Divinely grotesque: The blood of Lili Handel and Ivo Dimchev’s musical poetry at Dance Umbrella

Ivo Dimchev es uno de los artistas que más visibilidad ha obtenido en los últimos años en la escena europea. Sin embargo, no es fácil explicar el trabajo de Dimchev porque sus obras funcionan a diversos niveles. En primer lugar, su trabajo escénico tiene un impacto afectivo sobre el público que deriva de su presencia como intérprete. Aquí yace parte de la dificultad para describir sus piezas, porque hay cierta intensidad que emana directamente de su carisma. Por este motivo, y a pesar de que su trabajo no podría ser más diferente, no resulta inusual que los españoles que han visto el trabajo de Dimchev en el extranjero mencionen cierta semejanza con Angélica Liddell. Al igual que con la intérprete española, la intensidad de Dimchev no está fuera de control, sino que es algo que el performer modula a favor de cada pieza. Debido a este dominio técnico, ambos intérpretes comparten también cierto virtuosismo escénico.
A diferencia de Liddell, el trabajo de Dimchev se caracteriza, entre otros aspectos, por reflexionar de forma continua sobre el arte en sí. Por ejemplo, en una de sus obras con más éxito, “Lili Handel” (2005), el artista búlgaro crea un personaje andrógino y muy sexual que tiene algo de prostituta. De hecho, esta pieza lleva por subtítulo “blood, poetry and music from the white whore boudoir”. Según Dimchev, el subtítulo resume a la perfección la obra “porque es algo entre el arte de performance, el teatro y un concierto, y todo esto está representado en el cuerpo performativo, que es, en cualquier caso, una puta. Porque su deber es atraer la atención; es un cuerpo que se puede mirar, usar o comprar”. El paralelismo que traza entre el consumo estético y el consumo sexual llega a su paroxismo al final de Lili Handel, cuando Ivo Dimchev extrae sangre de sus venas y la vende al mejor postor entre el público. Como el personaje de Lili Handel es a la vez una obra de arte y una prostituta, es lógico que su cuerpo se venda en una subasta.

Lili Handel 11412270_10153454678496518_3481461166894217174_noffers you the chance to bring a little piece of the artwork (some drops of Dimchev’s blood) home. It’s a show that will not leave you indifferent – you will either love or hate it – and it is highly witty, entertaining, and never too obvious. In a minimal setting, Dimchev manages to transform the mundane into divine and grotesque images reflecting on the role of the performer, the viewer, the artwork and the object of art, all at once.

Lili Handel comes in from a side door, unsure on her/his black heels and singing an unknown opera aria. S/he wears only a pearl-decorated G-string and a short feather jacket. Her/his head is shaved, two small chains trickle down the temples like hair, and a white face and overly red lips complete the outfit. In the background a slowed-down voice sings. S/he sits on a once-elegant chair, crossing her/his legs, exposing most of the thigh (not that it could be covered anyway). Is it a woman? Hardly. A man? Maybe. A transvestite? Possibly, but more accurate would be to say all of them, as at the centre of the performance, rather than gender, is the body. And this becomes very clear as we watch mesmerised at the poetry in motion of Lili’s buttocks shimmy while s/he erupts in regular screams of “Party! Party!!” It is a party for her/him, as Dimchev enjoys performing for us. Like the chair Lili is sitting on, it is a tale of consumption that we are told (or rather shown), and it is the performing body we are feasting upon. Lili is at once consumed by her/his role of performer – at a certain point s/he asks a member of the audience if he wants to have a beer at the bar, as s/he does not find pleasure in performing any more, and her/his back aches from the unnatural, arched, pin-up-style positions s/he constantly adopts – and consumed as well by us, looking at his/her exposed body. Ours is a cultural and erotic feast. Highly crafted, with no detail spared, everything is exposed to the eye. Drowning in existential desperation, Lili is saved by streetwise, Dadaistic humour, while questioning our small habitudes and ticks. Are we not all performing, all the time?

Lili Handel is a series of tableaux with a pastiche of real and invented references. The show has all the elements of performance art: naked skin, talking, minimal movement, interaction with the audience, and blood. Copiously sweating and seated on the chair, Dimchev creates absurd images: we see him flirt with us, sensually caressing his leg, arching the back like an old star, and running with a cowboy hat, purposelessly, somewhere and nowhere. With pre-recorded and often distorted songs, either slowed down or generously up-tempo, he produces a continuum of vocalisations going from beautiful opera singing to the purring of a cat, but most often emitting opera-inspired noises. His light double entendres are naïve and obscene: we see him in a BDSM-inspired manège (when the ballet dancer moves in a circle around the stage’s edge), slapping his buttocks and doing split jumps while crying “ouch, you hurt me” and regularly checking if they are getting red.

Dimchev is constantly moving between the characters of starlet, transvestite and himself, identifying with none. He erodes the distance between performance and reality: he fakes a loss of interest in performing; he advises us to relax and enjoy something simple and beautiful as he is tickling our nose with a white gymnastics ribbon; he clinically pricks himself (no blood on stage) to sell a tiny bottle of his blood as a relic in an improvised auction (artists, it is known, go to any lengths for money). Cunningly, he questions the audience in the manner of a market survey: “What do you want to see? What should I perform? Give me a reason”. And as he gets his answer, he tiptoes back, giggling, singing “You Are My Sunshine”: complex pleasure.

The intricate poetic symbolism of the white lily – at once purity and eroticism, but also associated with the death of an innocent – and Handel, which besides being a famous German last name also means “trade”, perfectly fitting the piece and its obvious commoditisation of the performative body. Lili Handel does not have a gender, and neither does it have a genre. It rests somewhere between butoh, performance art and burlesque, being all and none. It is a red-lipped, grinning Dimchev gingerly tiptoeing back and forth between the genres. But does it really need to be captured in a definition? And anyway, where does reality end and performance start? Texto: Katja Vaghi · http://ivodimchev.com