Ehs came from another planet by Amalia Bennett and Antigone Gyra. ©South Space for Photography

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Dance Days Chania 2023:
The Conscious Body

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Ehs came from another planet by Amalia Bennett and Antigone Gyra. ©South Space for Photography
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Themes from the 13th edition of the international contemporary dance festival in the coastal town of Chania, Crete

The Greek seaside city of Chania on the island of Crete attracts tourists of all kinds, but dance enthusiasts have an additional reason to visit it: the international contemporary dance festival Dance Days Chania. Founded as a four-day event in 2011, it has under Sofia Falierou’s direction evolved into a well-recognised twelve-day international festival with two basic aims: to involve the local communities and to provide support and networking to the participating artists.

This year’s edition (22 July to 2 August 2023) featured 19 works by emerging and established artists from Greece and abroad (including Aerowaves artists Ching-Ying Chien and Anastasia Valsamaki who presented Vulture and Wrestling respectively, both previously reviewed in Springback). Artists selected by open call showed their works either on stage or in the city squares but also shared their movement practices through workshops available to different ages and open to various levels of expertise. Furthermore, collateral events such as an international videodance programme screened outdoors, a conference on the theme of the body in public space co-curated with the School of Architecture of the Technical University of Crete, a transnational artistic residency in collaboration with Dance House Lemesos (Cyprus) and an exhibition of children’s drawings, all evidence the will to bring dance closer to everyday life and beyond the borders of the theatre, the city, the island and the country.

Crossing architectural, urban and geographical borders is threaded with this year’s theme on The Conscious Body, understood both socially and mindfully, and manifested in thematics of gender issues, the ageing/mature body and human relationships. In addition, in a special section named New Creators and Public Space (part of the programme since 2017), the festival acts as a co-producer of site-specific works that seek to valorise everyday or abandoned sites of the city and to come closer to the locals. The duet was a recurring choreographic format through this year’s festival – for the usual practical and financial reasons. For instance, the duet Sad-Mad Method by Anna Sagrera (Spain) performed at Yiali Tzamisi Square announced the beginning of the festival and the duo Last night you forgot an onion in my pocket by Agnese Bargero (Italy) enlivened Katehaki Square, the area right outside the recently renovated Mikis Theodorakis Theatre, cheering up the gathered audience. Finally, light remains an important element of the theatrical apparatus in creating illusions of other worlds or unhindered rawness.

Light as space and source of exposure

In Elevator by Hungarian choreographer Fehér Ferenc (M Studio), three men dressed in black suits are placed inside a square traced by floor lights – the reduced image of an elevator. Sudden shakes and rhythmic abandonments of their bodies that evoke animal movements break the formality of their dress code. A strong masculinity is expressed through dynamic lifts, kicks, vertical and horizontal jumps and a parody of fighting. Pretending to write notes on their palms (and sometimes on the soles of their feet) echoes the workaholic life imposed by neoliberal society and becomes nostalgia for the pre-digital era when pen and paper used to be a handy kit in our bags. The choreography, spatially confined inside the light square, remains a constant metaphor for any kind of boxes we live in or are imprisoned by, recalling the negotiations necessitated by sharing space – still vivid during the post-COVID era. The work also invites reflections beyond the horizontal: imagining the vertical movement of an elevator brings to mind the ups and downs in the ladder of life and social recognition.

Roberta Piazza in Rite by Luciano Padovani (Naturalis Labor company). ©South Space for Photography
Roberta Piazza in Rite by Luciano Padovani (Naturalis Labor company). ©South Space for Photography

Rite by Italian choreographer Luciano Padovani (Naturalis Labor company) opens up in total darkness and smoke all over the stage. A vertical side light reveals a naked female body appearing through the haze. Moving slowly, dancer Roberta Piazza emerges like a shadow from the depths and then closer to the light in a detailed hand dance. She flits and flickers like a moth to the light, creating body landscapes by constantly shifting it, making the space and her body appear and disappear. The stage space is not fixed anymore, there is only space where the light and the body create it. The piece develops its visual quality into a ritualistic, highly virtuosic performance.

Four More by Teatr A Part (Poland) – four women dressed only in short tutus sit with their backs to the audience staring at the four hanging metal panels that make up the scenography. Their attire hints at the first scene of the piece: to the sound of soft piano music they perform amateur ballet steps, their faces covered under masks of an exaggerated balletic expression of high brows, wide eyes and slightly open lips. The piece continues in a succession of scenes where the women, now completely naked, embody different abstract narratives that seem like studies on femininity and the female body. The lighting, often warm and frontal, sometimes red, reveals the bodies in the raw, without any intention of beautification, giving a sense of humanness and fragility, despite the often exaggerated performativity in the scenes.

Aspects of masculinity and femininity and the ageing/mature body

A Bounce 4 Men is a bouncing piece for four men and a DJ. The colourful street-style aesthetic and bright lighting fit the breaking-style choreography of waving, popping and pulsing. Greek choreographer Ilias Chatzigeorgiou attempts a look into the masculine psyche, though a very specific side of it: a macho ‘bro’ attitude that quickly turns into aggression, leaving very little space for softness and vulnerability. Huge teddy bears – one for each performer – and a rap song about the experience of growing up as a boy represent this softer, boyish side, that is overwhelmed by excessive laughter, beer drinking and violence. These men look recognisable (they are the ones we would avoid if walking alone at night) and maybe that’s where the success of the piece lies.

A Bounce 4 Men by Greek choreographer Ilias Chatzigeorgiou. ©South Space for Photography
A Bounce 4 Men by Greek choreographer Ilias Chatzigeorgiou. ©South Space for Photography

Sadboi by Cypriot Panos Malactos, memorable for his protest last year at Kalamata festival, delves into a very different aspect of masculinity: ‘gay, sad and horny’, a Sadboi is very open and eloquent about his feelings, in a blunt, raw way. He thrusts himself into an outburst of exhilarating movement to loud music – is he dancing in a club or alone in his room? – before reciting the story of his heartbreak, full of details of looking for love on Grindr and relationships that start and end on social media. Through accelerating dervish spinning, he strips down to a gold thong and a leather belted corset and into a sensual dance. Sometimes struggling, sometimes seemingly unbothered, the Sadboi is always honest about his need for validation – and definitely receives it by the excited applause.

Creators Amalia Bennett and Antigone Gyra (Greece) describe the solo Ehs came from another planet as a research on ‘femininity in transition’. Gyra transforms her body with her long black dress into a faceless creature, chatters in a low voice about femininity and the experience of ageing as a woman. She talks about her body in a humorous, accepting way, revealing naked parts of it, self-mockingly jiggling her flesh, wearing heels and a period pad. After the show, an audience member said: ‘I got the message, it was about enjoying your body as it is.’

Julia Anna Brendle’s Radical Kindness (Cyprus/Germany) starts with four dancers of varied ages standing facing the audience, eyes closed, moving subtly. In fluid motion with intense accents and facial expressions, they create diverse relationscapes where short solos and duets come into focus, before they dissolve again into the group dynamic. With a composition of fragmented images on a common theme of intimacy and fragile interactions, the piece oscillates between abstraction and narrative, much like scrambled stories in a dream.

Love, awe and synchronicity

Amae by Eliana Stragapede and Borna Babić (Belgium) is straightforwardly a duet about love and the struggle for balance in a romantic relationship. Her body on the floor, soft and motionless; he attempts to mould and bring her up, almost an attempt to revive her – she elastically surrenders to gravity, always on the verge of melting to the ground. The stage is bare and darkly lit – the metaphor of lovers is established purely through movement intention and interaction between the duo. The lingering opening scene, admirable in flow and movement quality, evolves into different partnering situations: protecting the other (or forbidding them from taking distance?) and trying for moments of balance between them, as they attract and support each other, but also prevent each other from leaving. There are moments of chaotic movement where they seek to meet, and moments of flow where they find each other. They end in a long, intimate hug – is it a beginning, or an end?

In the Country of Last Things by Elena Cattardico with Chiara Alessandro and Gabriele Rolle. ©South Space for Photography
In the Country of Last Things by Elena Cattardico with Chiara Alessandro and Gabriele Rolle. ©South Space for Photography

In the Country of Last Things by Elena Cattardico (Italy/Germany) is another duet on romantic love and relationship dysfunctions. A supermarket cart serves as a symbol of some kind of issue or obsession: the woman (Chiara Alessandro) always stays attached to it and despite the man’s (Francisco Ladrón de Guevara) efforts to support her, she refuses to leave its cage-like safety. Both dressed in white, the duo dances a light, stylised dance of acrobatic lifts and dramatic expression. The attachment to the cart makes it into a trio, creating appealing rolling, spinning and flying images that don’t escape some stereotypical representations as they part ways and he comes back with flowers.

A Signal that Travels Down Through Your Heart episode#1 by Eva Georgitsopoulou (Greece/Germany) is an attempt to perform love as a human feeling and to externalise an internal emotion; it is a feminine approach to love yet with the complexity of human relations being completely absent. The choreography appears in a traditional sense: dance-making based on steps mostly performed in unison by three female dancers dressed in a glitter version of Cunninghamesque unitards. Body shapes, doll-like mechanical movement, dynamic energy, electric shock vibration and gestures of heart-touching describe the search for love and the emotional excitements and disappointments. The tiny steps, frozen smiles and body postures are reminiscent of traditional East Asian performance styles, and the choreography is mostly a manifestation of a solo material multiplied by three but with a personalised expression of interiority.

The title of Ariana MarkoulidesThe Awesome Performance (Cyprus) indicates its theme: awe. The curtain opens to reveal a screening of digital waves and two women on swings. Dressed in bright-coloured pants and wigs, they keep readjusting their bodies on the swings, exchanging inaudible dialogues, meowing and purring. With exaggerated grimace and gesture, they allude with playfulness to something we can’t see. Their childlike, performed enthusiasm opens up questions of whether we experience awe more intensely as kids, when our imaginative potential is uninhibited. Αs the background screening shifts slowly, creating colourscapes reminiscent of early versions of Window screensavers, the work becomes hypnotising. Is this the feeling of awe? To be fully absorbed in a dreamlike state?

Attracted by repulsion by Bentle Bulens and Beata Rekemova. ©South Space for Photography
Attracted by repulsion by Bentle Bulens and Beata Rekemova. ©South Space for Photography

Attracted by repulsion is a captivating choreography of arms and hair – mostly hair. Bentle Bulens and Beata Rekemova (Belgium / Slovakia), both in grey soft clothes, walk along parallel paths, arms swaying in complex oscillations and waist-length straight hair waving and tasselling as an extension of the pulsating motion. Their faces disappear as their bodies form odd creatures, rapt into an escalating rave.

In Italian choreographer’s Adriano Bolognino’s signature style of rhythmical gestures and intricate space patterns, Come Neve is a delicate piece that highlights the beauty of details. He draws inspiration by the act of knitting as a collective female activity, which reflects on the crocheted rustic costumes. Dancers Rosaria di Mario and Noemi Caricchia stroll and slide around the space in perfect sync, always in control of their movement, a rich vocabulary of gestures performed with fragility and calmness. The melodic music supports the esoteric, contemplative sense of the piece.

Site-specific works – engaging audiences, embodying landscapes

Live as a Leaf by Underscore collective (New Creators and Public Space, Greece) is an embodied, contemplative exploration of the garden of Saint Magdelene’s church, that manages to reveal different layers of the place – material, sensorial and sentimental. Three women in nude-coloured clothing blend into the landscape as they subtly explore it, pinpointing different spots in the place and moving the audience with them around the garden, at a slow pace, allowing for observation and thoughts to emerge. The paved yard in front of the church becomes the stage for a more structured choreography, still connected to the qualities of the environment and delivered through unmediated performative presence and organic movement and gazes.

For Other-Building (New Creators and Public Space, Greece), we are at Kouloura, a natural swimming pool surrounded by rocks. During the sunset, with people still swimming and diving from the rocks, two young women in close proximity slowly exit from the water, looking around, resting and walking side by side. Their unusual outfits (short trousers and jackets of transparent plastic on top of their swimming costumes) mark them as the performers: dancer Evita Tsakalaki and musician Maria Kritsotaki. When Kritsotaki reaches the microphone and begins to sing, Tsakalaki embodies the intensity of her siren-like voice, the Indian-influenced vocals and her breaths, which blend with the sound of the waves and people’s conversations. Both women become one of us by imitating our gestures and sitting positions; they approach bathers and intimately share stories (later echoed by the speakers as pre-recorded overlapping testimonies) impersonating the swimmers of yesterday and today. They disappear as everyday swimmers who go to the beach changing rooms to wear their dry clothes. Their artful performance organically blends with everyday performance without destroying the pace and place: it exists and does not exist at the same time (it must have been a unique experience to watch while swimming in the sea).

Vacationists in the absurd with/by Polena Kolia Petersen and Styliana Apostolou. ©South Space for Photography
Polena Kolia Petersen and Styliana Apostolou: Vacationists in the absurd. ©South Space for Photography

In the swimming pool platform of the former Hotel Xenia, two women in bright beach attire and fans sit around a table of drinks and refreshments. In exaggerated performative stance and gesture, reminiscent of pinup girls of the 60s, they splash water on their bodies, lie on blue beach towels and perform synchronised duets of beach activities – sunbathing, swimming, jogging and diving – creating comical rhythmicality through repetition and breathing. They are the Vacationists in the absurd – Polena Kolia Petersen and Styliana Apostolou – a project of the transnational artistic residency between Dance Days Chania and Dance House Lemesos (Cyprus). The absurdity of the performance is underlined by the abandoned scenery of the hotel ruins in the background and the remnants of the pool, which we can only recognise from the irregular outline on the ground, as it is now filled with soil and wild grass. To the sound of California Dreaming, a built-up sense of suffocation escalates into an outburst of shaking and falling, laughing and shrieking. As it finally releases into a redemptive dive into the sea, we are also brought back to the present, connecting to the real scenery.

Performances in public space seek to revitalise the city’s architectural heritage and to re-use public space through dance and performance. Although the dance scene in Greece is concentrated in Athens, Dance Days Chania makes the periphery of southern Greece vibrate by claiming its position on the international map of contemporary dance; it also increases cultural tourism affecting its image nationally and internationally. Preparations throughout the year, predominantly based on volunteering and the hard work of a small team of professionals, manifest in this short-term festival that takes place towards the end of each July and leaves the minds busy and the hearts glowing during the seasonal and cultural winters of the colder and quieter months of the year. 

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22/07/23-02/08/23 Chania, Crete, Greece
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