Soft Spot – Voiceless Dance With No Face
The experimental show Soft Spot by Slovak dancers Martina Hajdyla, Soňa Ferienčíková, and Hungarian choreographer Adrienn Hód is a highly abstract piece, which denies the myth of the dance aesthetics and slightly immerses in the questions about the human body, qualities, personality traits, and the meaning of facial expressions and gestures.
In his column, Josef Bartoš has recently contemplated how a dance experience is changed when an artist’s face is covered with a mask; in Soft Spot, Hajdyla and Ferienčíková take this discussion to a whole new level. From the beginning to the end, performers use a piece of black cloth to cover their faces as well as their heads.
The new piece with Adrienn Hód’s concept should be seen as an experiment on dancers and the audience. And it is the audience that is influenced most by dancers’ obscured faces. We cannot see performers’ faces, thus it is impossible to identify with them, read their emotions, feel empathetic or figure out their character, although they move all around the stage for nearly 90 minutes. I cannot even tell the two dancers apart.
Adrienn Hód, the author of the idea and choreographer, perfectly matched here theses. The relations between the face, motion and gestures seem to be fatal, the one without the other communicates only halfway. This may be the reason why it is not easy or enjoyable to watch Soft Spot. Anonymous figures entice daunting feelings underpinned by creaky and cacophonic electronic music. Not even the movement of the duo seems to look aesthetic, they focus on the inner feelings of the dancers who keep seeking and thinking for themselves. Or this feeling may be enticed by their obscured faces.
Hajdyla, in particular, embarks in positions that are physically unpleasant to watch as she employs her hypermobility and flexibility. For instance, she puts her legs over her head in a way evoking the dislocation of the lower part of the body. You cannot see a single movement, which would be synchronous or aesthetic. Soft Spot is all about fragile search, not big expression towards viewers.
The audience could move freely during the performance as there was no right place from where they could watch what was happening on the stage of the Ponec Theatre. After initial shyness in the intensively lit room, some people took a chance. Many understood the light square drawn around the performers as a boundary line, some dared to cross it and enter the epicenter. Even this was an experiment of its kind, which slightly put the Czech audience in motion, who is usually rather resistant to demonstrations during the performance and calls for participation. Due to the free distribution of viewers all around the room, the piece gave the impression of a happening rather than a classical production.
The author played with people’s imagination about theatre and how it should look at the very end when there was no gesture signaling it was the right time to leave the stage. The audience guessed the moment for ovations, but both women remained motionless instead of bowing. Some viewers went home slowly, others were still waiting whether they would miss something. Hód opened the discussion on gestures, expressions and motion stereotypes representing something that helps us with orientation in everyday life. We are confused without them and our behavior is getting complicated.
The choreographer also promised to look for the soft spot, the subtle and vulnerable spot in all of us. Although the piece gives a rough impression on the outside and forms a visually and emotionally hostile environment, the dancers’ search through soft gestures and motions is rather delicate. The search for one’s weaknesses is ignored in the abstract narrative, maybe because we cannot see women’s faces. This provokes a question: Is the face our vulnerable spot?
Written at the premiere on 10 March 2022, Ponec Theatre.
Choreography: Adrienn Hód
Production and interpretation: Martina Hajdyla, Soňa Ferienčíková
Music composer: Ábris Gryllus
Dramaturgy: Ármin Szabó-Székely
Movement assistance: Márcio Kerber Canabarro
Visual assistance: Mária Júdová
Costumes: Lucia Škandíková
Light design: Tomáš Morávek
Technical support: Daniel Kozlík
Translation: Eliška Špilarová
The Czech version of this review was published on 25 March 2022.