As the latest lockdown in Helsinki pushed curators to cancel Zodiak’s Side Step Festival and postpone the much-awaited Ice Hot Nordic Dance platform, Anna Kozonina recalls Moving in November 2021, Helsinki’s long-established annual international dance festival which featured eight performances, two video works and a couple of audience-engagement events.
One more time: revisiting histories
Almost no festival today is complete without performances re-inscribing dance history. And since history is contested territory, historical narratives want to be heard and included in the dominant one. Moving in November presented two shows that critically addressed dance history. Surprisingly, the most successful, in my opinion, turned out to be a performance that is as traditional in form as possible and as far as possible from the aesthetic experiments of the new dance.
In Figuring Age, choreographer and performer Boglárka Börcsök embodied three elderly dancers who once were part of the early development of Hungarian modern dance: Irén Preisich, Éva E. Kovács, and Ágnes Roboz. Her solo performance, an extension of a documentary movie The Art of Movement made in collaboration with filmmaker Andreas Bolm, resembled a traditional dramatic show based on interviews and archival materials rather than a dance piece. Börcsök spoke throughout the whole performance ‘on behalf’ of the three women who had already passed away, or rather – invited three ghosts to enter her body.
The scenography played upon the idea of meeting in a ‘close circle’. The performance took place in an intimate cylinder-shaped space which could fit around ten spectators, and a few pieces of furniture depicting three semi-imaginary rooms where the viewers came to visit Börcsök’s heroines, who arrived, stayed in her body for a while, and left one by one. The space and the objects were dazzling white and brightly lit, resembling the design of ‘limbo spaces’ in Hollywood movies – spaces where the main character meets God or a past mentor to gain secret knowledge. Though there was almost no dance in the performance, except for rare movements of arms, sharp and sudden, it was a piece of great bodily work. The way Börcsök channelled the presence of her heroines’ personalities apparently required a lot of attention, and her attempts to maintain two different bodily states – her own and one of the heroines’ – were impressive: it was impossible to take eyes off her.
Though modern dance history is a commonplace topic in European experimental choreography nowadays, it usually touches upon very western and established names (like Martha Graham or Isadora Duncan) thus gaining benefit from their fame and symbolic value. So it was valuable to see a piece addressing modern dance in Eastern Europe which had a much more politically intense story throughout the 20th century. As Börcsök explains in her interview to festival artistic director Kerstin Schroth, in Hungary for instance some modern dance schools were closed before the second world war because of their connections with the workers’ movement, and then, after a short period of revival, ironically, the whole movement was banned by the socialist regime. At the same time, the more Eastern, and especially post-Soviet dance scene is sometimes seen as lagging behind – still ‘too modern’, still ‘not there’ – thus symbolically losing its right to critically reflect on its past (as it has not yet passed!). Börcsök’s attempt to realise this right with seemingly old-fashioned artistic methods feels like treating the hidden narratives with attention and care they deserve.