‘A Vision of the World’

One of my long-held beliefs is that seeing dance in its country of origin can lead to a better understanding of both the work you watch and the society that helped spawn it. There’s something about walking the streets, encountering people, maybe buying food, gifts or banal necessities and feeling the rhythms of a place that can inform and influence perceptions of a performance. These same influences may also, consciously or not, be a part of that same performance’s subtext.

Spring Forward kind of blows my whole cultural construct out of the water. Held in the small but choice Danish city of Aarhus, and beautifully organised by the good people of Bora Bora theatre, the 2017 edition of this European (and, uh, Taiwanese) dance platform collated twenty* performances from, by my count, fifteen countries. The result was an artistic pool into which I was willingly submerged for two and half days (daze?), only coming up for air at mealtimes, during relatively brief but head-clearing walks between venues and when asleep. Even in such a jam-packed schedule a few hours were allotted for extracurricular activities, i.e., sightseeing (see below), but nothing that was likely to directly affect what I saw onstage.

If trying to digest that amount of dance-based work in such a short time seems unnatural, well, it is. But it’s also potentially deeply rewarding, and not just because of what it can reveal about individual taste and sensibility (and stamina).

It was, I think, Mathilde Monnier who once remarked, ‘If you’re not a person with a vision of the world in your head, you cannot be a choreographer.’ You could say that what SF17 did was implant twenty visions of the world in my head. What residual impact might all of those performances be having on my brain even now, weeks later?

The question is, of course, rhetorical. In the meantime here’s a list of what was on offer at SF17, plus a thumbnail assessment of each work. These aren’t critical responses to which I cling, but rather a highly subjective (and, tch, Twitterish) attempt to make sense of my Danish-set dance marathon.

Guide – Czech light and sound show, handsome but hollow.
Classical Beauty – This ‘solo’ by a burly bearded Finnish guy with balletic dreams (and a locally-sourced all-girl corps) charmed me.
Altrove – An overly internalised but sincere Swiss solo from a (deliberately half-hidden) young man with nerve-atrophied hands.
Bolero – Spanish couple in dynamic conflict to Ravel rhythms; alas, I gradually lost belief in their drama.

Ohne Nix – Clever post-modern dance hijinks from Austria-based male duo.
Origami – On a cold overcast day I warmed to this French dance/circus solo staged outdoors in/on a shipping container.
Kids – A Taiwanese trio finds original movement to delve into birth and death.
Displacement – Extract from an impressively subtle, moving French-made work about (a trio of male) refugees.
Sync – Nothing especially new kinetically but fresh, heart-felt performances from a nine-strong Greek ensemble guided by a definite choreographic intelligence.
Alien Express – Utterly endearing semi-improvised Slovenian male duo.
Death. Exercises and variations – A comic/macabre Polish female solo about mortality.
The Rest is Silence – Compellingly unobvious Norwegian marriage of voice-over text & movement about female body image and self-loathing.

Monumental – A far too dry and tricksy German solo inspired by The Dying Swan.
Reck – A controversial and viscerally exciting British tribal quintet.
Woman – A great trans solo performer explores gender issues sometimes familiarly but with a stunning finale as the pay-off.
Kudoku – A short, swift Italian dancer and a tall composer/musician do trance-inducing stuff that, alas, had me nodding out.
Vocazione All’Asimmetria – A playfully avant-garde, mildly anarchic and enjoyably present-tense Italian duet.
Me Too – A Marmite-y sound, song and light show by four Norwegian women that failed to ring my bells (or did I fail it?).
Shapeshifting – Solo by a patently capable, France-based young black female who didn’t actually reveal much about herself.
Your Mother At My Door – A cutesy Hungarian would-be comic duet not to my liking.

*Twenty-one if you include Oona Doherty’s Lazarus and the Birds of Prey; an eight-minute extract, screened on Day Three, saw this Northern Ireland-based artist using body language and evocative found sound and churchy music as a means of linking violence and exaltation.

Location, location, location… A tourist’s post-script:
Little did I think I’d come to Aarhus and eat live ants on my first full day there. This culinary surprise was part of a small but free and very friendly back-to-nature festival held in the public square beside the cathedral. Swimming in a small plastic thimble of bright green plant juice, each ant had a citrus crunch when I bit into it. I honour them and their unwitting sacrifice.

Chief among other things I’ll likely retain as an adjunct to SF17 are Olafur Eliasson’s 360-degree rainbow view of the city from atop ARoS museum; the spider I met and tried to remove out of harm’s way on the threshold to this immersive colour panorama; and a wall quote about how ‘art lowers risk of depression.’ Also Jacob Kirkegaard’s ‘Isfald’ (the sound of cracking ice in a completely dark space had me feeling as if I might fall into a void; scary, and thrilling) and the wrap-around, superimposed layers of Diana Thater’s multi-screen installation ‘Chernobyl’.

And, literally last (as in go-run-and-see-this-before-catching-the-coach-to-the-airport) but not least, Dokk1: Aarhus’ ‘sexy’ (Evening Standard, London 2016), new harbour-facing library cum culture centre. Although not much to look at from the outside, inside it seemed a playground of possibilities for learning for all ages.

Donald Hutera