How to measure the maturity of a performance? DanseFestival Barents in Hammerfest


Inta Balode

This text is inspired by a conversation with the participants of Baltic Nordic collaboration project “45+” gathering dancers over age of 45 who are still active in the field. My thoughts and impressions about the project are in two texts written after meetings in Riga during Time to Dance festival and Hammerfest during DanseFestival Barents: “Lifelong Dance Practice: Project 45+”and “Far north makes a project 45+ last longer”. In this text I will look at the program of DanseFestival Barents from the perspective of speculating about maturity of some of the works I saw. I believe that artistic maturity is not really the same as passport maturity. The inspiration to look at the festival program from this perspective comes from the statement I heard from “45+” group: “Young people could have never created work like this.”

Before jumping into the maturity issue some remarks about why I was so interested in DanseFestival Barents. First, the program of the festival features not only big names in contemporary dance fields as “Carte Blanche” but also a Russian folk dance group “Druzhba” from Arhangelsk, local hip-hop and modern dancers, local singers. There are performances in schools, libraries, museums, there are dance films and masterclasses. In short the scale and style of works varies a lot – from experimental gallery installations to stage folk dance concerts. And all of that happens in a town of 10 000 people.

Second, I am very interested in how dance scene is and and how it is perceived in smaller towns and villages. What role it has, how people feel in it, how body and movement is seen, what and who shapes and influences that, what are the funding systems, relations with other arts etc.? Hammerfest is different from Latvian small towns not only because of climate but also largely because of funding, available infrastructure etc. At the same time I saw many similarities.

Third, I really wanted to see the Northern lights. I saw some and it was so beautiful! I remembered my time in Faroese islands where organizers of culture events said that it doesn’t matter how great the show and marketing is, but if it will be a sunny day nobody will come. I could also skip some shows because of nature. Sense of nature and space sets the values and rules. It has an impact also on how people see dance. Is contemporary dance an urban phenomena? Seeing dance in Hammerfest and talking to people gave me a realization that it is very similar to smaller towns in Latvia. Not climate, not money, but size, speed, closeness to nature influences attitude towards arts, towards dance and body.

Maturity as responsibility

A choreographer and yoga teacher Arnis Sili?š (one of the participants of “45+”) said that the project actually should be called “49+” because this is the borderline when human body is complete, it has went through all stages of growth and after that its life quality depends on psychic powers. In a way this is when a full human being starts. Or ends, if nothing was understood till then. Anyway I stick to my point of view that maturity is a more tricky concept.

Cambridge dictionary says that adjective “mature” means: “Mentally and emotionally well-developed and therefore responsible”

Looking at the festival program as a whole I can say that it very young and very mature at the same time. How is it possible? I saw the program as quite apocalyptic. And I associate apocalyptic feelings with maximalist attitude of young age and deep sense of worry and responsibility of maturity. The sense of change, transition, revising past, predicting future, living in nostalgia about some imaginary golden age which once was or once will come was very strong for me.  Some of the works had hope, some – not really. Though for me the hope won. I am wondering is this a sign of maturity or naivety.

“Mentally and emotionally well-developed and therefore responsible”

–        Opening night of the festival was very, very responsible because it was taking very good care of the local community, local artists, their anniversaries, their representation, also about funders and guests. The opening night was thinking about being attractive to regular audience who has their preferences. The opening night was emotionally very sensitive though got criticism in local press stating that almost everything was seen already, nothing new except the group of older performers (“45+”!). I cannot argue because everything was new for me. But to advocate for the festival I can say that the program was the representation of the local reality both activity and taste wise. If the organizers know that people really love Russian folk and show ballet and has been waiting for it would it be responsible to refuse to show that kind of work? Once people see that organizers try to feel their needs they might be more open to all the other performances in the program because they trust the organizers as well-developed and responsible people.

–        Double bill “We Are Here Together” by “Carte Blanche” included two works “Gjallarhorn” (choreographer Mia Habib) and “The Who of Things” (choreographer Marcelo Evelin). Both shows were big group pieces and put together each to other they looked like two versions of posthumanism – first was more urban and the second one was more into nature laws. There is no doubt about the well-developed skills and responsibility to present polished dance works to the audiences.  On the other hand emotional and mental side of what happens on the stage feels quite young and doesn’t leave much trace in the memory. It felt that there are somehow not enough questions. Just many dancers doing their work very well which is very good. Though not much inspirations for further discussions.

–        Dance ensemble “Druzhba” for me was something out of time and space so it is kind of difficult to guess its level of maturity because it doesn’t have much connection to life and contemporary processes in art. They were executing the well established tradition in a very good way and with professional attitude so they were definitely very responsible. They were well-developed within the certain tradition of commercialized folk and ballet I don’t know very much about. What it means to be mature in this I don’ t really know but there were definitely enjoyable moments also moments where I almost could not believe that what I am seeing is offered in a serious way. At the same time I can say that “Druzhba” night gave me more food for thought than “Carte Blanche” and even more inspiring was the sharing of the same program. If there would be some discussions around that (may be they were or have been but I am not aware of them) it would be extremely interesting!

–        “What a classic is and how it performs in (our) time. Paul McCarty, Rocky 1976” by Andrea Spreafico had an intention to be mentally well-developed and perform an intellectual tour into certain side of history of performance art. The work responsibly manifested itself as not jumping into present and future without knowing and understanding past. Though it was emotionally hard to grasp how this reconstruction would help the development of body practices today. I was watching tricks with a dick of a performer and lost all the mature thoughts I might have had about the piece. Is apocalypses when the past doesn’t help to understand the present?

–        “Noise Control” by Mari Boe and Silje Solheim Johnsen was well developed and thought through in form and content. It was definitely happening today and with people (both audience and performers) of today. I know and I felt they are young but the emotional sense of each other, space and other people as well as trust was very mature and up to the date for me. I was happy about the maturity of the work inhabiting in the young spirit. The world has a hope.

–        “Sussuro” by Flow productions was another quite an apocalyptic journey in destruction and rebirth, and loneliness as escape of the end of the world. With a lot of responsibility against detail and need to slow down the wild unconscious speed of the world.

–        “Me too” by choreographer Kristin Ryg Helgebostad was one of those works you get curious about because the set and layout, and actions doesn’t give a direction about where this will go. For me it one of the signs of mental maturity – to talk without saying (quoting Jan Ritseema). The proposal of the situation and trajectory without superiority. At the same time those kind of works can be also seen as not emotionally mature enough because for some people they become very annoying and almost painful. They can look like self-sufficient worlds not having any responsibility about the world. Another form of apocalypse – if we don’t like the world we see we create a new one. I enjoyed this one even if it was much detached as more emotionally mature work “Noise Control”

–        “The Moon” by Anna Sophia Bonnema, Hans Peter Meloe Dahl, Davis Freeman, Joanna Preiss. Yes, yes, it was the one who had a very strong and positive impact on the “45+” group. I also liked it. One more escape place, yes more mature and full of trust as “Me too”, but also more bitter despite lightness than “Noise Control”. May be this is something young people cannot have to extent like that – smiling bitterness, wisdom, wish to believe that everything is still possible but always with a shade of doubt.

Conclusion – more confusion than clarity and this is exactly where I see the responsibility of mature arts.

Photos by Inta Balode. Done when it was not said that it is not allowed.