Pepeliste/ NATFA

The introductory scene of Bulgarian aesthetically appealing dance performance skillfully reveals a search for love and intimacy as one of its main themes: a young woman (Ivana Puncheva) and a young man (Martin Spasov) standing in intense proximity and physically and facially opposing each other on a stripped stage. The micro-scene ends with a silent face slap, the sound design (repetitive whispers and murmurs) suggests either psychological turmoil or some mystical presence, and it is clear to us this is a turbulent love story told via the language of corporeality and movement. The author’s and directorial vision belongs to Aleksandar Mandzhukov, who managed to weave the individual artistic threads of the spectacle into a whole. The rivalry between two brothers (Spasov and Georgiev), the mad passion, the unrequited love, and issues dealing with morality could thematically be linked to angry-young-men Sturm und Drang movement, and particularly to the last of its representatives, German playwright Schiller, and his play Robbers. The performers (5 of them in total) are students, ie. 4th-year graduates, in the specialty of Dance theater at NATFA but all seem professionally mature and well prepared. Music (Dobromir Kisyov) is stylistically diverse and plays one of the lead roles in setting the context and taking care of the overall rhythm. The sound of the church bells, the clock, and the gong are primarily used to announce new scenes but they also create a sense of urgency and the approaching of the unknown, which adds to the performance’s mystical undertones. Mandzhukov’s universe is not clearly defined, it is only partially immersed in realism and could be happening either in the past or in some post-apocalyptic future. The wooden dome is the central element of scenography (Kiril Naumov) and it seems to both literally and symbolically separate the brothers’ micro-cosmos from the outside forces; it is both a shelter and a cage. Inside the dome is a multi-functional metal piece resembling a seesaw and being a clever way of visually displaying relationship (im-)balance. Male jackets resembling frock coats (done by Kiril Naumov) in the second part of the performance hint at Victorian era, knighthood (but without armor!) or perhaps baroque, while the female costumes are mostly translucent, and share a fairy-like aesthetic (there are 3 female dancers, and fairies, just like the witches, often come in threes in fairytales and myths). There is a certain lightness of movement and touch in the dance of the female performers, which contrasts with the male one, which is domineering and emphasizes bodily stature and physical strength. Clothing materials were also used as a human leash, meant to portray unequal power relation, or to cover the female dancers’ faces that would, as the intimacy within the relationship progressed, be revealed. The performance seems to rely a lot on playing with the opposites, and the interchange of blue and red dome lights supports this concept: there is a contrast between the male and the female principle, between the principles the brothers embody, between the creative and destructive forces, and between the outside world and the one within the borders of the dome. Scenes of conflict are usually followed by slow-paced intimate ones, which works well for the dynamics and the dramaturgy of the whole. There are, however, over-used motifs failing to push the plot forward that somewhat disturb this flow. Pepelishte (which could be roughly translated as an Ashtray, or Ashes, perhaps referring to the mythological rebirth after a period of destruction or unhappiness, at least for one of the protagonists) is an intimate non-verbal portrayal of a man’s deepest need for connection. Some emotions can only be danced through.

AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic