Jacopo Jenna's Some Choreographies. Photo © Panagiotis Maidis

Old ideas made new

Originality – it’s a tricky concept. How do you fashion something fresh and novel in a world where everything has been done? When there’s nothing new under the sun?

The opening evening of Spring Forward 2022 put this question front and centre for me, and it continued to be posed and skillfully answered throughout the four-day festival.

It was Jacopo Jenna’s Some Choreographies that got me thinking. His playful but thoughtfully edited sequence of giant projections was the history of movement writ large. From Martha Graham to Michael Jackson, the All Blacks’ haka to MMA’s posturing and chest thumping (is there no escaping the ubiquity of Conor McGregor…?), Jenna’s on-screen subjects engaged in a mesmeric duet with lone dancer Ramona Caia. Dwarfed but rarely dominated by her larger-than-life partners, Caia reflected and reacted to the big-screen action in a movement sequence that would have been exquisitely pleasing even without the pyrotechnics of the (impressive) video display. The past may have loomed large here but the present was very much the main event.

Cassiel Gaube’s Soirée d’études followed, borrowing from the club scene of ’80s Chicago and New York. Performed largely in silence, the movement think-piece deconstructed house dance and toyed with its component parts. More cerebral than celebratory, Gaube’s may be a style that the fathers of funk would struggle to recognise but its authenticity made it thoroughly intriguing. He showed that the steps may stay the same but it’s what we do with them that counts.

Philippe Kratz took an iconic ballet solo as his jumping off point. First choreographed in 1905, The Dying Swan was Michael Fokine’s invocation of ‘the everlasting struggle in this life and all that is mortal’. Kratz explored how that struggle can be shared, altered and reframed by the presence of another. The resulting duet, Open Drift, illustrated how our encounters – with others, art, ourselves – shape us and our world of possibilities. It is those unique interactions that bring the richness, the novelty and the magic.

Anna Marija Adomaityte’s Pas de Deux turned another ballet staple on its head, transforming a duet into a duel as the ultimate partnership morphed into a power struggle. Instead of promenades, pirouettes and expansive extensions, there were minute bounces and turns whose sustained tension proved as much a feat of physical strength as the traditionally short but larger-scale dances of the title. The effect was as hypnotic as any Grand Pas de Deux but Adomaityte got us there by a route very different to the usual one – and while the destination may have been the same, this piece was very much about the journey.

With gun crime, climate change and racial stereotyping among the issues making appearances on stage, the emerging choreographers at Spring Forward 2022 left us in no doubt that dance remains relevant and provocative. That they also managed to make well-worn ideas feel vital and alive proves that (to borrow a phrase) originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes.

Karina Buckley