Don’t tell me, show me (or how to communicate a compelling story)

Because the ten piercing pairs of eyes of the new Springback writers are often sharper than my own slightly jaundiced ones, during Spring Forward, I try to suspend my judgment in order to better benefit from theirs.

By day two I’d already muscled in on, or eavesdropped upon, several conversations: “Where is the anger?”, “What about diversity?” “What’s with all the text, has dance said all it possibly can say?”. These were some of the questions that were later aired and developed during Sunday’s Critical Issues seminar. By the end of the festival a few had been addressed by the shows themselves but on Saturday afternoon, they were evidence of a general feeling of disgruntlement about the lack of political engagement within the work and the programme thus far.

Even so, we were all unanimously convinced by Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi’s Harleking: a performance that is in no way overtly angry and is firmly anchored in our European cultural comfort zone. Despite my resolution to remain objective, this set me thinking about my own reactions and why certain performances rejuvenate my grey-matter and make my heart zing and others, being well crafted, committed and clever, tick all the textbook boxes yet leave me cold and indifferent.

I deduced that, right now, today, and during this year’s Spring Forward, it’s not by beating a drum, nor by direct confrontation, but rather through empathetic, artistic osmosis that dance enables us to experience and thus comprehend the most meaty, political, universal, urgent issues of today.

My childlike curiosity about disability, physicality and sexuality was welcomed, accepted, encouraged and then melted by Chiara Bersani delicious modern-day fairytale, Seeking Unicorns. I sensed the tingle of the possibility of my own sexual ambiguity when watching the androgynous Katerina Andreou’s BSTRD. I felt enlightened for having clocked the intricate connections between politics, cultural iconography, manipulation and hypocrisy so stylistically embodied by Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi in Harleking. After Nach’s performance Cellule, through the multiple nuances of her powerful presence, I felt changed, as if a penny had finally dropped. Altering white privilege perspective is not an intellectual exercise: it’s a personal and emotional revelation. The depth of love and trust between father and child was literally danced before our eyes in Sylvain and Charlie Bouillet’s Des Gestes Blancs. And as for Flora Detraz, Muyte Maker, I didn’t attempt to fathom a meaning, I just rejoiced in these four ultra skilled women’s unbridled (but not unbraided) imagination and subversive humour: Mervyn Peake in movement and song, what a feat!

These performances, with their very varied forms — from anger choreographed into communicative art, to diversity that’s not token but personified: real, within reach and tangible — answered the Critical Issues questions for me. And confirmed that dance has far from finished saying everything it has to say.

Oonagh Duckworth