CONCEPT AND REALIZATION: CHRISTIAN BAKALOV
MUSIC AND SCENOGRAPHY: CHRISTIAN BAKALOV
TECHNICAL CONSULTANT: RUMEN KALCHEV
ASSISTANTS: TATYANA PETROVA, DEMIR BERISHA
COSTUMES: CHRISTIAN BAKALOVA
COSTUME ASSISTANT: VENETA STOYANOVA
CAST: ANTONYA NIKOLOVA, VESELIN DASKALOV, VENETA STOYANOVA, ALEXANDRA SPASOVA, SASHA KRASTARSKA, NIKOLA MIHOV, MILENA DIMITROVA, ISKRA PRODANOVA
FROM CHRISTIAN BAKALOV
What I Saw
The third part of a trilogy of performative installations from Christian Bakalov inspired by Spinoza’s concept of eternity (that eternity does not refer to an infinite temporal duration but rather a timelessness that re-focuses on the present moment), Eternal is the closest I’ve yet come to experiencing the sensations of birth and death as a conscious creature. It was truly a singular experience, and in what follows, I do my very best to recount it for you.
One among a group of three for our showing, I meet outside a theatre and am led on a short walk by two Bulgarian children, singing along to whatever music is piped into their headphones. Surely this musical choice is curated, and in my group, one of the girls mumbled the lyrics to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” I, with my lack of Bulgarian language skills, and my mates for this journey, with their lack of English language skills, found a peculiar moment of connection when we all started singing along to the song with our young tour guide.
As soon as theatre takes to the streets, I find my attention and observation skills amplify as the distinction between ‘theatre’ and ‘reality’ dissolves. Is that solitary red flower emerging from an unmanicured spot of dirt intentional? Are those two muscular men going to kidnap me as I walk by? My perception is on high-alert to parse the theatrical from the quotidian and the staged from the happenstance. But alas, none of this is the ‘performance.’
The children lead us to a park bench situated inside an indoor skatepark. They seat us, remove my hat and glasses, clip an iPod shuffle to my sleeve, pop earbuds in my ear, and strap me into a set of homemade goggles made of semi-opaque plastic that obscure my vision. Ambient, cosmic electronic music plays into the headphones. I can perceive light and its perturbations through these goggles and the blurred-out forms of moving shapes.
A hand grasps mine, stands me up, and leads me through the experience, which has only just begun. I imagine that a lot of choreographic effort went into generating precisely the right kind of touch for this experience, for the hands holding me are reassuring and confident without being controlling or domineering, and I immediately relinquish my trust to them.
The hands on my shoulders slowly Iead me through a series of rooms where plastic sheeting surrounds me and mylar streamers hang from the ceiling (I could deduce this by touch). Fragmented, almost liquid patterns of light and shape is all I can perceive, and it’s a beautiful experience. I’m laid down on a table and a cardboard box encases my head. It’s dark. Is this death, I wonder? Slowly, light begins to take shape. Then, I’m stood up, and the hands lead me outside into the blazing sun. My hand is met with a new hand, the goggles are removed, and I’m standing face-to-face with an old Bulgarian woman sitting in a plastic lawn chair - myself, my two co-travelers, and the old woman holding hands in a circle.
She tells us her name is Christian Bakalov, and shares a story about her father in World War II before leading us through the installation, de-mystifying the experience we had just moments ago. To clarify, this old woman is not Christian Bakalov. Christian is a fairly young accomplished contemporary dance artist, and he’s a male. But in the moment, I believe her, even though I know otherwise. She escorts us to a back room where three different generations of people are sleeping, telling us that if we really want to learn to see, we have to stop just casually looking and learn to watch. She instructs us in performing a ritual wherein you rub your palms together until you generate a nice ball of friction heat, hold your palms on your eyes until the heat dissipates, slowly withdraw your palms to your lap and then slowly open your eyes. This ritual, she tells us, will help us to see better, and there’s no better way to see anew than by looking at a sleeping person. She asks us to do this ritual again and contemplate the sleeping figures before us. I do, and when I open my eyes, she’s gone.
It was a gorgeous and individual experience, and I’ve strived to convey this sensorial smorgasbord as best I can. There was something precious and otherworldly about it and ‘making sense’ of it would dilute that. Suffice it to say that Christian Bakalov helped me forget myself for an hour and to live fully in my experience; this is something toward which I’m always reaching but am rarely successful, so for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.