Tina Perić*

Belgrade Dance Festival, March 22, 2019 to April 12, 2019

At the beginning of spring, for the last sixteen years, the Belgrade Dance Festival has brought to Serbia a significant number of eminent dance companies from all over the world. During its rather short history, the festival, founded and directed by Aja Jung, has grown steadily and earned a very good reputation in the performance world, mainly for the variety and quality of the productions it presents. The criteria for selection are quite open. The festival hosts very fresh productions as well as older works, and offers a wide range of performance styles and genres, from the more conventional to those exploring new territories.

In the last few years, the interdisciplinary character of the festival has become more and more pronounced, so that almost a third of the selections could also be accommodated by Bitef, Serbia’s most important theatre festival. In my opinion, this is a good sign, since the confines of single disciplines can no longer contain an art that is growing organically and expanding in many directions.

In past editions, we could see a genuine intersection of dance and visual arts, especially performance art and video, acrobatics, music and theatre. This year, in particular, we witnessed the dancer as a perfectly trained and very conscious performer who uses a variety of languages, from physical to vocal and verbal ones.

Video 1

From Fractus V, created by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his company, Eastmen

The very first performance of the festival, Fractus V, created by the well-known Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his company, Eastmen, perfectly exemplifies this approach. The work is inspired by essays by Noam Chomsky and Alan Watts on the condition of contemporary man. Five dancers, including Cherkaoui himself, and four musicians, are brought together to investigate a common issue, a strategy of survival of a man in a “man’s world.” The performers represented different identities of Cherkaoui, his numerous Selves; a source of his richness as well as of his internal conflicts and fractures.

I and my other Self. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his company, Eastmen, in Fractus V. Photo: BFI

The performance grows and evolves organically, with no fixed roles among the performers: they move, dance, sing, speak the text, construct and deconstruct the scenography, creating with their bodies and voices a dense field of signifiers. Elements of different origins and traditions flow one into another without any difficulty or friction: text into movement, flamenco into hip-hop, African and Asian music into beautiful polyphony. I would say that the polyphony embraces all the components of the performance, building a higher structure over them. At the same time, it serves as a metaphor for the harmonious coexistence of what is difficult to meet and combine, in ourselves, in our surroundingsand in the whole world.

Polyphony as a structural principle and as a metaphor. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his company, Eastmen, in Fractus V. Photo: BFI

Tordre by Rachid Ouramdane is a subtle and powerful piece for two dancers, American Annie Hanauer and Lithuanian Lora Juodkaite, who exhibit themselves not only as performers, but also as unique human beings. Within a simple structure, Ouramdane offers space for the performers to show and confront their different faces: the one that carries, almost as a mask, a brilliant smile under the stage lights and applause; the one absorbed in dance and its depths; the private one, lying down, observing, waiting. They dance together, have their solos, utter a few words, stay quiet on stage. The author also stays quiet; he does not fill the gaps nor create expectations. He trusts the power of his performers’ presence, thus permitting them to open up and share something very intimate. With this generous approach he creates a place for small miracles to happen.

Public and private face of the performer. American Annie Hanauer (R) and Lithuanian Lora Juodkaite (L) in Tordre. Concept and choreography, Rashid Ouramdane. Photo: BFI

Annie Hanauer is a dancer with an articulated prosthetic arm. She dances as if she has no difficulty in moving, with great temper, flexibility and strength. Yet, her beautiful figure, with its artificial arm, touches us in a particular way, opening up a very delicate space for our own sensations and thoughts. We enter into tacit dialogue with her enigmatic presence, so strong and fragile at the same time. Even now, when I think of her figure and her dance, I still have a feeling of expanding my boundaries. 

Video 2

Lora Juodkaite also has something very particular to share. Her dance, a long incessant gyration, has developed not as a pure aesthetic choice, but as a ritual of turning that she has been practicing since her early childhood. In a central scene of the performance, her rotating movement, accelerating and changing the position of her head and arms, creates images of such incredible virtuosity and beauty that we almost have difficulty in perceiving it as a real, and not a virtual experience! The scene seems to last infinitely, creating a breathtaking suspense, and, then, catharsis. Again, I had an extraordinary experience of being transported out of my body and launched in space.

What is particular in this type of performance in comparison with more “classical” approaches to choreography and directing? We can clearly see and feel that what we witness is a result of a process that has its own relevance: it is open, unpredictable, revealing something that is unknown equally to all its participants. It is generating new qualities rather than going towards a quality that the author has already imagined and defined and is trying to implement in the performance. This process is supported by the author, ready to share his authorship, to plunge into the unknown, to risk.

Instrument of pure instinct and passion. Dada Masilo as Giselle. Photo: BFI

Nevertheless, something unexpected and astonishing can happen even when the role hierarchy and structural approach in creating the performance are not process-oriented. This is the case of Dada Masilo’s Giselle, the last performance to which we will turn our attention in this review.

Performed by dancers of The Dance Factory from Johannesburg, and choreographed by Dada Masilo, straight from the title we could presume that this young choreographer and dancer is the spiritus movens of the whole performance.

Masilo has acquired fame with her original reinterpretations of classical ballets. Her ideas are intelligent and subversive. On a dramaturgical level, she is trying to get out of clichéd patterns of representation, to make old stories become more alive, tangible, passionate. On a formal level, she keeps the structure and language of ballet, but introduces African music and dance. She creates a unique dance style that combines radically different, even opposing body languages and traditions: one light and “rising,” one strong and grounded. This changes the intensity, tempo, color of the expression and creates dynamics that have a strong aesthetic and psychological impact on the audience. Moreover, the South African dancers, trained in classical ballet and familiar with African rhythms, burst with force and beauty.

Video 3

Dada Masilo’s Giselle 

There is another attribute that will make this performance everlasting in my personal records. It concerns the quality of Masilo’s small, half-naked figure, and the incredible way her dance affects the whole space, reaching out to the very last row of the auditorium. There is something so peculiar in the way she moves, as if she is an instrument of pure instinct and passion. Her body reflects direct, unmediated emotions. For someone coming from a society where body and mind have for centuries stayed apart, this experience was a priceless gift.

*Tina Perić has an MA in Art theory, and a PhD in performance studies. She is an active researcher in performance theory and a free-lance critic for the Serbian daily newspaper Politika.

Copyright © 2019 Tina Perić
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Expanding the Boundaries
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