Just happy to be here

It’s nice to get invited to things. Back in February 2023, I and nine other fledgling dance nerds were invited by Aerowaves to attend the Spring Forward Festival in Dublin, as part of the Springback Academy, and write about it. Mentored by five experienced dance nerds, our mission was to merge into a crowd of Cool Professional Arts People including producers, dance artists, and commissioners and watch 21 (!) shows in three (!) days and write about what we saw.

I was excited: in Britain, where I live, you don’t get to see this much experimental work. Aside from the fact that almost no one can make a living from it here, experimentalism is also considered a bit embarrassing, on a par with sex and fart jokes.

And so, in terms of challenging dance, the festival didn’t disappoint. In Dublin, in one piece I saw bodies shaking and music looped until I didn’t feel well, in another I saw ventriloquism without puppets, I saw Bulgarian, Belgian, Austrian, German, Irish, Italian, Serb, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Swiss, French, Polish and (not one but three!) British choreographies… I saw an excellently weird installation that channelled ghosts, and some lyrical and athletic dance – much to the relief of a few audience members: an oft heard complaint was ‘yes this piece was great but when do we get to see some real dance?’ I saw autobiographical-trauma dance-theatre (some brilliant and some okay), a few more works that were half-good/half-didn’t know when to stop (which made me wonder why choreographers don’t get editors the way writers and filmmakers do). I saw a non-derivative work about trans identity which brought me to tears, a minimalistic work (trainers, LED panels, gestures) which I liked but for some reason enraged everyone, and a work by a virtuosic dancer that, for very obvious reasons, enraged us all. I saw a fun, aesthetically postmodern work that I loved and other members of the audience didn’t care much for; and I saw another solo work which featured a couple of wooden boxes and a near-naked body which was half brilliant but also didn’t know when to stop.

I saw these works and many more.

If I sound bewildered by the whole thing it’s probably because I am. Here’s a fun factoid: in 2023, Arts Council England was allocated £446 million per annum for the next three years; meanwhile, Germany allocated €600 million per year in arts funding to Berlin alone; France announced last year a 7% increase to £3.86 billion. The net result is that in Britain, the contemporary dance profession (which hilariously refers to itself as an industry) is a small caste of contemporary arts professionals fighting over dwindling provisions, like survivors on a sinking raft, vying desperately to make art relevant and resorting to acts of increasingly commercial desperation. Britain is Rupert Murdoch country, land of inane musicals, bright colours and unhinged celebrity smiles, a place where art and experimentalism are considered shameful, provinces of the tofu-eating wokerati.

So did Springback ‘23 live up to its stated mission of identifying the most promising new work by emerging dance artists? Yes and no, but it doesn’t really matter. We saw incredible work, competent work, terrible work – but how amazing that it all even exists; how amazing that I got to see it all.

Dom Czapski