“What kind circulation between countries, let alone continents, is there after a pandemic? Who is involved, who is excluded? Can we slow down the pace, change direction, without cancelling?” Hanna Parry, artistic director of Baltic Circle Festival, reflects on the question of international exchange during the outbreak of the global pandemic. The article was originally published on the website of Goethe-Institut.
When the pandemic hit in Finland, I was at the international theatre festival MITsp – Mostra Internacional de Teatro de São Paulo – in Brazil along with thirty festival directors, curators and producers. Three minibuses full of white Europeans from 13 different countries aged between 30 and 60, travelling for work. “We are Covid-19” a Portuguese colleague cried out in disbelief.
It was rumoured that the borders would close soon. While our calls were in a queue for airline customer service, a handful of Brazilian artists chosen from a couple of hundred applicants got the opportunity to present their work to us the doorkeepers to the stages of Europe. Until the state theatres in Brazil were closed.
Three months later I got a message from São Paulo, remembering the last performance which I had seen in March and planned to take to Finland. In the meantime, the pandemic has managed to test Brazil to the limit, while Team Finland stars in the Covid-19 world championship of media reports on the virus. The distance between us has grown.
What kind circulation between countries, let alone continents, is there after a pandemic? Who is involved, who is excluded? Can we slow down the pace, change direction, without cancelling?
Performing arts do not fit on screen: that cuts facial expressions, gestures, tones, movements and attention. Performance happens in moments between people that are never the same again. The internet is filled with attempts to maintain operations and momentum, but alongside film, theatre recordings look awkward and the distance between online festival and your sofa at home is exhausting. There is a yearning for shared experiences, exchange between humans, touch, festival energy, the potential that sharing has to make people realize, feel and realign.
The body carries contradictions, sorrows and relief at works called off and put off, withdrawn premières, constraints, layoffs and lack of information. You can see it in the field of performing arts and probably in performances that are now being created with the human and financial resources under pandemic pressure.
But the halt that the pandemic called us to, creates hope. It is finally time to stop, think and listen. Keep track of what’s emerging, agree on uncertain and fumbling attempts to look for new forms, sustainable routes and more equal ways of sharing.
Baltic Circle is 20 years old this year, at the end of an era of the international theatre festival as we know it. This year it does not feel right to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, because the only hope is that the fire will not go out.