CAC Hosts Bulgarian Singer/Artist Ivo Dimchev

In his Cincinnati debut, the multi-hyphenate radical performer will offer songs composed for his stage shows and recent album

Dec 7, 2017 at 5:25 pm
click to enlarge Ivo Dimchev has recently sold out concerts in Bulgaria, Berlin and London. - PHOTO: Provided
PHOTO: Provided
Ivo Dimchev has recently sold out concerts in Bulgaria, Berlin and London.

Ivo Dimchev comes to the Contemporary Arts Center on Wednesday almost an unknown here. Elsewhere, especially in Europe, the Bulgarian performance artist/singer/dancer/choreographer/photographer/visual artist/gay activist is renown.

And actually, he does have his fans here. Dimchev's parents, as well as his sister and her family, live in Cincinnati. But he has only visited them once, for a few days three years ago. So the Bulgarian has no knowledge of Cincinnati's somewhat problematic past concerning controversial art. As Dimchev's previous 30-odd stage productions featured nudity and militant sexual and social messages, it seems appropriate to raise the question: Might he be too daring? He has a ready answer.

“I'm not provocative anymore. I used to be,” he says, with a laugh. “Now I'm just a nice, audience-friendly singer. I'm a radical now only in the transformation from being contemporary to being conventional. I didn't have such a big audience with my contemporary radical work, but now it's growing really fast. The concerts in Bulgaria, Berlin and London were sold out.

“Since I started writing songs, it's opened me up to a completely other audience. I get letters from parents who tell me they put their children to sleep with my songs. It's shocking actually, because I usually hear the opposite, that they have to protect their children from me.”

Dimchev's concert here, for which he will sing to backing tracks, features original songs from his album Sculptures as well as from past stage productions. In a Pop/Rock context, Dimchev's operatic vocals would be name-checked along with the likes of Antony and the Johnsons, Sam Smith, Bryan Ferry and Sparks' Russell Mael. Not that any of them had a direct impact on Dimchev's evolution as a singer — he barely listened to music growing up, other than legends like Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.

“I think it's just typical gay singing,” Dimchev says of his vocal stylings. “That's why I am similar to artists who are not afraid, as I am not afraid to allow my feminine energy to take over my voice when I'm singing, to be kind and fragile, which is considered something feminine. I think being gay probably allows me to access this part of my energy.”

Prior to 2011, Dimchev's performances had not included singing. Since then, he has incorporated more vocal pieces into his performances. Although Dimchev received vocal training during his extensive artistic schooling, including getting a master’s at Amsterdam's DasArts Academy, he never really explored that creative facet.

“I've been 15 to 20 years so busy in the field of contemporary dance and theater performance (that) I didn't pay attention to my voice,” Dimchev says. “I was more busy with the dramaturgical complexity of the topics I was dealing with, so the songs I made up were just ornaments to my work. I was in theater school between 14 and 18 and I was told I had a great voice and to take it more seriously.

“When I graduated in my 20s, I took lessons with opera teachers, but I was unhappy. I found it very oppressive — too many rules, what's good, what's bad, what's appropriate. It was extremely boring to me so I gave it up. But I must have developed my voice through dance and physical theater for many years, without my being conscious of it.”

For years, Dimchev used his musical interludes as a relief valve for the tension in his heavily messaged and very physical theater performances. Eventually, he concluded that the songs he had tossed in as icebreakers served a valuable purpose on their own.

“I was using music as a tool to balance and regulate the dynamics in the show, but I never took it seriously,” Dimchev says. “When I looked back, I saw that I had 16 little songs and I put them together in one evening to see if they could survive by themselves. It happened that they feel quite comfortable out of those shows.”

“But as I just had the songs (without) all the dramatic complexity and choreography, I had to take care of my singing,” he says. “I realize I can actually sing pretty well, which was a surprise to me and to the people who know me as a performer and choreographer.”

IVO DIMCHEV performs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown. Tickets are $10 and available at contemporaryartscenter.org.