Late night diary of a dance festival junkie

Watching 23 live dance shows over one weekend is not your everyday audience’s experience. I found it induced an addictive state of emotional and intellectual overdrive – you know you can’t really cope with another show but you just can’t bear to miss one either. Nor miss being part of the debate…

Even a cursory eavesdrop on post performance audience chat gave clear indications that the shows we liked the most were those ingenious enough to make us laugh, and usually at ourselves. Often the movement seemed based on yoga, pornography, hip-hop or disco dancing; the simulated sex scenes were either ridiculous or downright nasty and any sentiment expressed, pathetic and punishable. Conversely, the pieces that irritated us the most were those whose movement vocabulary seemed to hail from the nineties: tried and tested, beautiful and fluid, and where sex and love were portrayed un-ironically, as complex but mainly positive, or at least earnest, experiences. The shows that we appreciated but that held us somewhat at bay because of their over evident prowess, were those exploiting the impressive effect of a repeated movement motif, gradually imbued with meaning through the power of the onlooker’s own imagination. There were three works, more broadly political perhaps, that clearly didn’t fit into any of those categories and caused heated artistic argument (but for those, check the reviews, wink).

In the midst of the dance, what proved immensely satisfying and helped me digest all the speedily consumed choreographed existentialism during the festival, was the parallel creative outlet that the Springback Academy offered to us, the crew of 14 critics.

The fact that we were also frantically working to get our own show on the road: our thoughts in focus, our reviews written, that exact right word and that ever-elusive internet connection, added acuity to the whole experience. Not to mention the delight of meeting such a group of fascinating, sparky individuals from all over Europe, who’d found a common language in their love of writing about dance.

We had to work too hard and too quickly; there was not enough time to dig as deep as we felt we ought; and there was genuine regret at not having more moments to hang-out and get to know each other better. However, our marathon speed walks from show to show, our condensed analysis, relayed whilst queuing for the loo, our discussion during a cramped Barcelona bus ride about how the word promiscuity in French means proximity in English and how that must affect our view of dance; all this, together with our shared sense of purpose, meant we felt greatly more engaged than might the passive punter or dance producer on the prowl. We were empowered ‘dramaturges’ of the whole event, documenting, commentating, criticizing: actively commandeering the experience and making it our own. It wasn’t until about 1am in the hotel room every night, trying to overcome fatigue and get my reviews written whilst the rest of the festival-goers were still in the bar or already asleep, that it all felt a tad mad. But in no way would I have missed the next day’s fix.

Oonagh Duckworth