It’s Saturday night at Chisenhale Dance Space and we’re here to see Som Faves by Bulgarian choreographer and singer-songwriter Ivo Dimchev. Internationally renowned for his extreme and colourful mixture of live art, music and dance-theatre, Dimchev has authored over 30 performances, exhibitions and concerts in the past 20 years. I saw him recently on Britain’s Got Talent impressing Simon Cowell with seductive song and sculptural choreography. No wonder Som Faves is sold out – it’s an award-winning solo created in 2009 which has toured to critical acclaim around the world.
We’re in an intimate studio space and Dimchev sits centre-stage playing keyboard. He’s having a conversation about his mother – with himself, or an alter ego: ‘If you want me to be your mother you have to do something. / If you want me to be your mother you have to go to theatre.’
Behind him, there’s a painting on the wall and a clothes rail. Beside him a wooden cat is decorated with gaffer tape stripes. It’s domestic kitsch. Dimchev is dressed like a schoolboy popstar in shorts and boots with shirt unbuttoned and tied at the waist. Arms and torso are tattooed with painted symbols and his hair is neatly parted with shaved back and sides. He’s an original, yet I get whiffs of Queen, Madonna and – with those cheeks bones and doe eyes – Johnny Depp.
Dimchev has compiled a list of 100 subjects, objects and people close to his heart, and Som Faves is a performance based on this material, rearranged afresh each time. It is presented as a cabaret of seemingly incoherent topics which Dimchev conjures to life through lyrical incantation, tongue-in-cheek provocation and live blood-taking.
He flirts with an invisible friend. They argue. ‘Fuck you/ No fuck you/ Thank you for fucking me!’ He’s coy, he’s cocky. He talks about art, playfully agitating around its edges: he exhibits a secondhand painting of children’s TV animation Dora the Explorer, upside down. ‘Respect…. Respect… Respect ART!!’ he commands in a crescendo of operatic growling, posing with the picture before tossing it aside.
From charity shop art to self-promotion: Dimchev auctions merchandise, t-shirts he’s designed and an encyclopaedic book documenting his life’s work. He repeatedly upends his own conventions. He gets upset with the cat: ‘Why won’t you eat, what’s wrong with my food?’ he chants with a whining drawl.
Suddenly Dimchev removes his hair – it’s a toupee! Pushing it inside out he sticks it back on his head, perched like the electrocuted comb of a cockerel. Then he begins to sing – jaw open, chest resonant – a song about blood on his face. It’s a vocal highway along which he shudders and keens, growls, shimmers and trills. Thrilling and visceral there are echoes of Anohni from Antony and the Johnsons and Kate Bush. Dimchev’s voice is his transformer, his choreography, a portal to another dimension. He’s a broken lover with his heart upon his sleeve, a shaman – and we’re spellbound. ‘My blood is talking to your blood,’ he sings and mine calls back.
Throughout Som Faves, Dimchev shuffles between form and content, striking a signature balance of formal ambiguity. As he traverses art and death, love and consumerism, irony is a frame through which he invites us into his world.
When he asks if we think his work is ‘choreography’ or ‘song’ it’s a trick question. Whilst he’s referred to previous choreographic styles, we’ve not yet seen him ‘dance.’ Most raise their hands for ‘song,’ but when he counts us up Dimchev decides we’ve voted ‘choreography.’ And why not? His work raises questions about categorising contemporary performance which deconstructs and reasserts itself; meanwhile, Dimchev is defining his own style.
He then quite simply takes a needle and injects it into his arm, drawing blood which he squirts over his face. It’s raw, risky and I wince, excited as he launches into the finale – reprising the song from earlier about blood on his face. Tragic-comic with blood dripping down his cheeks, Dimchev weaves impressions from the night into an operatic lullaby, leaving us with an intimate portrait of the artist as we bid him farewell.
Dimchev is a rare and curious star. I sincerely hope his light will shine on these Brexit shores more often.