Spring Forward 2017: Contemporary dance and the anatomy of muscles

In 2017, Aarhus tries to answer the question: What does contemporary dance look like, and what is it all about? The annual Spring Forward Festival took place at BORA BORA last weekend and provided a rich insight into the contemporary dance scene across Europe.

by Gwendolin Güntzel, photos by BORA BORA

Contemporary dance festival Spring Forward is a European event that changes its location every year, but has finally arrived in Aarhus, the European Capital of Culture 2017. And rightly, as Rabih Azad-Ahmad, head of the Department of Culture and Citizen’s service, says. He proudly welcomed all participants during the reception at Aarhus city hall on Friday afternoon. Aarhus, as modernising young city, should be seen as what it is – the place to be.

In combination with Spring Forward, the Springback Academy gave 23 young writers the chance to improve their skills in writing dance reviews, guided by four mentors who work, among other newspapers, for The Guardian and The Times.


Aerowaves director John Ashford introduced the festival on Friday

The whole project was initiated and hosted by Aerowaves – Dance across Europe and BORA BORA. In his welcome speech Friday evening, Aerowaves director John Ashford reports that they selected 20 contemporary dance performances out of 560 applications. Although it is a European dance festival, a very interesting performance this year is from Taiwan. The organisers regard dance as an important measure creating infrastructures across borders, especially in the tough times that we face today.

Each day saw three performances in the morning, three in  the afternoon, and two more in the evening. As is typical for Denmark, the time management was excellent, not least because of the guides leading from one location to another.

But to come back to the question raised in the beginning: contemporary dance in 2017 mainly seems to be a lecture in anatomy. The body as a tool, forced to move by external factors. Therefore, sounds and music often define and determine the dancers’ spirits, their movements, and not least their muscles. The programme was a colourful mix – sometimes introvert, sometimes funny, but also a bit scary from time to time.

To sum up: I am not an expert in contemporary dance, not even in ballet, but I am amazed how an artist can use every single muscle in his or her body. Showing control of each tendon does not make the story’s message any clearer, but it helps to keep the viewer’s interest. In the following you can read three brief reviews of the performances that I found the most memorable from the weekend.

Friday 28th April: Classical Beauty / Taneli Törmä
A spotlight opens the stage, and in the middle is a man standing calm and still. Silence. He looks forward and smiles smoothly. After a while, he starts vibrating. Fog comes from both sides, sound is emerging. Vibrating becomes shaking – stronger and stronger. As the music becomes more lively, the man on stage starts running. He cannot hold still anymore; he has to move. His smile is getting bigger, and although he is quite rushed after some minutes, he seems to be happy.

A loud bang ends the scene, the light is changing from cold to warm. Classical music comes to the scene and the strong man with the small beer belly starts dancing ballet. Although it looks quite strange and brings the audience to laugh at first, soon everybody in the hall recognises that dancing ballet is what makes him happy.

Can dreams be laughable?
Maybe not laughable, but absurd at some point, when a children’s ballet comes on stage to crown the man and to integrate him in their tender ensemble. Yes, it is okay to laugh about this absurd scenery, but only as long as the man is treated with honesty and respect. He is not only allowed to dream, but also to do what he admires.

‘Classical Beauty’, choreographed and performed by Taneli Törmä, a Finnish artist based in Denmark, shows that thinking about our future plans can hinder doing what we really desire. It is a play that aims to rethink the meaning of dreams within our performance-oriented society. Big dreams can come true. With honesty, ingenuity and maybe a little help. ‘Classical Beauty’ is a humorous, 25-minute long play with a charismatic performer who opens eyes and hearts – and mouths to smile.

Saturday 29th April: Kids / Kuan-Hsiang Liu & Ching-Ying Chien

zdgdsgA dialogue on screen between a mother and son opens the performance of ‘Kids’, produced by Kuan-Hsiang Liu and Ching-Ying Chien, from Taiwan. It is an exploration into memory, ancestors and the life’s meaning.

The play symbolises the circle of life as presented by an old lady, a young woman and a strong man on stage. The women start dancing while the man holds a lamp in his hands to shed light on the performing dancers. While seeing only half of their movements, the mood is tense and a touch mystical. The young woman shows acrobatic skills and her unharmed mobility, while the older woman moves softly and carefully. Throughout their performance, the body is shown as tool – a tool for living, broken whilst dying.

Circling around our ancestors?
All three dancers create sceneries which are tightly interwoven. While sitting behind each other, they allegorise life as constant process, meaning that movements are based on the partners’ actions and would not work without the support of the others. This can be seen to symbolise how closely different generations are connected with one another – as said in the description, “‘Kids’ is a tribute to death”. And furthermore, by creating the image of a clock, the performers show that time passes away while circling around a central point – our past.

The play offers a broad scope for interpretations, but convinces with acrobatic skills, expressiveness and unconventional ideas which, all in all, take the audience on a spooky journey through the mystery of living.

Sunday 30th April: Kudoku / Daniele Ninarello & Dan Kinzelmansgs
Darkness. Silent tunes emerge. Helicopter noises and a constant pounding bass create a tense and vibrating atmosphere. And suddenly: light. Daniele Ninarello stands in the middle of the stage and fights against himself. Navigated by Dan Kinzelman’s virtuous and exciting sounds, his voice and his saxophone tunes, Ninarello’s body wants to move. He finally gives up and experiences the abilities of his own shell.

A human being has to do what the environment tells him. Transferred to ‘Kukodu’, Kinzelman and his improvised music forces Ninarello to demonstrate control over every single muscle. Exploring physical and sonic limitations, he performs an uninterrupted flow of movements.

‘Kokudo’ is a unique experience that leaves its audience behind, simply thinking ‘wow’. In addition, both surprise with a funny moment at the end of the performance, where they take a bow and show their enormous size difference. But what is clear is that size doesn’t matter – both are wonderful artists, great at what they do.

Spring Forward Festival happened in Aarhus between April 28th and April 30th 2017. To find out more about what happened, visit the BORA BORA website.

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