Spring Forward: The show must go on-line

April 24-26, 2020

Róisín O’Brien

In amongst the slew of performance cancellations and venue closures, one bit of good news emerged: Aerowaves’ annual Spring Forward festival would go on-line.

This was no mean feat. Behind the scenes, the Aerowaves production team cranked into gear to put all the selected twenty-two artists’ shows into a live stream, and co-ordinate live Q&As with the artists before or after each screening.

Spring Forward is not just an important moment for the selected artists to show their work (which they were able to do, albeit in digital form), it is also a moment of cross-European (and further) connection. For me, it’s a yearly highlight to see many friends and colleagues I’ve gotten to know over the years, and doing so on Zoom, while different, was not only welcome but felt quite special.

I catch the opening show, Bouncing Narratives by Roza Moshtagi on Friday. It’s a hypnotising performance, the dancers’ feet shifting into spirographic patterns as viewed from underneath a see-through trampoline. Seeing audiences huddled up close under the performance ‘floor’ in a sunny country is somewhat poignant.

Linda and Mike Hayford in Al/She/MePhoto Benoite Fanton
Linda and Mike Hayford in Al/She/Me
Photo Benoite Fanton

Friday finishes with Linda Hayford – Inside Out Company’s AlShe/Me, a duet with her brother Mike. The couple’s morphing relationship from tight synchronicity to contrasting stances, their frames popping and shifting determinedly across the stage, seems to oddly suit a digital frame: a play between automation and humanity almost comes to the fore.

On Saturday, I’m on to interview Choi x Kang Project about their work A complementary set – Disappearing with an Impact. It’s an addictive piece. Choi Minsun and Kang Jinan walk through increasingly surreal vignettes that are replayed on a screen behind them with crucial, disorientating differences. Kim Taekyung additionally records on a camcorder. It’s a murder mystery game: how did they get to the floor? Who pushed them? I don’t solve it (I’m not sure you’re meant to) but I thoroughly enjoy it.

A moment from the film of A complementary set - Disappearing with an Impact by Choi x Kang Project
A moment from the film of
A complementary set – Disappearing with an Impact
by Choi x Kang Project

I see Anne-Mareike Hess’ Warrior, an increasingly visceral, pumping solo with a powerful use of breath and vocals. Ekin Tunçeli’s bir sey (who I also interview) is a delicate solo, ruminating on uncertainty and feelings of helplessness. A particularly touching moment sees a small ambulance drive in with balloons to rescue her as she lies prostate on the floor.

I’m particularly struck by the vulnerability of solo performances on a digital screen. Solos are tricky formats to begin with – attention really has to be fought for – and a casual digital viewing platform does not force the viewer to contend with what’s in front of them. The viewer can simply leave, far more easily than in a theatre.

On the other hand, the prescriptive format of certain theatre traditions (i.e. the need to create a long-enough show that justifies a ticket price) often means some dances are made to fit requirements rather than ideas. There are many new things that may hopefully emerge after lockdown: perhaps expecting the audience to be there – at the end of the show, or at all – might be challenged.

Viktor Černický in PLIPhoto Vojtěch Brtnický
Viktor Černický in PLI
Photo Vojtěch Brtnický

On Saturday, I dip into Masako Matsushita’s UN/DRESS | moving painting and Viktor Černický’s PLI. Props and costume are integral to each piece: PLI is a tense play with excellently monotonous office chairs, stacked in ingenious ways. In UN/DRESS | moving painting, Masako performs a considered solo dressing and undressing a patchwork of colourful underwear. The naked body on screens takes on a potentially different bearing: its manner of confrontation is perhaps less stark, its vulnerability not that of immediate physical presence but one that is at the mercy of the viewer’s (potentially permanent) digital ownership.

It’s up to Silvia Gribaudi’s Graces to finish the festival on a high and it does not disappoint. It’s a performance of wonderfully scripted humility, a display of apparently spontaneous but carefully planned gestures to the audience, that oh-so-dutiful acknowledgment of your brilliance. Graces balances adept comic timing with witty deconstructions of grace and artistic reverence and control. Undoubtedly some of the intimacy with the audience – those careful waits and pounces – are lost to the dictates of the camera, but it’s a joyous finale.