most exciting new dance makers in Europe, the work ranges from fully produced works encompassing other collaborators and artists, to those simple in their direct confrontation with pure movement.

It is important to remember the artists’ status as ‘emerging’; the festival can be a first glimpse of big things to come. Artists who have gone on to tour internationally to critical acclaim include the indomitable Northern Ireland based artist Oona Doherty and Italian artist Alessandro Sciarroni, who was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at La Biennale di Venezia.

That said, this year’s festival had works with weight and maturity. Not only were the pieces often more dramaturgically coherent and well-rounded in terms of design compared to last year, the selection felt more various in their representation of different strands defining contemporary dance today. Alongside acrobatic duets and ensemble pieces were works including often marginalised bodies (incorporating disability, age and ethnicity). One double bill took place in a museum rather than a theatre, the public flitting in and out in the background.

Thomas Bîrzan and Mario Barrantes Espinoza in Drift IPhoto Liesbet Peremans
Thomas Bîrzan and Mario Barrantes Espinoza in Drift I
Photo Liesbet Peremans

In Chiara Bersani’s Seeking Unicorns, we are confronted with our expectations of the (disabled) body and the possibilities afforded to different bodies as defined by the spaces we’re in. As Bersani minutely crawls through the space, the subtle shifts in her feet and mouth conjuring the pawing unicorn, we question our gaze on her and what motives and knowledge we bring when judging her movement.

Robbie Synge and Lucie Boyes’ Ensemble explores limits and perceived abilities across different generations, while Sylvain Bouillet and Lucian Reynes’ Des gestes blancs is a touching, intimate exploration of the play, responsibility and reliance in parenthood.

Katerina Andreou in BSTDRPhoto Patrick Berger
Katerina Andreou in BSTDR
Photo Patrick Berger

Solos and duets dominated, with many of the solos performing and excavating identity on stage. The opening language and statement of Anne-Marie Van’s (or Nach’s, the avatar through which she performs) Cellule is that of krump, jolting the audience into new movement territory. With a sense of both confinement and euphoric release, Nach is a commanding performer, beautifully lit and brutally framed by images of urbanity and riots.

Both James Batchelor and collaborators’ Hyperspace and Thomas Bîrzan and Mario Barrantes Espinoza’s Drift (I) stretch out time through hyper-slow movement. Sketched with an intricate constellation of organic materials on his torso, and dressed only in black trousers that extend over the ankle, Batchelor appears reborn, searching within his body and environment, and bending time as his hand impressively distorts his facial features. Drift (I) sees two men abandoned on a beach, (perhaps, as prompted by the grainy floor) leaning heavily on each other and moving with an infinitesimal yet continuous quality. The space allows for association to creep in: for me, both the tragic image of Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach, and the pivotal, intimate beach scene in Oscar-winning film Moonlight.

Muyte Maker by Flora DétrazPhoto Bruno Simao
Muyte Maker by Flora Détraz
Photo Bruno Simao

Dances of endurance are always a tough gig within a festival that is an endurance of sorts in itself, but Katerina Andreou managed to pull her audience along with her in BSTDR. It’s a pumping solo that takes the trips, flings, and bounce from House into a gaming environment, the result an electrifying, stamina defying exercise. There’s visual richness and rich folkloric subversion in Flora Détraz’s Muyte Maker, a fiendishly precise work with stunning, eccentric performances from its four female leads.

There were moments of tenderness, too, none more so than in the swaying duet of Engel, performed by Marta Alstadsæter and Kim-Jomi Fischer, their backgrounds in circus and contemporary dance melding into one organic duet touching on consciousness and the unknown. In The pure gold is seeping out of me from Renata Piotrowska-Auffret, we moved from tender intimacy to visceral closeness. Surreal, loving, weird, and violent, it’s an ultimately brutal, yet honest take on reproduction and childbirth.

Marta Alstadsæter and Kim-Jomi Fischer in EngelPhoto by Tom Rune Angell-Storo Juliussen
Marta Alstadsæter and Kim-Jomi Fischer in Engel
Photo Alexander van der Linden

Providing the weary troupe of programmers, writers and artists with some humour was the bizarre Long time no see from Beatrix Simkó and Jenna Jalonen. Some of the vignettes within it that explore national stereotypes and relations appear at odds with its strength: the infectious comedic relationship between its two performers. Harleking from Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi is delightfully wicked and macabre, veering brilliantly into fear and representations of political unrest and violence.

The festival closed with Collectif ES’ Jean-Yves, Patrick et Corinne. The group dance cloyingly, faces rapidly alight, to ’80s pop ballads, as they muse on the necessity to make something ‘original’. There’s a wink and a nod towards the industry audience: am I good enough for you, yet? A fitting conclusion.