Snowed under in Sofia

You don’t often readily allow a complete stranger to recount their deep-felt, inner-most truths to you; you don’t subject yourself to just anyone’s world view or listen to stories so intimate that the teller, a person you’ve never met before, wouldn’t even dream of letting their own mother hear them. But this is exactly what we do during Spring Forward.

Every year I ask myself how to deal with this mega marathon of unfolding truths and musings whilst avoiding festival burnout: Can it help me make sense of my year? The world? And let’s not be coy… the universe even?

In the knowledge that the Springback Academy writers would be maintaining a more appropriate critical distance, this year I decided to ask myself more simply what seeing all these the works was telling me about me.

To my dismay, I discovered, perhaps like someone who has watched porn too regularly, being exposed to human flesh in a contemporary dance performance, even innovatively lit, or with flailing genitalia, has begun to bore me. The (over) use of nudity starts to feel manipulative, contrived and slightly facile. In the same vein I also notice the ubiquitous concern with ‘gender’ feels like a dangerous decoy to me. Perhaps having spent most of my adult life working in the dance world, where gender fluidity is mundanely everyday, performances that deal exclusively with the hot topic seem to me either faddy, or to be inanely stating the obvious. I worried that I’m clearly out of sync with what most people are preoccupied with today; but I worry equally that performance is too wrapped up in examining the albeit ever compelling, but, by definition, individual and private issue of our sexuality to be able to raise its head and tackle the more frightening ones present in the crazy wider world we inhabit. Sofia’s snow-in-springtime weather and its fantastically off-the-wall juxtaposition of architectural styles, from opulent Christian churches to Communist apartment blocks, I also viewed as symbolising a disconnect between what we were witnessing in the theatres and the world outside.

Just as my existentialist-cum-ethical crisis was beginning to pique, I saw some shows that calmed me down gave me what I needed. Christoph Papadopoulos’ piece Opus possessed the critical arms-length I was lacking and thus allowed me space to indulge in my personal, metaphysical meanderings. The rigorous, distilled beauty enabled me to see music and bodies in a way I had never done so hitherto. The dancers were meticulously inventive, fashioning beauty out of precision. It felt very good. Humo Furens was another such release. I felt a huge surge of gratitude; the men (quite a vilified lot these days) were capable of marrying collective effort, collaboration, humour and masculinity ever so ingeniously. The solos Forecasting, Likes and Blanks also delighted and inspired me and rekindled my conviction in the capacity of dance to be clever, delve deeply into, but also go way beyond and transform, the stumbling blocks of our modern lives.

Well there we go, I think my own ‘inner-truth’ is that today, having previously enjoyed the ‘warts-and-all’, shambolic and ‘honestly’ human versions of myself that contemporary dance was so good at portraying, I’m now craving for dance to show me a less muddle-minded, more focused, proactive and pioneering version of… well me and you and all of us I suppose.

What will I learn next year I wonder?

Oonagh Duckworth