Four shades of silence

Writing usually takes place in silence in a process of searching for those words that will gradually fill the blank page and hopefully transmit an experience – in the case of the Spring Forward festival, of a dance event. It is a demanding practice, especially when related to giving an account of an overwhelming amount of performances packed into a very short time (24 shows in a four-day programme). In this intense frame, the impression of every single dance performance quickly loses its freshness rendering it difficult to replay in the mind’s eye moments that have already disappeared. 

But writing can also be a very rewarding experience, especially when it concerns choreographic works that do not have an immediate impact. In this case, writing becomes an entry point to the work, as in the case of the sophisticated solo The Very Last Northern White Rhino by Spanish choreographer Gaston Core. Putting together the pieces of my notes in an attempt to describe the experience, almost like trying to mentally reconstruct a performance from a choreographic score, helped me to draw, perhaps even invent, connections and clues that I would have otherwise ignored. Was this post-performance threading of a conceptual tissue a choreographic effect that Core had intentionally orchestrated, prompting the viewer to dig into the performance as it lingers over time? Whatever the answer, silence becomes, then, a spatio-temporal dimension that instigates reflection. As the performance gets imprinted in our memory and spreads its vibration in the body, the writing becomes a process of discovery. I will call this type of silence a vibrating or active silence that looks for ways to articulate and communicate through written words.

From time to time, though, it is better to stay silent, because words can sometimes destroy a powerful moment. In Gran Bolero by Jesús Rubio Gamo, we embarked on an emotional journey that, towards its end, we found ourselves becoming one with the performers. Placed in the open-air auditorium but as if the fourth wall had been demolished, we were standing on our feet, chanting and synchronising our clapping to Ravel’s tune, turning this moment into a collective catharsis. How to share this almost ritualistic experience with those who were not present? To put it in words is to rationalise a deeply corporeal experience or sensation that can stay indelible through time if it achieves to remain sealed in silence. I will call this type of silence, a deep silence that aims to not escape from the body.

Vibrating or active silence seeks to communicate with the public while deep silence strives to stay private; yet both deal with a response to performances that we had the chance to witness. This year, the programme was marked by the absence of the formerly selected Russian artist Yulia Arsen, whose performance was withdrawn and replaced by 40 minutes of collective silence in an event called A Gathering in Silent Contemplation. We were seated in rows around a table with flowers in a vase on its top, and I experienced an awkward and almost disturbing immobility that temporarily disconnected me from the rest of the community. I would describe this silence as a thick silence, depriving me – perhaps us – of the opportunity to build a dialogue in a moment that we had to be united to scream for peace. It is a silence that encloses us inside a bubble and blurs our senses; it carries the potential of a political significance that remains unfulfilled.

Silence and words make a complementary duet, and we are continuously in the process of selecting and arranging an existing vocabulary to create (or not) meaning verbally or in writing. But drawing on ‘found’ words is not really distant from the practice of exploring ‘found’ material that some of this year’s selected artists used as a choreographic device – be that a found story or historical record, as in Simona Deaconescu’s Choreomaniacs, or found footage, as in Jacopo Jenna’s Some Choreographies, or even found movement as in Cassiel Gaube’s Soiree d’Etudes (based on house dance) or Aina Alegre’s Study 4, Fandango and Other Cadences (that recycles popular Basque dances). But, above all, to use found material against a continuous demand for invention is to prevent this material from becoming forgotten or fading into silence. I will, then, call this type of silence an Eleusinian silence because, in the same way, that Eleusinian Mysteries used to celebrate the triumph of life over death as a re-birth into a new form of existence, the Eleusinian silence may render the artistic creation based on found material into a practice of excavation and transformation of the past. At the end of this generative process, when the silence is finally broken by sharing the artistic outcome with an audience, the found material gets the chance to get re-cycled, re-used and live again.

All four together – vibrating or active silence, deep silence, thick silence and Eleusinian silence – were suspended between our movements, words and sounds.

Ariadne Mikou