There is no such thing as a new idea
The piece New Creation by Filipe Pereira and Teresa Silva asked a series of meta-theatrical questions by beaming them onto white screens manipulated by the performers. “We’re videoing ourselves, does that mean we’re capturing the present? Is it a dead present, or a living archive?”
These questions may seem peculiar to the piece in question, but the concept of a living archive was in fact something that preoccupied my mind for the duration of Spring Forward 2019. While the title ‘contemporary dance’ by nature seeks to be modern and original, one cannot deny that the medium’s history influences the way we see dance, and in fact create it, in the 21st Century.
Mark Twain said: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” With this in mind, it is my opinion that some of the most intriguing contemporary dance pieces are not those that endeavour to be purely original, but those that reference the past, and make us see it in a new light.
Some pieces at Spring Forward were extremely overt in the “old ideas” they used to inspire them. Somiglianza by Mattia Russo and Antonio de Rosa, for instance, blatantly cited Nijinksy’s seminal L’apres-midi d’une faun as its starting point, yet aside from some shimmering aqua costumes, it did little to reinterpret the original story and heteronormative relationships for a modern audience.
On the other hand, Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi’s Harleking was a prime example of how one can blend together historical references to create new meaning. Articulating their bodies into humorous, cheeky poses from Commedia Dell’Arte before getting stuck in a repetitive cycle of Nazi salutes, the two performers seamlessly mixed together the comedic world of Italian 16th century theatre with that of early 20th century fascism. This created a political comment that seemingly warned the audience about underestimating ‘fools’, which felt entirely relevant to contemporary worries about Trump and the spread of right-wing thinking across the Western world.
Once I started thinking in this mindset, I couldn’t stop myself looking for links to the past in every work I saw - even if it wasn’t intentional. Heads rested on top of each other in Speechless instantly made me think of Bronislava Nijinska’s tower of female craniums in Les Noces, and the picked-up jumps with curved arm gestures in Jumpcore casted my mind back to Martha Graham’s Celebration. At first, I poetically contemplated whether these references were visible because the dancer’s bodies themselves were living archives and innately held the memories of artists and movements that had come before them. Later, I realised that the connections I was making between the past and present were very much dependant on my personal memories and cultural background, and that other audience members with alternative perspectives were probably making different associations.
Perhaps instead of the performers themselves being the “mental kaleidoscopes” that Twain described, it is the audience that brings its own memories to contemporary dance to make new “curious combinations” of past and present?