One of my most treasured cultural moments in Bucharest is the Capital’s International Film Festival – BIDFF, which had its fourth edition last September. Following closely this festival from its beginnings and looking at the organic way it has grown, it is wonderful to see how many fascinating artists and creative personas from all over the world it attracts.
Its aim is not only to propose an unprecedented event dedicated to contemporary dance lovers. Bucharest International Dance Film Festival (BIDFF) is as well a unique opportunity to have a refreshing look at what’s happening in the universe of visual and performing arts, discover new paths of expression and how dance inspires and innovates the world of short-films. One of the festival’s highlights was Steven Cantor’s documentary ‘Talent Dancer’ about the remarkable Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin, who became at only 20 years old the youngest soloist of the London Royal Ballet – tickets were sold out long time before the opening of the event. But even more anticipated was the projection of the 20 films presented in the official international competition (chosen from more than 300 works submitted).
In the comfortable setting of the Elvire Popesco hall at the French Institute in Bucharest, we’ve been spoilt for choice with one of the best selection of the festival so far in French, English, Turkish, Dutch, Finish, Russian or Spanish films among others.
Strong storylines dominated the selection – from purist and realistic up to the opposite side of the spectrum, lyrical and comical. Notably surprised by the maturity of these young artists, some of them being barely 20 years old, all managed to integrate factual problems, expressing them with an emotional understanding that extends beyond their passion for dance.
This year’s festival theme was (Re) Tracing Values an the audience was invited to explore the values of their contemporary world. A great lesson in tolerance, today’s complex world is a tapestry of intricate social issues where redefining reality through what is perceived as normality, as frontiers, as limits, identity, relationships, love, as well as observing the interconnecting emotions can change more than just one’s perspective. Simply put, this year was about the recognition and renegotiation of what creates human values according to one’s unique vision and personal experiences.
Among the movies that impressed the audience and the professionals this year is the winner in the Best film category, Night Dancing. Directed by Barnet Cokeliss (UK), this short film is a mix crafted between dialogues, image, music and a choreography which reminds Gene Kelly’s unique sense of romanticism.
Next in line, Bookanima: Dance, directed by Shon Kim (South Korea) was a strong visual experience and creative surprise. A balanced combination of music and animation by collage proposing a new visual concept that let the Asian director win the Innovation Award of BIDFF 2018.
I would like to give a special mention to the elegant Babelian Circles from the Spanish Ferran Romeu Sunyer, which was superbly shot in the desert and proposed a refined choreography, or again the German-Russian production GUENNI signed by Hä*Wie!? and Collective & Nils Löfke, that treats with great humor and sensitivity the difficult theme of the social failure.
But above all two films stood out: Competing for Sunlight: Oak and Competing for Sunlight: ASH by Dagmar Dachauer (Austria), the only competitor entering the competition with two short-films, and A Flood Remains by Emma Evelein (Holland), who is also the winner of this years Award of the Public. Two rich universes with two very special energies from completely opposed personalities that made me eager to know them and get to learn more about them. Because, beyond the curiosity to reach the artist’s moodboard behind the work, it was important to fully understand the two different faces of the same passion drawn by a sharp sensibility.
Dagmar Dachauer happened to be in the garden of the French Institute, in a timely break between two projection sessions of the international competition whilst I was looking for the black cat of the institute. She was relaxing following the speech she had given on stage, so our conversation began easily about the pervading peace and grace her film Competing for Sunlight: ASH released. Her second film, Competing for Sunlight: Oak was still to come and after seeing it, it was obvious to weave a conversation with her about the stories behind her projects. The next day, our encounter unfolded in a most natural and graceful maner in the pleasant atmosphere and perfect summer backdrop of the stylish café Arome.
With her delicate and elegant figure resembling as straight out of one of Botticelli’s paintings, Dagmar comes across as very discreet and a little tired. The last few days have been quite intensive for her as it was also her very first trip to Bucharest and Romania. Still, she managed to find time to go to Valea Cascadelor (a large flee market) and pick up there a few ancient photos she showed to me as small treasures. Taking a sip from her cup of white tea Dagmar smiles and declares, “It is very tiresome to see so many long screenings and keep focused. Especially when afterwards you are required to go on stage and debate intelligent things!”
Ash and Oak are two shorts from a long term series about the relationship with nature. The idea came while I was in residency in Holland with other young artists.” Which transpired was a house full of people and multiple busy schedules, but happily for Dagmar it was situated near a forest. From her desire to be in nature as well as to collaborate with Lithuanian dancer Knut Vikström Precht was born the idea to transform a tree into a character, along side two dancers for a short video.
It was her first experiment and also the first time Dagmar created a choreography from the “outside” and was involved in the process of making a short-film. The outcome was well received and awarded, something that is still astonishing her today in all modesty. Discovering the “workings” behind a film (all the technical aspects to be considered, the editing or the creative process), Dagmar wanted to “repeat offense”. And this time the idea came … while she was climbing on a tree in Denmark, on the occasion of a creative laboratory hosted in a natural park. This project was focused on participative art and the interaction of artists within the element of things of nature. At that time Dagmar was participating as a co-curator. Attracted by the stories of trees, she discovered the individuality and the uniqueness of several species.
This inspired her to learn further, like for example that each tree has a personal sound. She wanted to choose one and make it her protagonist. In the future she wants to expand the series, using trees indigenous to other continents and providing a more varied canvas to compliment her first works centered on the European species – ash and oak.
Dagmar maintains strong bonds and is passionate by the small simple things in nature. She grew up in a city near Lintz in Austria, surrounded by vegetation. Her early love for dance was encouraged by her parents whom wisely viewed it from the beginning as a serious profession. After high school she studied dancing in Amsterdam and Stockholm, then became enchanted by the arts of circus, especially the technique of hand balancing. She recalls with laughter that it was refreshing to spend a lot of time hand standing in an effort to change her perspective. As this is a discipline with a certain risk degree, the main rule is never to exercise alone. She explains it becomes an obvious SLR to take care of others and avoid being in competition with each other, unlike the world of dance. A stimulating experience for Dagmar, where through this movement technique she appreciated ways to share and support each other in a team.
After ending the short-film Oak, Dagmar wanted for her next project Competing for Sunlight: ASH to give more attention to the visual part and the costumes. Her vision was also to emphasize a certain physical neutrality of the characters so both dancers, Dagmar and Knut, are wearing skirts. The short-film was imagined as a ritual dedicated to the problem of the extinction of ashes in Europe, as well as a tribute to Dagmar’s father, who had sadly disappeared before the film was made. In front of the camera Dagmar finds again Knut Vikström Precht, with whom she already collaborated with in Competing the Sunlight: Oak. A melancholy personal context, where the strong green of nature is in deliberate contrast to the grey tones of the clothes, remembering ashes. The choreography was inspired by Tom Waits’ song Green Grass, speaking about the definitive departure of someone who became a tree. “I couldn’t begin the film even if I had all the necessary conditions at my disposition, until I could not settle within myself the terms of my father’s disappearance. Only then, the emotion, which arrested my reactions at my father’s funeral and in truth practically paralyzed me, helped me to say adieu in my own way.”
When I asked her about her next projects, she spoke about … cats. Dagmar is currently working on The Feline Project that deals with the obsession and trend of cute virtual pets, robot animals living in the company of and at times an owners escapism. As we are less and less in contact with real animals, tomorrow’s dogs and cats become a combination of domestic hybrids and design, in an unnatural process. Today robot animals are more and more used as a substitute for authenticity, a manufactured reality and relationship with the elderly or children, especially in Asia.
What happens to our cognitive functions and interaction with these “animals” in the way that we see them? Designed as an amusement, they change our way of perceiving a reality in which we inevitably lose contact. We create things to serve us in a unilateral relationship, complex devices with which we build relationships and that transform us into mono-dimensional personalities. The flexibility, compassion and compromise, the sensitivity and the exercise to think for someone else and to put ourselves in his place, normal in every relation, disappears when taking away the humanity of feelings. It gives place to narcissism and fuels egocentrism. Instead of opening horizons and sharing experiences, we are exposed only to the way we become, not to the way the environment in which we live actually affects us.
Dagmar does not want to be pedagogical or moralistic, she only wishes to present the reality as it is today, with its good and not so good parts. What interests her as a person is interacting with the digital world, its shortcomings and malfunctions, a time in which she is neither close to nor very present.
This is a creative concept that is harder to explain in words than in dance, she assures. Dagmar uses and is inspired by the Feldenkrais method – a non-invasive way of awareness by movement, implicating principles of physics and biomechanics – to create new choreographic movements and translate abstract ideas. Created by the scientific visionary Moshe Feldenkrais, this method is a true philosophy and an avant-gardist procedure of alternative therapy, which immersed Dagmar in a total different, new way of contact with her body. It opened her as a professional dancer, a new horizon, helping her immensely to evolve personally and professionally. A method once explained, correlates and confirms to me how Dagmar relates to the nature around her as a integral person and the importance this approach and aspect is in her work.
Emma Evelein has the energy and effervescence of a glass of cold champagne filling the stage of the festival with her presence, spontaneous speeches and humour. With quick moves and the tonic silhouette of a modern dancer, Emma metamorphoses on stage with surprising ease. Incredibly quick she changes from a careful listener to a protagonist dominating the stage with sure gestures and the right words. I wonder how many other Emmas will show up when I’ll meet her?
After seeing her on stage and thinking that it would be a good idea to talk to her, we crossed paths coincidently at a place where usually all the girls taking part at an event meet – the queue for the bathroom. She was right in front of me when a very agitated lady forgot her hat in a cabinet. And from here the conversation picked up with laughters.
Emma is a true millennial, building up her passion for dance and creation by all virtual means (crowdfunding to produce her video project, an active Instagram for collaboration offers, a Vimeo account where one can see all her work, not to mention that we took our encounter on Facebook and finally talked on Whatsapp). All platforms are perfectly understood and mastered in a intuitive way by her. Still, Emma is searching for a profound sense in all things, and of the world around her and be able to express all genuinely in her choreographies or in the various artistic projects in which she is involved.
Emma didn’t came alone to Bucharest. She came together with her mother, a sculptress, who accompanied her also to the awards ceremony. They have an obvious complicity ruled by laughters, color and abundant love. It was touching to see Emma’s mother so jubilant when announced that her daughter had received the Public’s Award. More touching still, she was taking photos next to the stage, to send to her husband, Emma’s father, who remained in Holland.
A perfect setback made for a missed encounter in Bucharest although we would meet up again virtually. Of course this was absolutely logical for Emma’s story, where technology has and always had a key role. I was about to learn that behind the happy young girl was an artist with experience, already mature at 25 years, like Dagmar. And in a similar fashion, the course and the very different experiences had motivated her to look for deeper values within herself, values that she would draw upon and express as clearly as possible through art and her dance.
At only 23 years, Emma is already a star growing very popular outside her country and speaking candidly in an interview in the ELLE Holland magazine:
“I constantly had moments when I was asking myself why l’m doing this. (The dance) can make one very happy but it can also hurt you mercifully, like for example when you are permanently between auditions and rejections. I would like to tell other dancers not to give up, to take as many risks as possible, to blend themselves with other people of other generations, of other cultures. I dance almost every day, I live for dancing, it is something constantly in my mind. A big part of my personality is in my work, I’m always looking for sincerity and the connection between people. Often when I create something, others say “Yes, this is the real Emma”. I don’t know what they mean but I do know that I follow strongly my intuition in dancing and this inevitably becomes at one moment; my very own.”
This is all the more proven in her working environment, the speed with which she is offered collaborations and the many projects in which Emma is involved in. Choreographies for commercials, video clips for artists, dance lessons and creative workshops, short films, participations in television contests, shows and even modeling 4 years with Nike – all this work combines into a studious, harmonious and meaningful lesson for her.
Emma’s story, dancer and choreographer, began very early in a family preoccupied by art. As a child she danced before walking and at 4 years she was already following dance hours for toddlers. At 8 years old she wanted to study hip hop and street dance, then naturally progressed to music and acting. After finishing the art high school in Amsterdam taking Contemporary/Urban Dance and Theatre music, Emma began to dance for European and Israeli companies, like Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and Fresco Dance Company.
Perfecting her technique in intensive dance classes at the Batsheva Dance Company, Emma was under the tutelage in attendance of one of the biggest contemporary choreographers, Ohad Naharin. This meeting profoundly marked and inspired her and was an influence that would help shape her own work. This side of her story becomes obvious in the tone of her very respectful voice when she speaks about Naharin, and how it was to collaborate with him. “Ohad is an imposing presence, you can feel the energy in a room when he is there. He is very calm, very decided and knows how to put people in decisive situations where they learn to transcend their own limits. He believes that people need to be available not just in their thinking, but in their bodies as well. An ethos that advances directly the importance of not only debating performance, but feelings as well.”
What I found interesting is that Ohad Naharin created his popular known movement and dancing philosophy GAGA, after a serious injury that had almost crippled him for life. He made fortunately a complete recovered as was healed by … the Feldenkrais method! Seen this way, dance would seem to be an obvious pleasure beneficial to the body in a therapeutic way and not a painful practice that will hurt over time.
Suddenly the circle was closing and I understood better Emma’s motivations (and the invisible thread that links her to Dagmar). For the current generations, dance is a complex structure, tout en finesse that links much more than one thinks, the physical capacities with the emotions and the latent talent to express them. And that allows her to develop herself and truly evolve. The link between dance, body and feelings has always been essential to render emotion, which is so important. This type of connection to feelings brings a new availability allowing artists to explore other possibilities of the body. This link becomes the basis on which Emma is weaving with apparent ease personal stories within her dance. Her interest for the mixture between film, music and dance pushed her to explore further artistic fields and define herself not so much as a dancer as a creator. A maker as she likes to auto define herself.
“A flood remains”, the short film awarded last September in Bucharest, was created from a unique feeling. That feeling of being isolated when you are surrounded by people. Trying to mingle with others when the chemistry doesn’t work, carving an even deeper feeling of loneliness inside. For Emma it is very constructive to have the sincerity to recognize that you feel alone, as is the open desire to connect with others. A feeling only a few people confess to and even less know how to deal with. I was surprised how Emma translated the theme, as at the first screening of her short film watching a group of youngsters feeling good together and creating things collectively and I appreciated the positive feeling it left with me. “You can expose the pain and this will help you to carry further a positive dialogue.”
The idea of the project came while she was in Tel Aviv, where she lived four years. She attended a collective of 40 international dancers with whom in a very short time was created such a strong alchemy that Emma told me it was “heartbreaking to leave”.
Sensitive to the social system, Emma is very compassionate toward others, caring what happens to them, how and when they collaborate. She is not afraid of the sometimes highly strung manifestations of feelings and strong emotions and admits she likes people who are not afraid to cry. This is why she always chooses musical themes by the intensity of emotions they induce. An important observation thus came to light, we spoke of isolation in a contemporary context, about the controversial series “13 Reasons Why” and how we in fact are surrounded by loneliness despite having the most sophisticated communication methods available to connect with others.
To make the short-film A flood remains was a true personal adventure. Between the crowd funding to obtain the necessary budget, the shoot taking 13 non stop hours from 6AM to 9PM, and the legal agreement needed to use the song of the film The Night We Met, interpreted by the American indie group Lord Huron and found by chance on Spotify, it would be fair to say that on several occasions the success of the production hung by a thread.
Emma takes everything with determination and humour, this is where her strength lies. For the copyright of the song, after trying in vain to contact Lord Huron through all the usual channels, she wrote three letters. By chance the group had a concert not far away from where she lives so she went to see them live. She gave a letter to the technical team, one to the group performing as support and the third letter to the cleaning woman of the concert hall.
Next day Emma received a mail from the group informing her of their agreement regarding the rights for her short-movie. From that moment the collaboration went smoothly, as it always should between artists supporting each other and for Emma this is the most beautiful thing that can happen. Even more so as everything on this project started with the music, an always essential and decisive element for her.
When asked on the stage of the Elvire Popesco cinema what could be the principle inspiration for a new choreography, she answered on the breath, that without any doubt, it would be the song The less I know the Better, of the Australian group Tame Impala. Thinking of the actual choreography from the music video, I truly would like Emma to take this up as a serious challenge and push further this idea as a part of her new projects, many as varied as they are ambitious. Between others, her future work involves a clip made on a tracking camera through a house with 40 dancers. The project explores the circumstances in which people meet and Emma plans to film it as a wide top shot, to give the image of a living map.
The festival and the meeting with young creators, masters of tomorrow’s dance, was like taking a mouthful of fresh air, a glance at the present and the immediate future in one breath. I don‘t think I’m the only one who has sensed a turning point in something new at the BIDFF this year. The general feeling was of entering new dimensions where information received from other areas, such as the concern for nature or the lack of real communication in a daily life flooded with too many virtual effects, are just as alive, relevant and worrying. In this dimension they were solved in unique ways which, if given the correct attention, can be assimilated in positive ways like an empathetic universal message to everybody.
Photo credits: BIDFF, Dagmar Dachauer, Emma Evelein