What I Saw


After a last minute change of venue and the apparent lack of the backing musicians promised by the festival’s program, Ivo Dimchev’s concert commenced. As the audience climbed the stairs to the third story of the City Art Gallery in Varna, we could hear Ivo’s baritone-cum-counter-tenor echoing throughout the cavernous room, where he accompanied himself with just a keyboard. This was the end of a long evening; having just seen 2 performances previously, I found Ivo’s concert to slightly overextend its welcome, but my sense is that I was among the minority here, as the audience was stacked with zealous Ivo Dimchev fans who did not display a shred of exasperation. After the concert, Ivo spent no less than 30 minutes taking selfies with a long line of adoring fans. Further, he’s been regularly presenting vocal concerts all around the world with great success, so he must be on to something.


All this to say: good for Ivo Dimchev! Ivo is one of my favorite performing artists working today - except he’s no longer making the kind of work I’ve come to fawn over. I spoke with him for a bit after the performance about his transition from radical, ironic, and grotesque ‘theatrical’ works to working more or less exclusively (and sincerely) as a songwriter and singer. His new work as a musician is different in nature from his previous work, though it inhabits some of the same aesthetics. Just view his performance from the X-Factor UK or search “Ivo Dimchev” on YouTube to get a sense of his music. I assure you - even if it’s not for your palate - it’s unlike anything you’ve listened to on the radio lately. 


He told me that working as a performing artist and crafting more theatrical work no longer interests him; he gets paid the same whether there’s 10 or 100 people in the audience, whereas music and its sale is more directly tied into per capita consumption. Simply put, he feels he’s gone as far as he can as a performance artist, finding ‘contemporary art’ as he said, to be easier than music. The risk (and dare I say the capitalism) of a music career excites him. That’s not to say he’s making a lot of money from his music; he admitted that he’ll still occasionally travel to European City X to show one of his older theatrical pieces for the paycheck.


The comfort Ivo seems to have experienced in Europe as a performance artist is virtually unheard of in the United States - even for artists with as much (or more) relative notoriety and critical success as Ivo. Nothing more than this highlights the wide disparity between the European and American theatrical infrastructure; to simply be able to rely on a regular (if small) paycheck for their artistic output would be a boon to every performance practitioner working in the United States, yet in Bulgaria, Ivo finds himself forsaking his 15-year career as a performance-maker precisely because of that stability!


No doubt, Ivo still has an eye for high aesthetics, performing dolled up in make-up and a wig, blurring the line between reality and constructions by adorning his body with similarly styled authentic and faux tattoos. His virtuosic stage presence is what initially seduced me when I saw his performance Fest in 2015 at Abrons Art Center in Lower Manhattan, and he certainly doesn’t forsake these gifts in his new endeavors - wonderfully responsive to his audience and deeply committed to remaining ‘in-the-moment’ during performance. Witnessing Ivo’s concert is a meditative and worthwhile experience; between losing himself in found lyrics adapted to haunting, idiosyncratic melodies or his original songs, Ivo openly and sincerely connects with his audience, infusing an otherwise austere art-concert with humanity and levity.