While performing arts in general, and contemporary dance in particular, have long turned to queer narratives and imagery for inspiration, few festivals and programming initiatives focus exclusively on queer-feminist perspectives and aesthetics in dance and performance. Queer Darlings festival, organised and hosted by Berlin’s Sophiensaele and co-curated this year by Lena Kollender and Mateusz Szymańowka, is one of those rare birds.
While Sophiensaele mostly aims to produce local dance works, Queer Darlings mainly focuses on bringing international acts to Berlin audiences. Szymańowka explains that ‘It is always interesting to look for aesthetics or perspectives that – in our opinion – are missing locally. An exciting festival presenting international work in a local context should also challenge how things are done and the audience’s expectations.’ This year the festival brought together a short, but an incredibly diverse set of shows: a full-blown theatre piece with its parallel digital version, a durational dance performance and a pop concert, among others.
This fourth instalment of Queer Darlings is also its last. After twelve years of artistic direction, Franziska Werner leaves Sophiensaele, and according to Kollender, some current formats will change: ‘With these types of changes, usually comes a restructuring … of the artistic profile. Of course, not everything will change, but [Queer Darlings] is one of the formats that will make space for new ones.’ This is not, though, the main reason why the central theme of Queer Darlings 2023 is ‘change, transformation, crisis and transition(s)’. Recent years have seen an unprecedented rise of inequalities, warmongering, climate and sociopolitical crises; radical change and transformation of dominant discourses is no longer just an option, but rather a dire need. According to Kollender, queer people are often experts in facilitating such change: ‘Queer people have always been at the forefront of creating change, together with BIPoCs, disabled people, the working class, women’s rights movements, sexworkers and so on. Most of the time, this comes out of a need and a struggle to simply survive.’ A recent backlash against queer and trans people’s rights in many western countries (‘drag bans’ in the USA, ludicrous trans-exclusionary ‘culture wars’ in the UK to name just two) calls the artists and festival curators to take a firm stance against anti-queer violence and rhetoric in their artistic and programming choices. And the opening show of the festival, The Making of Pinocchio by Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill, is the brightest example of how these complex and emotionally charged topics can be brought to stage with baffling honesty and disarming assurance.