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  • Miles Hedley

FEST EN FEST in Greenwich, Deptford and New Cross

Fest en Fest is a dance event like no other, concerning itself over three days with the evolution of dance in a series of discussions, workshops and performances. It was appropriate, therefore, that two of the six works at the heart of this year’s festival focused on the most vital of all forms of evolution – that of our planet and its human inhabitants.

Ingri Fiksdal’s Diorama and Janine Harrington’s good luck, dinosaur both moved at a pace befitting the vastness of geological time and both were mesmerisingly beautiful. But in keeping with the progressive spirit of the festival, neither fell within the traditional parameters of dance, exploring instead Fest en Fest’s mission statement: to question choreographic practice, to provoke, to be a force for change and to expand the boundaries of the artform.

Diorama, staged outdoors alongside Cutty Sark on Friday and Saturday afternoon, traced Earth’s entire history from creation, through the rise and fall of its continents and lifeforms to its inevitable end: entropy.

Back at Trinity Laban’s Laurie Grove site, Harrington offered us a profound, unsettling but bewitching interpretation of the 15,000 years of human impact on our planet through an eerie combination of stillness, vocal iterations and the slowest of slow movements.

The other performances also sought to fulfil the pioneering brief of this UK-Nordic festival, created and curated by H2Dance’s Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard, which seeks to bring together audiences, artists and the local community as protagonists.

In Project X’s Ghost Dimensions, Mele Broomes and Ashanti Harris examined themes of identity and the nature of visibility by dancing on a stage split by a semi-diaphanous screen which allowed their silhouettes to overlay projected images of cityscapes and trees in a fascinating display of shadowy alter egos.

Memory Lab by Rani Nair was an immersive piece in which the audience were the performers, following instructions about Indian dance moves (plus a hint of waltz) through headphones. It set out to show how memories can live on through a process of transference, although to me it felt a bit too much like a cross between a silent disco and a meditation session. I suspect mine was the minority view, however – my fellow participants seemed to revel in it and there’s no denying the show questioned traditional perceptions of dance.

Art is, of course, a serious matter but it can also be terrific fun, as Karen Røise Kielland and Katja Dreyer showed in their fabulous Cry Me A River – The Quest For The Source, which cast a surreal eye on the birth and evolution of western civilisation with a heady cocktail of Greek and Norse mythology, plaster of paris torsos, Wagnerian anthems, a search for the source of the river Styx and some excellent jokes. It was a wonderful and witty piece of performance art.

Storm Ciara ravaged the schedule of the final day, forcing the cancellation of Phantasmagoric by Helgebostad/Berstad/Brun because the cast were left stranded in Ireland, so the final performance, rather aptly, was by Gillgren and Rustgaard, who took to the stage at the Laban building with Amplified Edition, a spellbinding collage of morphing shapes among shimmering hangings, laser-like criss-crossing cords and darkness broken by gorgeous flashes of gold, silver, turquoise and crimson.

It was a properly challenging finale to a triumphant festival that was at once thought-provoking yet accessible, intellectual yet fun and, like all true art, unique. I look forward to the next one…

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