Dance, in all its applications and forms, continues to be a field of mysticism in a world of easily accessible information. Maybe that’s why in recent decades it has become a favourite of dozens of theorists and philosophers. Watching dance requires a different attitude than that with which we experience other performing arts. Often in dance we’re deprived of clear ideas and messages that we can chew on. At the same time we occupy an arena of sensations which forms our relationship to the performance but often never become clear to us. It remains a site where we seek language for what cannot always easily be put into words.
My procession to Elefsina (or Eleusis, in ancient Greek) to join the Springback Academy, watch and write about dance, began on the empty streets of Vienna, in the small hours when the first tram travels for its first passenger. It’s funny how in this extraordinarily beautiful city, driven and built with the western faith in reason and progress, antiquity awaits you round every corner. Passing through the empty centre at night you have time to notice the statue of Poseidon, reigning heroically over the university building. The Parliament proudly shines as an opulently modernised Acropolis. Greco-Roman columns hold up the entrances to heavy, older buildings. The mystery of classical times, and nostalgia for a lost life in which the humans lived together with mythology, accompany you on the straight, long streets of Vienna.
On the buildings of Athens you can read the traces of the periods of rise and fall, which probably accompany every millennial city. This city served as a place of nocturnal respite from my daily procession to Elefsina. I did, however, become familiar with its night sounds from the balcony of my hotel room, where I remained awake writing short reviews of some of the performances my colleagues and I had seen each day. I overheard that you could get better at writing, but it doesn’t get easier with time. However, if I learnt anything during the four official days of Spring Forward 2022, it is that writing about dance is an attempt to capture something that constantly eludes us and our memory of it, while the finished text is nothing more than an invitation for a dialogue.
I want to believe that my legs and body remember the streets of Elefsina. We crossed this small, ancient and post-industrial town many times, en route from venue to venue. Thousands of years ago, those initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries walked this same ground. I want to believe, albeit naively, that our walking – as well as our texts – left a mark. But I do not want to accept the notion that festivals are relics of a bygone age. Spring Forward is not a working holiday or simply a networking event for the dance industry. It is, rather, a condensed time in which days flow into each other, and a meeting with performances that would otherwise never stand side by side because they would normally be separated by borders, institutions and restrictive cultural policies. But most of all this festival is a chance to look beyond the stages and artists we follow, to expose ourselves to difference and give voice to ‘the other’. The mobility of artists and cultural workers is not a whim, especially given today’s working conditions in a Europe still divided into west and east, north and south. For many, it’s a necessity without which their work would not have a chance to exist or, at any rate, be more widely visible. Behind the slogans for sustainable art there are often concrete walls topped with barbed wire, and few will be able to jump over them.