Baardeman

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Flare Festival at HOME, Manchester.

7 July 2017.

By Simon De Winne/Tibaldus as part of Flare International Festival of New Theatre.

Out of the darkness, the outline of Simon De Winne dancing comes in to focus. We can hear the effort in his amplified breathing and he moves around the space expansively and with abandon. The lights come up gradually and he keeps dancing – in just his trunks. He is broad built, with long shaggy hair, a big beard and slightly hairy chest. A bison tattoo on his right arm is his only adornment. He moves with enthusiasm but lacks precision or grace.

Now wearing a t-shirt and shorts he settles in to a routine. Sitting on a bench to the side of the stage he listens to a piece of music and once it has ended will respond to it with a sequence of movements. One section involves him moving hurriedly across the stage. Forward and back, arms wide or high, waving wildly or twisting around. Facing towards us, unashamed.

Next time he covers his face with both hands as if in despair. Then sits on the floor with his hands in an open posture – offering us something or clutching an imaginary cherished item. Or finally, lying on his back with one hand slightly extended upward – dignified, calm and still.

There are sections where the individual gestures and movements are repeated and subsequently re-ordered. He never speaks. The most we hear is his laboured breathing when exerting himself. His dance is expressive and often intense. It may not be underpinned by technique but it feels honest and raw. At one point a light on wheels slowly travels across the stage towards the audience. Its spotlight traverses De Winne as he sits quietly, occasionally squinting in its glare.

Some classical music introduces an emotional human voice. After contemplating it for a while he gets up and moves gracefully and carefully. Letting the emotion in the singer’s voice take hold, he slowly traces outlines of himself – around his body, to the side of his groin and across his face. He gently grips folds of flesh on his stomach and his arms. Stripped down to his shorts again – he seems at one with his body. Appearing now to gain pleasure from the way his body feels as it moves. He sensually rolls the backs of his hands over his face – moments of indulgent intimacy.

Glistening with sweat he sits down again on his bench. To a soundtrack of male voices, guttural and determinedly chanting, De Winne rests quietly and contentedly as the lights go down to dark. It was a man dancing. Was he seeking to capture our attention and challenge our perception of who he is? Or was it a transformative experience for De Winne – a ritualistic act of coming into being? It could be both, but in achieving the former he also leaves us hoping whole-heartedly that it is primarily the latter.

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