Ana Kreitmeyer / Sonja Pregrad (Croatia): Out There and In Here, at Antistatic Festival 2019, Sofia, Bulgaria


Vote for dance: Antistatic Festival 2019, Bulgaria

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Ana Kreitmeyer / Sonja Pregrad (Croatia): Out There and In Here, at Antistatic Festival 2019, Sofia, Bulgaria
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The 12th Antistatic Festival called a #VoteForDance – but how did the performances poll with our reviewer?

Fittingly for a festival held in the month and year of the European elections, Antistatic’s motto was ‘Vote for dance’. It brought international contemporary dance to the Bulgarian capital for the twelfth consecutive year, dedicating its first three days to artists beyond Europe – Canada, Israel and Brazil – and the rest to performances from across the continent. Antistatic also featured a parallel programme of post-show talks, warm-ups and educational workshops and seminars, and launched an annual dance magazine in Bulgarian (@dancemageu) – publicly funded and entirely dedicated to the publication of serious critical texts that do not conform to the pressures of the for-profit market.

Below, you’ll find seven snapshot reviews from pieces in the festival.

Going to the limits of endurance: Manuel Roque in Bang Bang

Bang Bang, a solo by Canadian Manuel Roque, deals with exhaustion and the physical reality of the body through a set of dances that bring the performer to his limits. Starting with minimal repetitive knee bending to a beat on an empty stage, Roque slowly introduces new movements that first enter as mistakes and are then incorporated into the score. Breathing and footsteps become a part of the soundscape. There are references to Chaplin and Astaire, as well as classical ballet, modern dance diagonals, folk dance footwork and dervish whirling – but everything’s pushed to an extreme until Roque’s sweat drips onto the floor. It tests the endurance of the body – and eventually our total focus on the performing body results in the rest of the room melting away, along with our sense of physical existence.

In The Third Dance, partners in life and on stage Oren Laor and Niv Sheinfeld remake a famous 1990s Israeli duet by Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal, about love and intimacy from an autobiographical perspective. The audience is seated in a square on stage and in the first part the original dance is restaged in a same-sex version, with slight movement variations, to the music of Mahler. The second, text-based part mixes monologues in Hebrew, English and French with awkward audience interactions – at one point one of the two shouts ‘Please, fuck me’ to a random audience member. A quiet moment of performed intimacy – a hug and kiss – follows. Laor and Shienfeld bring in a gramophone and the large vinyl collection from their living room in Tel Aviv. Mahler is replaced with Elton John and Eurythmics. Pop culture remains the only collective reference point in a falsely post-ideological time where hierarchies have fallen and self-expression has become a dominant paradigm. However, circa 2019, with the liberal order crumbling, this feel-good postmodern utopia is to a large extent self-indulgent and out of touch.

France-based Brazilian artist Pol Pi’s solo Ecce (H)omo is also a reinterpretation of a historical work, Affectos Humanos by German expressionist dancer and choreographer Dore Hoyer, who searched for a universal dance language to express human emotions and presented herself as a genderless creature onstage. The only trace left of Affectos Humanos, a collection of five four-minute solos, is a recording of a German TV performance from 1967, a year before Hoyer committed suicide. Today the dance is copyrighted and heavily guarded by the German Dance Archives in Cologne. Pi travelled to Germany to meet with the licensed teachers and to acquire permission to perform the work.  As fluid with gender as Hoyer, Pi appears barefoot, in jeans and a t-shirt, buzzcut and clean-shaven, and meticulously performs the solos (on the themes of pride, desire, hate, fear, love) while speaking frankly to the audience about their relationship with the original work. In the process of development, Pi abandoned the original costumes and recontextualized the solos as a contemporary performance piece in which we witness the deconstruction of both language (a whole monologue is reperformed as a non-sequitur) and gender (Pi uses make-up to put on a beard). Shifting between identities, bodies, cultural contexts and historical time frames, Pi is less interested in the universal expression of emotions than attracted to the universality of the artist’s tragic clash with reality.

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Pol Pi: Ecce (H)omo, after Dore Hoyer’s Affectos Humanos
Pol Pi: Ecce (H)omo, after Dore Hoyer’s Affectos Humanos. Photo © Pauline Brun

A nylon curtain divides the stage in Out There and In Here (Croatia). Sonja Pregrad and Anna Kreitmeyer slowly roll on the floor in front of it and repeat each other’s movements. They graze the nylon with their feet before starting a never-ending generation of movement material that recalls a series of measurements exploring distance and proximity to each other’s bodies, to the audience (who are partly acknowledged, partly ignored) and to the performance space (the in and out of the title). They improvise a somewhat coherent geometrical movement vocabulary, yet nevertheless remain impenetrable. A pause with a hug and the sound of bombings in the background suddenly recontextualise the movements. Is this a comment on the war in Yugoslavia? Does the transparent nylon curtain stand for division of formerly united countries? Are these the movements of escaping, hiding, fighting, falling, pushing, protecting, reaching out to or for help? Inspired by Ivana Sajko’s Woman Bomb, a famous Croatian play about a pregnant suicide bomber, the piece ends in ambivalence with the bodies split in two under the nylon curtain, halfway in and out, before blackout. While this ambivalence was sought after, the audience remained unconvinced and the strength of the source material doesn’t come across in movement.

Described by Zrinka Užbinec as a ‘solo of many’ (a good four or five people contributed to the research and creation, among which Bulgarian theatre maker Ida Daniel), Exploded Goo is structured in three parts and inspired by photo montages. Užbinec meticulously arranges a stage full of peculiar objects: performance lights, mics, cables and colour filters, but also clothes pegs, pink and purple feathers, some green fuzz, construction parts, magnets, ropes, sponges, inflated nylon bags. She then gets naked in the dark, puts on tight transparent top, leggings and socks, sprays herself and adjusts double-sided sticky-tape on different body parts, before rolling on the floor randomly picking up some of the objects. An intentionally strange and physically demanding routine begins, which aims to transform the performer’s naked female body into a desexualized organic object, somehow in contrast (or not) with the series of mechanical noises, beeps and rattles – a deliberate challenge to our gaze, and a disruption of inscribed meanings. Heavy breathing and the crackle of the tape sticking to the floor add to the soundscape. Beneath the concept that explores politics on the level of form rather than addressing any pressing issues directly in content, Užbinec’s trained body and its movements remain recognisable as dance, and a short spoken word sequence at the end ties the practice together.

Closing the show: Tonight I Celebrate by Slovenian performer Uroš Kaurin
Closing the show: Tonight I Celebrate by Slovenian performer Uroš Kaurin

German duo Hartmannmueller use Hamlet’s relationship with his mother as their point of departure in My Saturday went pretty well until I realized it was Monday. Simon Hartmann plays 90s pop hits on a keyboard with an idiotic smile while Daniel Ernesto Mueller covers his body in nylon and tape, wearing a paper crown and glasses, teaching us a cha-cha routine, calling out for his mum, and writing with tape on a white screen: ‘my home is my…’. As we progress through seemingly unrelated acts of quiet madness, ‘home’ transforms into ‘hope’ and the whole routine restarts again. Mueller uses large scissors to cut the tape around his body, an act he refers to as ‘circumcision’, and then puts it on all over again. The sentence on the wall remains unfinished, as does the show. While it occasionally produces good laughs and plays well with expectations and sudden changes in rhythm, the sarcasm seems forced, the performance itself infantile and the dancers not trained enough to act. Yes, anything can be dance, but you need to have coherent and defendable artistic choices, otherwise you leave the impression of randomness that also harms the field.

The festival’s closing show, Tonight I Celebrate by Slovenian performer Uroš Kaurin, is more concert than dance. Dressed and performing as a woman in the first part, Uroš is charming and clumsy while singing ‘Don’t let me down’, ‘How deep is your love’, ‘Natural woman’ and ‘Love is in the air’. Midway through the show he leaves the stage and the audience is invited to sing karaoke. When he returns, this time as a man, neutral and completely naked, with a bouquet of roses, he continues the concert with a blank expression that is open to interpretation. A rendition of ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ finishes with a weird moment of trying to forcibly throw up at the back of the stage. Despite the energy flagging towards the end, it still manages to make you smile and leave you in good mood – truly a celebration of the performing body, and one worthy of closing a festival. 

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Sofia, Bulgaria, 9–21 May 2019
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