By Elizabeth Chambers
Spaces of Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, are redefined during ‘When We First Met’ – a reflective mobile dance performance. The performance, put on by Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre, thrives on the notion of introspection within a throbbing city. Participants listen to a recorded personal tour that leads them across the intersecting city streets. Accompanied by a guide (who also listens to the recording), the participant receives a comprehensive poetic description of his or her surroundings. Quindell Orton, who co-established AIVDT in 2006, says “we want to use the natural settings of a city to give people a certain experience and take care of them for a period of time.” With just a pair of headphones and the city as the stage, a narrative unfolds.
The tour begins at the spray-paint- coated walls of Centar Medika’s outside lot. Wires intersect overhead, suspending an array of dangling sneakers. A green leather couch sits lonely in a corner, stained with etches of black and silver sharpie. When exiting the lot, the participant is saluted by an army of flying gold bears painted upon wooden panels. A soft Australian-accented voice comes over the speaker: “do you ever wonder about the cities we live in?” she asks. She proceeds to guide the participant out of the lot and, ultimately, around the city.
Trams are likened to “a blue team of centipedes scuttling across the street.” Window boxes “vomit out green tongues.” Concrete “skin peels away revealing checkerboards of bricks.” City spaces are resuscitated and begin to breathe. The listener is gradually absorbed into the personifying narrative.
An aspect of the tour that first goes unrecognized but later becomes evident is the eerie presence of a figure – a dancer. The dancer is Serena Chalker, second founder of AIVDT. At the beginning of the tour she appears as a woman reading a book – mistaken to be a citizen of Zagreb. However, as her presence continues throughout the journey, the participant begins to notice her reappearance, and thus, significance. She looms twirling behind glass panels and at the end of dark tunnels. Her reflection is seen dancing in mirrored surfaces. We learn that her presence tells a story. For, every time she appears, the recording stops to reflect upon an emotion – an emotion that is paired with assimilation into a new city.
The soft voice returns 50 minutes into the tour, as the participant is left where he or she started at the entrance of Centar Medika. “You wonder what happens when the city dissipates and scatters into a thousand different directions,” she says.
‘When We First Met’ takes contemporary dance off the stage and inserts it into a city scene, inviting a change of perspective. A sector of The Festival of Alternative Theatrical Expression, this performance is one of many cultural immersion opportunities offered annually in Zagreb.