The times in the place

Elefsina, a seaside town dotted with ancient remains of Greek civilisation, yet also scarred by remnants of crumbling 19th-century industry, made an appropriately evocative setting for an historic Spring Forward. As well as the intensity of 25 performances, John Ashford, Aerowaves’ founding director, had chosen this moment, the celebration of 25 Year of Aerowaves, to announce his retirement and introduce two newly appointed co-directors. In consequence we were treated to a documentary, devotedly made by Enya Belak and her team, that pieced together a wealth of archive material, including interviews with artists and partners spanning different generations, all bearing emotional witness to how Aerowaves, and John in particular, had inspired their careers and influenced their attitudes to dance. There were many moist eyes in the house.

Notions of time passing, time suspended, time winding back, and then racing forward swirled around in my brain throughout the festival. I was primed for performances that crystallised my mindset and, contrary to the trending mantra of trying to ‘live in the moment’, made me ponder the relevance of looking back or projecting forward to an imagined, mostly fearsome, future.

Pas de deux, by Anna-Marija Adomaityte, was searingly original in its relentless fractal form. A mismatched couple jigging mechanically around a square of blue carpet during which the slightest alteration seemed like a metaphysical shift. Is it our fate to be both creators and victims of a matrix we cannot escape? Is an even fragile connection between us our only true strength? Time to let thoughts meander and muse was the gift offered by the abstract rigour of this durational dance piece.

In Some Choreographies by Jacopo Jenna, a solo dancer’s moves echoed those gleaned from a medley of filmed dance sequences of different epochs, projected on a giant screen dominating the back wall. Later, the dancer seemed subsumed into the images, this time of footage depicting ‘dancing nature’: animals and landscapes drolly cut to seem poised for movement. Some Choreographies, with all its layering, again lulled us into allowing our own storylines to unfold. Will we have to come to terms with, and possibly move beyond, the inevitable demise of human hegemony? Are images all that will be left to teach us about the world that was? The dance’s meanings and metaphors chimed in very personal way for each of us.

That the Springback family members present in Elefsina spanned three generations, with John the most senior and our youngest writer only 22, felt wondrously unique. But this fact also increased the likelihood of different and diverging points of view of what it means to be ‘contemporary’ or ‘right’ right now in dance. The Very Last Northern White Rhino, by Gaston Core, questions the possibility of ‘happiness in the face of the world’s chaos’. Its brilliant yet understated virtuosity is embodied by urban dancer Oulouy, originally from the Ivory Coast. Anxiety about whether or not it was relevant or appropriate to mention Oulouy’s skin colour in our reviews almost overshadowed the poignancy of the work itself.

Yet we all, young, old or in-between, agreed that the power of dance lies in its moving with the times, welcoming in other mediums and artforms while continuing to harness dance’s innate ability to connect kinetically to audiences. This combination unanimously brought us to our feet during Gran Bolero by Jesús Rubio Gamo. A major, or perhaps meta, example of a piece revisited, reworked, extended and amended to become a fittingly joyous, cathartic end to a once-in-a-life-time, hinge-point Spring Forward.

Oonagh Duckworth