Pia Brezavšček on the 3rd Bulgarian Dance Platform and the 15th Antistatic Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance in Sofia

My first impression of the Bulgarian contemporary dance scene was the performance Dance, baby, dance by Zhana Pencheva, into which I almost directly flew in on the third day of Antistatic festival in Sofia. In a club-like atmosphere, six agile, casually dressed bodies are not only “exploring” the potential relationalities of people dancing together – that ecstasy of communal moving that aims for nothing more than potentiating joy through the expression of our full sexual bodily beings; the performers truly dive into a dance situation with mesmeric music rather than merely (re)presenting the results of an exploration. It is an affirmation of the endorphin-producing machine, an ode to what a body can do. At the same time, this is not simply a club-like dance, where all are dancing and watching – here, there is a clear division between the dancers and the spectators. The active dancing orgy situation is, on the one hand, enhanced by the scopophilic spectators’ gaze, which is evoked by the performers’ flirtatious encounters with the audience. On the other hand, the group on stage alone is consecrated to dance by way of internal rules and a structure, which makes this dance a piece, a dance to watch, a convention. It is almost a ready-made, brought from another situation to watch in a different, artistic context. What cannot be transported in this way, however, is its original openness: the outcomes and the limits are set by the dispositive itself. Though particular actions are thoroughly liberated and vastly open, and the encounters with the spectators are unique each time, the performers know exactly where they are going, what their actions are producing and at what point there is a consent to stop an action, as in any other score. It seems to me that the piece is performing a situation that needs to be performed, the more the room for it is limited. The liberated ecstatic and erotic body is clearly not a ready-made presence possible in just any situation. Nightlife and particular artistic scenes are enclosed “other spaces” where the impossible is played out. The more oppression from the outside, the stronger the enclosure of the spaces and the performative itself must become.

Dance, baby, dance was quite an entrance, and it automatically created the framework for me to think about the whole Bulgarian Dance Platform experience, as well as, more broadly, about our peripheries in relation to the West, “the center” that is making the norm (not only) in the field of contemporary dance. For seeing that very same performance at one of the big European festivals, I would hardly notice it among the others promoting similar values, exploring similar topics and exposing similar able, sexually emancipated bodies. Seeing it among the diverse variety of national dance production however, I read it as a (political) push towards the freely circulating, liberated body. Though this generic (but always unique) able body is, too, perpetuating (neo)liberal capitalism, it is no doubt a noble, almost nostalgic ideal in comparison to the ideals promoted by the illiberal nationalist populist regimes of today that darkly proliferate in the heart of Europe.

“Rutuals of the Soul” Photo: Christo Rusev

It is not a surprise that these rootless nomadic tendencies are present within the Bulgarian dance context in contrast to themes and principles that are trying to rediscover “authenticity” and “foundation” in these confusing times. Temel, a choreography authored by Jivko Jeliazkov of the Derida Dance Company, has the latter aspirations. A repetitious movement of four dancers which originates from a sitting position behind porous curtains, it develops into a more vibrant circular motion to music with ethnic elements and seems to be casting a spell over the audience in a pagan manner. Dance is understood as a bodily link to a lost ancient core, which is embedded in the practice of dancing. Though enchanting, this idea seems naïve, especially if one has, like me, spent their formation based on the (post)structuralist belief that there is no foundation, only a network of relations that changes constantly and molds the situated positions. There is a lot of fiction written into the concept of ancestry and desires projected into an (ideal, lost, hidden) identity. Why not build horizontal, geographical, real-time relations instead? This does not mean we are losing core, it is always already there, but it is nothing static, it is not in our bodies and in our blood, it is developing on the basis of our current entanglements.

In the performance Rituals of Soul by Petya Stoykova, six dancers of her Dune Dance Company perform a rather smooth dance that begins with breathing. They are placed inside a circle, surrounded by the audience. Dancers pass through like wind and whisper secret words. The dancing bodies seem to possess a wisdom that is produced solely through the dance, and the spectator is merely witnessing it. Thus, it becomes a spiritual sermon of sorts. It is only after the end of the performance that one can partake in a task of the practice itself, which opens it up, makes it experiential and humbles its intentions. Though this performance is not seeking the roots of a (particular) tradition, it is still a practice where the body is a vessel for spiritual truths, the material ground where the creators of the piece search for “the core” or Oneness.

On the other hand, the project Differsonalities by Ina Gerginova strives to represent the clash of different, incompatible personalities. It is a dance theatre piece, where dance represents characters and physicality is a metaphor for human relationships. That makes it very plastic, the clash of bodies becomes violent, but always in a representational manner. The issue of structural violence, based on race, class or gender is not addressed. Not everything can be reduced to mere “differences of character” or “personalities”.

“dragON aka PHOENIX” Photo: Boris Urumov


The interrelations between two human bodies, which can be powerful and lead to domination, are dealt with much more subtly in the piece Initial boost by Stanislav Genadiev. In an industrial soundscape and costumes, two dancers slowly build their movements from the impulses they get from each other. It is more than a piece about the particular energy between two bodies: it thematizes and explores the existence of such energy or potential between every-body. It is not so much about who they are as dancers, but about what is in-between.

Galina Borissova, a pioneer of the contemporary dance scene in Bulgaria, deals with the question of authenticity, but hers is a very critical endeavor. The piece Certified copy literally shifts the perspective: the piece begins with the audience lying down on velvety cushions, watching a film projected on the ceiling. In the film, people are lying down in a similar comfortable setting. These are people from the local scene who know Galina’s performances or have been working with her and they talk honestly about their experience and reception of her unique and influential work. Through these intimate, and not necessarily polite narratives, one really feels inserted into the artist’s work, as well as into  the broader context of the Bulgarian dance scene itself. One encounters a mediated image before knowing the eccentric “original” that later enters in person and dances amidst the horizontally placed spectators in a nonchalant way. Putting the network of relations that “make” the artist in the foreground is a somewhat humble way of questioning originality and, in Galina’s case, a self-ironic gesture at the status of the artist as a cult figure.

Self-irony is also present in the piece dragON aka PHOENIX by the Steam Room collective, created by Alexandar Georgiev, Dario Baretto Damas and Zhana Pencheva, the latter also being the author of the piece Dance, baby, dance. Phoenix is part of a series of pieces that deal with the phenomenon, the potential and paradoxes of drag. It is a hyperenergetic show (dance). The genre exploiting the body’s potential for producing spectacle through dance is brought to an extreme, but only to show that seemingly artistic and critical contemporary dance is a highly competitive business, too. Endurance is important and (author) identities become a product on the international art market. Through the edge the authors bring in the piece, one can also retroactively interpret Dance, baby, dance in a different way. It is an engagement with corporeal movement and its occurrent connotations after a period in which conceptual dance practices questioned movement as the core of dance.

Before the end … (of the world), on the other hand, is in the tradition of conceptual dance, reducing movement to simple poses. However, the authors – two-thirds of the Antistatic organizing board, Iva Sveshtarova and Willy Prager – are not using this reduction for the sake of exploring the limits of dance, but to refer to a painfully contemporary topic. This is the topic of our reality: catastrophes that are a consequence of human intervention on Earth and that eliminate the future of life as we know it. A beautiful text by Ivana Ivković brings out the theme explicitly. After, or even before “the end”, the four human dancers become stiff and rigid, as if they were relics of some other (our own?) reality. They do not have much agency when things become irreversible. But right there and then, when the time to take responsibility has run out, one paradoxically discovers a certain freedom and space for humor.

“Wo man” Photo: Orlin Ognyanov

The piece Wo man by Marion Darova is even more rooted in conceptual art – not so much the one from the early 2000s, as that of the Judson Dance Theatre from the 1960s and ‘70s. After a projected performance art piece made in the sterile manner of “the grandmother of performance art” Marina Abramovic, two performers walk and jump rhythmically in a synchronous way on an empty stage, with minor but precise variations for the entire duration of the performance. It is as if we were revisiting a Lucinda Childs’ piece, but with contemporary electronic music and bodies that are now, although seemingly neutral, questioning sexual identity. They find an ideal in the likewise neutral bodies of the early conceptual dance. Through the gradual changes in these choreographies and their unspectacular mode, they discover a model for thinking about gender diversity.

By far the most unconventional piece at the Platform was Christian Bakalov’s Pure /youth/ installation which took place in the Krasno Selo cultural hall on the outskirts of the city. Seeing was not the focus here – on the contrary, sight was canceled or reduced. My eyes as the spectators were covered up, and I was then entrusted to the guidance of young teenagers, who led me through a tactile labyrinth where the full perception of what was happening could hardly be reconstructed rationally. In the second part, I observed as the group of kids led other people to experience this personal sensual adventure. Through this reversal of perspective, I was able to reconstruct what had been happening to me beforehand. To me, the experience was indeed interesting, suggesting that a reduction of the ocularcentric perception makes us vulnerable and it is through vulnerability and trust that we can really sense things. Most striking, however, was the beautiful cooperation of the school children who were working as a team to make the experience happen for us – and forming a community in the process. The future seems to still be there somewhere, a bright dot in the dark.

The Bulgarian Platform featured a wide variety of performances, some of which hope to resonate locally, and others that strive to do so internationally. The most important thing is that there is a platform for exchange that connects and questions different perspectives, aspirations and outcomes. It is important that the cores don’t implode, and the contexts remain grounded. A platform like that is no doubt a step towards this goal, especially because it is a meeting place for both local and international artists.

“Goldberg Variations” Photo: Tom Callemin

It seems that the association of the Platform with the international Antistatic Festival, which brings some regional and international pieces to Sofia, is also a way to reflect on what is happening locally through an international lens. Some fairly interesting performances, predominantly from the Balkans, broadened the context from local to regional, the reality of the production circumstances in the region being similar to the one in Bulgaria. Perhaps the following statement will negate my initial criticism of the Western cultural neocolonialism, but here it is: for me, the highlight of the Antistatic was the only, or the only entirely Western European production, The Goldberg Variations by Michel Vandevelde. It is a strikingly beautiful piece which opens up space for different kinds of bodies and gives a renewed sense of joy to dancing. These are topics that some of the performances in the platform were dealing with too, but in this case the privileged working conditions made honesty possible. This is hardly a rule of thumb – privilege is rarely exploited in this way.

Belonging to the periphery myself, I imagine that for us, restaging the issues which do not belong to us will not bring us what we want. Remaining closed within our small (national) contexts will not either. Maybe we should keep searching for our core in the complexity of (whatever) relevant questions broader contexts will help us pose, if the future (of dance) is not to end.

Pia Brezavšček is one of the two editors-in-chief of Maska, performing arts journal, and also the editor of a discursive internet platform for local independent performing arts, www.neodvisni.art, from Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is an independent cultural worker, her work includes writing, editing and dramaturgy. She attended Antistatic Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance 2022 and the 3rd Bulgarian Dance Platform during her residency in Sofia within the project “(NON)ALIGNED MOVEMENTS Strengthening contemporary dance in Western Balkans / NAM” on invitation of  Nomad Dance Academy –Bulgaria.

 Cover photo: “Dance,baby, dance” Photo: Nataliya Sidorenko


The publication is supported by National Culture Fund.