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On Kitchen - A bittersweet performance

On a rainy Sunday evening, the 27th November, I jumped in my car and drove towards the HRC Culinary Academy of Sofia. I was going to watch Kosta Karakashyan and Antonia Georgieva’s work Kitchen: a site specific and “immersive” performance, that “recreates the intense atmosphere and psychological tension in a professional kitchen before the food reaches our tables”. Even though I go to the theatre quite often, I realised that it rarely happened to me here in Bulgaria to attend site specific dance performances. Therefore, I was even more thrilled and curious about the upcoming event, also because I hadn’t seen a work by Kosta in a long time. I got to know him at ballet classes, here in Sofia, and had the chance to watch his dance performance The Effort Trap and his short film Waiting for colour, which deals with the persecution of gay people in Chechnya. In fact, besides working in the field of dance as a director, choreographer, dancer, and writer, he is also an LGBTQ+ activist.

Once inside the academy, an elegant woman wearing sunglasses, a fur coat and high heels led me and the other seven members of the audience in the restoration area of the academy, modern and cosy, where we took seats. Behind the bar, a blond young guy, dressed as a waiter, was pouring prosecco in glasses.

Kitchen. Photo by Boris Urumov
He was the famous Bulgarian chef Alexander Tsekoff, and with his serving wine to us, our culinary-performative itinerary began. The music was low and ambient, lights were warm and the atmosphere relaxed. A cameraman was filming the scene. 

It felt a bit like being on the set of a TV studio for a culinary program like Masterchef.

While toasting to each other, we were distributed a peculiar menu, whose options were: “Starters: Black & White. Main course: Black & White”.

Kitchen. Photo by Boris Urumov
We had the opportunity to interact with the chef and discuss the alternatives, which made us actors, besides spectators, but in practice we did not have a choice. Was this a reference to the reality shows, where you see a certain reality, that in fact is fully staged? Were we taking part in a dinner with murder? Anyhow, the chef made sure to provide us with the best option: he professionally took the orders and soon cloche-covered plates were brought on our tables. When the covers were removed, we found out that, instead of a meal, we were served a pair of (black) headphones connected to a radio. An indication to savour music, instead of food, and pay attention to the sense of hearing. 

With the headphones on, listening to jazzy upbeat music, we stood up and continued our journey through the different rooms of the academy, following Alexander’s steps. For the rest of the performance, we walked through corridors, stayed inside kitchens, peeped inside pantries full of supplies or dishwashers rooms. But the journey we embarked on was not only physical, but also internal: we witnessed the chef’s sentimental troubles, insecurities, and especially his relationships with the other characters. Indeed, other four performers, in cooks’ and waiters’ outfits, populated the kitchen.

Kitchen. Photo by Boris Urumov
In the first dance scene they were gathered around a working table, doing different sequences that recalled the cooking gestures: chopping, lighting fires, spreading spices, or rolling dough. Their movements were repetitive and hectic, as if they were pushed by time or by demanding customers’ requests. Having worked in a kitchen myself during my university years, I could relate to the stress due to sudden demands, clients complaining for the delay or for a forgotten detail, and the need to be 100% present to be efficient and not fall behind. Another aspect I noticed in regards to the movements is that they showed a very virtuosic technique, in my opinion even going over the top, with high jumps, hand standing, kicks with very high legs and spectacular lifts. However, I then thought that besides an aesthetic choice, which is always legitimate, this could be a metaphor of their excellent skills in the kitchen and their need to show off in the restoration sphere, where the search for perfection and affirmation is very prominent. 

Kitchen. Photo by Boris Urumov
The choreographies varied, solos and duets alternated with ensemble sequences. We spectators experienced the piece from various points of views, either being very close to the performers, or observing them from above, through a glass, or reflected in the windows of the adjacent room, as if we could see reality and relationships from different perspectives. They showed us, through an expressive vocabulary, a wide spectrum of emotions and values: love, friendship, fun, sadness, discouragement. Alexander’s character often looked oppressed. He acted for the most part as a solitary figure, either rejected, isolated or hurt by other colleagues. It seemed he wanted to escape the cuisine world, give up this job, as the relationships in this field were tough to maintain. On a lighter side, though, I also saw positive interactions: knowing looks expressed the will to cooperate, smiles and sequences in unison showed the joy of working together and being a team. On this upper note we concluded the journey, back to the restoration room. 


There we were served a fancy and delicious dessert, which disclosed the other senses: touch, smell and -dulcis in fundo- taste. In Italian we use this Latin expression that stands for “last but not least”, but its literal meaning is: “the sweet (part) in the end”! Trying this dessert was in fact a sweet, shorter, journey into different flavours (delicacy, robustness, sourness) and consistencies (the softness of the mousse, the crunchiness of the salted caramel, the liquidness of the special red cream). A journey full of contrasts. That is the meaning I gave to “Black and white”: contrasts of flavour, at work, inside ourselves. Maybe the fact that “Black and white” was listed not only as a starter, but also as a main course was in place to underline that contrasts are something present at each stage of a dinner, life or career. As Kosta Karakashyan said at an interview: “A person cannot be just on their light side nor on their dark side, and we are most real when we can give every appearance of ourselves a chance”.

Kitchen. Photo by Boris Urumov
It made me think of a comparison between the jobs in the restoration field and the ones in the performing arts field: when you are serving meals in the dining room as a waiter, as well as when you are onstage as a dancer or actor, you are required to be perfect, to present your best, and to hide or mask if something is not all right. On the contrary, the kitchen is sort of a backstage, where relationships are real, contrasts do take place and you often show your darker inner part.
Kitchen chooses to present this thorny aspect of a chef or a performer’s life through a multi sensorial and dynamic approach. It is up to each spectator to participate in it, saviour the present and search for their Black & White.


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