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“Soirée d’etudes” by Cassiel Gaube at Aerowaves' Spring Forward. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

Making Aerowaves

The 10th anniversary of Aerowaves' Spring Forward Festival, Elefsina, Greece

Spring Forward Dance Festival is a project born ten years ago by Aerowaves, a European network which promotes emerging contemporary dance artists in Europe and abroad. Aerowaves began in 1996 with a small group of European dance colleagues at the Place in London, where John Ashford was director, presenting ten promising short pieces at the Place Theatre. It expanded into a network of 44 partners and presenters from 35 European countries showing 20 emerging choreographers each year.

It all started with Ashford’s, the founder and director of Aerowaves and Spring Forward, grand and inspired vision to promote contemporary dance in and from Europe. Something that began as a visionary endeavour has become a vivid reality, and it has been growing exponentially since its conception. This year celebrated the 25th anniversary of Aerowaves and the 10th birthday of the Spring Forward Dance Festival. Ashford recently stepped down from his position and two new directors were elected, Roberto Casarotto (CSC Centro per la Scena Contemporanea) and Elisabetta Bisaro (La Briqueterie).

Each year the festival provides a platform for twenty Aerowaves’ choreographers, selected by the 44 partners of Aerowaves, to show their work in front of performing-arts professionals and local audiences. The goal is to allow programmers from across the world the chance to discover the latest contemporary dance scene from Europe, and to open up avenues for worldwide presentation.

The twenty artists selected presented work in various locations around Elefsina, a coastal city half-an-hour away from Athens, and next year’s Capital of Culture. Buildings such as an event hall in a former school, an industrial building, and a basketball court were transformed into temporary dance locations for the festival. Two open spaces close to the shore called ‘Amphitheatre’ and ‘Coast Line’ welcomed various shows as well. The distances from one venue to another across Elefsina were easily and pleasantly walkable during which it was common to strike up conversations with fellow arts-workers, or to simply take in the scenery in solitude.

Over the course of four days 25 performances were presented, including five productions from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Individual as well as collective stories provided rich content to the festival. Every country brought traces of its culture, each choreographer and performer their own flavour. Many high quality productions set a good standard for the whole festival, even if some works were lacking solid dramaturgical or performative skills.

Gloominess, anger, rage, sorrow, hopelessness, internal and external conflicts and queries manifested as themes through movement, videos and texts. These themes inhabited the majority of the shows. Some pieces occurred more cheerful and ironic, however generally there was a noticeable dose of saturnine performances. Nothing to be surprised by, as after all, contemporary dance is often a translation and projection of what is happening in the world.

Contemporary dance meshed with other contemporary art forms; strongly considered lighting, costume, and set design. The creative choices of the locations aided the shows’ theatrical impact. The use of lighting design was particularly crucial for creating depth and dramaturgy of the spaces themselves.

The festival’s schedule was tightly packed. Nonetheless, it was well organised, and it gave the sensation of being catapulted into a sort of parallel bubble, where one could view the world through the eyes of dance, and immerse oneself comfortably in the mare-magnum of reflections that it stimulated.

There was also the chance to get closer and more directly connected to the stories of Aerowaves’ artists through discussion panels with Greek artists, talks on the history and future of Aerowaves, and reflections on dance criticism led by the Springback Academy’s editors and writers.

As an hors-d’œuvre to the festival’s offerings, here is an introduction to the shows that captured my attention and critical approval:

Oulouy in “The Very Last Northern White Rhino” by Gastón Core. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“The Very Last Northern White Rhino” by Gastón Core (Spain), danced by Oulouy.

The work was inspired by research undertaken by New York Times’ journalist Sam Anderson, on the death of the last male Northern White Rhinoceros. Sam Anderson took a flight to Kenya to observe and narrate in detail the daily lives of the last two female representatives of this species, which would disappear from the earth once they had died. The image of these individuals in ignorance of their species’ fate gave the reporter a sense of peace, at a time of global uncertainty. Gastón Core sought to offer the image of a Man, interpreted by the dancer Oulouy, who beautifully and expressively embodied dance as excess, as a celebration derived from life and witnessing the end of it. Dancing to exhaustion, dancing to the end with all the energy he could muster, because perhaps there is nothing more that can be done. Oulouy’s extraordinary execution captured the essence of dance in all its emotional and communicative power.

“Me, My non-Self and I” by Rima Pipoyan (Armenia), danced by Rima Pipoyan and GorSargsyan.

Inspired by Tarantula, a novel by Thierry Jonquet, the dance piece delves into what might happen if someone, out of revenge, could deprive someone else of freedom and make them the object of cruel thoughts. A woman sets boundaries for a man, the man tries to free himself, both interdependent in a peculiar relational dynamic. The game between seduction, domination and subjugation is at the core of this show, where the exquisite interpretation of the two performers and the set design draw a captivating and engaging line throughout the performance.

“Hole in Space” by Diego Tortelli and Miria Wurm. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“Hole in Space” by Diego Tortelli and Miria Wurm (Germany), danced by Guido Badalamenti, David Cahier, Fabio Calvisi, Giovanni Leone, Dominic Santia, Casia Vengoechea.

In 1980 the artists Kit Galloway and Sherrey Rabinowitz connected two larger-than-life displays in New York and Los Angeles with a satellite feed and thus created a public communication sculpture, a sort of ‘hole in space.’ Inspired by their tele-collaborative art, choreographer Tortelli and his team developed this creation almost entirety online during the pandemic isolation. Six dancers from Munich, Berlin, and Milan, a performer from Berlin, a videographer from Munich and a London-based composer and drummer met Tortelli exclusively via one-on-one video chats during the production phase. All these artists’ puzzle pieces were put together only one day before the premiere giving form to an impeccable kinaesthetic execution.

Ramona Caia in “Some Choreographies” by Jacopo Jenna. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“Some Choreographies” by Jacopo Jenna (Italy), danced by Ramona Caia.

This piece stages a dialogue between the dancer and a rich video collection of edited and reworked sequences of dance. The choreography unfolds, as a rhythmical and mimic process, a myriad of fragments merged together in fast sequence. The video clips were dug up from dance and performance history (as told by cinema and internet archives) in a search for sensitive kinetic reflection. The dancer embodies, transforms, connects with and gives shape to the body portrayed in the video images. In the second half, an original and eclectic video by the artist Roberto Fassone shows a sequence of choreographies observed in the world. At times images from nature, in other moments raw images showing the cruelty of humanity seem to converse with the body on stage. The result brings us to ponder the intangible matter that dance is made of, and to reflect on the choreography and dance that can be seen in almost everything.

“Never Twenty-One” by Companie Vivons / Smail Kanouté. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“Never Twenty-One” by Companie Vivons / Smail Kanouté (France), danced by Aston Bonaparte, Salomon Mpondo-Dicka, and Smail Kanouté.

Echoing the hashtag #Never21 coined by the Black Lives Matter movement, this performance is a tribute to the victims of gun violence, especially those who will never reach 21 years of age. The dancers’ graffitied bodies embodied both the words of the victims and their families, and the evils they suffered. As the performers’ bodies slowly emerged from the darkness embody the invisible presence of the victims, and give name to their loved ones’ unspeakable pain. This impactful work sensitively deals with an urgent and dramatic reality that screams to be eradicated.

“Comme un symbole (forme courte)” by Cie Al-Fa / Alexandre Fandard (France), danced by Alexandre Fandard.

“Comme” deals with the figure of a young man from the urban margins who arouses fear through unexpected loud voices and postures. The choreographer and dancer brings under the spotlight the rage and unrest of the neglected, the forgotten, and those who feel they don’t belong. A delicate interpretation which sensitises the audience towards the unnoticed or marginalised ones, who long to be heard and seen.

“Soirée d’etudes” by Cassiel Gaube (Belgium) Danced by Cassiel Gaube, Alesya Dobysh, Waithera Schreyeck.

This piece explores the large vocabulary and groove of House dance in an ever-evolving series of possibilities. The composition of steps and how to articulate them is inventive yet attentively studied and executed. The joy, fun, engagement and liveliness perceivable on the performers’ bodies and faces while dancing has a decisive impact on the efficacy of this work. 

“Esercizi per un Manifesto Poetico” by Collettivo MINE. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“Esercizi per un Manifesto Poetico” by Collettivo MINE (Italy), danced by Francesco Saverio Cavaliere, Fabio Novembrini, Siro Guglielmi, Roberta Racis, Silvia Sisto.

Their debut piece, a co-authored choreographic manifesto built on a collective language. Five individuals breathe in unison revealing a choral interweaving of bodies and space. Repetition meets determination and endurance. White stage and white clothes with neat movements, recalling a sense of the old-school New York modern dance scene, provide a set where purity of form and clarity of intent unequivocally and proportionally merge.

Antonio Tafuni and Nagga Baldina in “Open Drift” by Philippe Kratz. Photograph by Panagiotis Maidis

“Open Drift” by Philippe Kratz (Italy), danced by Antonio Tafuni and Nagga Baldina.

This work stems from Michel Fokine and Anna Pavlova’s iconic Dying Swan solo from 1905. “Open Drift” is a new interpretation of an old masterpiece in which two young yet remarkable performers bring to the stage the magic and delight of a casual and transitory ‘meant to be’ encounter. What will happen next is not important, what matters is this moment of now, the contingency of serendipity. Projected shadows of extended and graceful bodies expand the beauty of the dancers’ lines yet give the sense of a transitory pleasure without iteration.

“Gran Bolero” by Jesús Rubio Gamo (Spain), danced by Alberto Alonso, Eva Alonso, AlbertBarros, Agnès Balfegó, Natalia Fernandes, María Hernando, Joel Mesa, Iván Montardit, Clara Pampyn, Carlos Peñalver, Jose Ruiz, Paula Tato.

This version for twelve dancers is based on Bolero, the duet Rubio Gamo presented at Spring Forward 2017 in Aarhus. “Gran Bolero” is about tenacity, a piece developed out of the darkness and dismay during the recent pandemic. Inspired by the music of José Pablo Polo based on Boléro by Maurice Ravel, the piece explores the boundary between lightness and gravity and the fine line separating pleasure and exhaustion. It appears as a Dionysian dance, where sensuality, animalistic instincts and desires are interwoven with spontaneous and emotional aspects of human nature. Indeed an ecstatic catharsis for the dancers and a surprisingly engaging and moving experience for the public.

All in all, the Spring Forward Festival 2022 resulted in a beautiful experience which has proven once again the love and dedication that a substantial group of people have for dance. Despite some despondency derived from the historical moment we are experiencing, and the inevitable repercussions of how we have responded as a society to these recent changes, the joyful and friendly milieu of the ‘Aerowaves family’ made the festival a splendid occasion to trust in the present, and to hope for a brighter future.