Reflection about contemporary dance in the context of „New Baltic Dance 2013” festival


Baiba Ozoli?a*

Understanding about what the contemporary dance is has came to me very slowly. I do not belong to those people who think they know everything and that’s why they can judge about anything. It has been long time since I’m linked to this art form. It has mostly been through management and fund raising. I have always known that “there is something in it”, but only now I can say that I have understanding of what happens in contemporary dance. You will say – it sounds too pretentious? Still I will try to explain what the understanding means for me within contemporary dance context. I think it is absolute tolerance to anything happening during the contemporary dance event (be it performance, installation, provocation, anything else). The only thing that really matters is whether the artists has succeeded in expressing his or her idea, whether the chosen instruments are smart, attractive, does anything remains out of that afterwards for an audience member (for me). I am not annoyed anymore by the fact that I don’t understand anything, but by the fact that somebody hasn’t succeeded in delivering the message or considers that “he knows”  how I should think.

International contemporary dance festival „New Baltic Dance 2013” taking place from May 7 till 12 in the capital of Lithuania Vilnius was a several days tolerance exam. The festival has long history and good image, the program has a lot of variety, everybody can find something for herself. I was lucky to see 13 performances during 4 days. It was very different experience within very compressed time-frame. Under other circumstances I would collect those impressions for at least a year, I would need to visit many countries – from Norway till Brazil. First thing coming to mind is – contemporary dance community is very friendly; it was strongly felt during this kind if large international event. There are no other contexts, there is only arts and to wish share it. At least that’s he impression for me as a person from outside. May be it is different for Lithuanians, they know the contexts of their dancers, their perception of their own artists is more determined (it is the same for everybody, I also definitely had a different attitude towards work by Olga Zitluhina than others did). May be because of the fact that contemporary dance has had long route to recognition the ones dancing and working within the field are more of less on the same frequency. Dancers, choreographers, people linked to dance find it so important to share their thoughts. I don’t know any other art form where I had met such an openness on any level of professionalism, fame and recognition. With this kind of apotheosis of common thing at some moments it seems that new Babel is possible. Of course, it is also promoted by the festival as a form of arts events concentration. The participants go and see other work, they participate in discussions etc. Because it is a chance to learn, to get out of your individual orbit.

When trying to evaluate the festival events and choreographers’ achievements I could relatively split them into three groups: solos, professionals, searchers (the borders are not that strict but in everything one or another aspect is dominant).

For me personally the solo (sometimes duets) dances seemed very attractive – those were the works where professionals were searching. For example, „Uninvited Presence” by Ugn? Dievaityt? (Lithuanina/Spain), and ” Stick in the Wheel” by Poliana Lima (Brasil/Spain) were solos announced as separate performances, but both created shared atmosphere and ended with duet by both dancers „It`s Like Watching Clouds”. It all together made up triptych, at least for me. Work by Loreta Juodkait? (Lithuania) and Kenzo Kusuda (Japan) called „Mirage” was a it a duet or a common solo of two very different artists?

Not so much I adored works where professionals were showing what they can and did it so professional that for a while there was a feeling that – this is how it is right and only this way. Performance “Again”  by Norwegian dance company „zero visibility corp.” and choreographer Ina Christel Johannessen demonstrates how the professional dancers should be trained, how the really multifunctional, multilayered set design needs to be created, how the musical material can be creatively transformed and performed. The performance created exceptionally bright, multilayer visual impression. The technical possibilities of the dancers and their individual signatures are worth admiring and following. However when the first visual impression calms down not so much remains after. It is all somehow too cold. May be this is what the choreographer wanted to achieve? There is no answer because it is not possible.

The separate story is about the show by Tim Rashton and Danish Dance Theater „Love songs”. It seems that the inclusion of this work within the festival program has been a duty to the mainstream taste and box office. And there is nothing wrong with that, because may be for a part of the broad audience (full big hall of the National Drama Theater)  it created also the interest about other festival events. Very beautiful, developed till smallest detail music and dance performance providing with cliche idea mainly spread by ballet dancers that performing contemporary dance means little bit of clownery and joyful dancing. Perhaps that work would be nice if it would be shorter and if it wouldn’t made topical the painful for contemporary dance questions: „When the audience will be tolerant enough so their attention would be taken not only by nice dances but also by more nuanced moods?” However I believe that different criteria of evaluation should be applied to this work, because it is not contemporary dance, it is so called modern ballet. May be the mission of this performance was to actualize many questions. Is contemporary dance only for the chosen ones? Does the mainstream opinion dominates also within the arts? If not, then why? If yes, where it takes us? Are box office data all-mighty? How to make contemporary dance accessibly to everyone without losing its essence?

The most fragile were the searchers who didn’t demonstarte high technical abilities (conceptually not bacause they couldn’t), but put in  a lot of individual attitude, their position, their soul (if it sounds better). Here I want to highlight work by Alexander Andriyashkin (Russia) „I Will Try” (Krievija), and Helle Bach’s (Denmark) „Feathers & Stilettos”. The last one turned out to be my largest catharsis of the festival. It had so much of self-irony, humor, poetics, sentiment, ku-ku and content at the same time that it was impossible to remain indifferent. The story is about the youth memories of aging dancer about the time when she worked in the famous Paris cabaret style music hall „Folies Bergere”. We get to know what does it mean to be each evening’s show star together with forty other equally dressed dancers. We got to know everything about the everyday life of a show girl, about how the body should be held and how the smile should be on at all times. The choreographer is a very good actress and performer at the same time because the complete involvement of the audience within the story is achieved and only at the end the story turns out to be true. At least we are made to believe that. However this revelation doesn’t change much, I believed anyway. Simple life reality, memories had bacame arts reality.

I wish more of the arts realities would become our everyday realities – that’s the final conclusion after everything I saw and felt during those warm days of May in Vilnius.


*Baiba Ozoli?a is arts manager with ten years experience. Studied theory, history and arts management at the Latvian Academy of Culture. She has Master in Arts degree. Specialized in music management and culture project management. Together with music band “Dzelzs vilks” and Olga Zitluhina Dance Company has produced and realized original arts events, concerts and contemporary dance performances. Chance to help creative people to implement their ideas makes her particularly happy. Likes watching culture and arts events. Visual arts is Baiba’s largest weakness.


Thanks to Ne[w]kritika, Writing Movement at and Ingrida Gerbutaviciute personally for inviting and supporting!