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.
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.