Dimchev arrived in a worn denim jacket, checkered sweatpants and a sequined “NY” cap. His assistant followed closely behind, carrying an amplifier and microphone on one stand. “I’m thinking of a soft acoustic concert tonight,” Dimchev told me. He scanned the surroundings for a suitable scene and his eyes lit up when he spotted the brown sofa in my living room, against a background of floral wallpaper. Then, turning to his assistant, he asked, “Should I put on the blonde or red wig?”
Dimchev has a small mustache on a round, open face, and his appearance is somewhat reminiscent of both Johnny Depp and Super Mario. Dotted lines, like the stitches on a rag doll, are tattooed in the center of her shaved head and chest, and on the sides of her neck. There is something almost puppet about his carefree manner – until it happens, coming alive and offering resistance to the world.
He sat on my couch, with his keyboard in his lap, and started playing “Overrated”, a simple and melancholy number written in English, about two lovers on the other side of a wall – something thing like the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, with a twist. “I’m going to build a wall between your heart and mine because it’s over, it’s overrated, this love,” he sang. This is one of my favorites; I was transported. Dimchev played for about forty minutes and by the end I was a ball of tears and laughter. I hadn’t felt so cheerful or happy since the start of the pandemic. When Dimchev left, I offered him Banitsa, which my mother had specially prepared for the occasion. He told me he was on a diet, but gladly accepted. “He’s one of the best banitsas I tasted it, he said, nibbling. I took it as a very big compliment.
In March, after taking my first photo of COVID-19, I visited Dimchev in his private club and recording studio, a former snack bar in Banishora, a working-class neighborhood in northwestern Sofia. The eclectic interior was in keeping with its omnivorous aesthetic: a psychedelic patterned sofa, a Persian rug, artificial plants, a pair of antlers adorned with a curly wig. At one end of the studio stood a well-stocked bar; at the other, a white upright piano surrounded by lights and microphones, in front of sumptuous red curtains and damask wallpaper. It looked like the setting for a David Lynch movie. While Dimchev and I were talking, his assistant at the time, a nineteen-year-old named David, tattooed Dimchev’s right calf with stars.
Dimchev describes art as a space in which he can “create my own story to be free”. Growing up gay in Sofia, he was abused by his homophobic classmates; a group of metalheads once locked him in a room and insanely beat him. He found solace in music. An extrovert child, he sang for his friends and often made them cry. In 1989, when the Bulgarian communist regime fell, Dimchev, then thirteen, enrolled in a youth theater club run by director Nikolai Georgiev, a disciple of avant-garde theater practitioner Jerzy. Grotowski. Georgiev introduced Dimchev to a different kind of theater, more radical, uncluttered and focused on the voice and physical presence of an actor, and on blurring the line between the stage and the audience. In his twenties, Dimchev enrolled at the National Academy of Theater and Film Arts in Sofia, but the institution’s Stanislavskian approach seemed restrictive and he left six months later. Two years later, he presented his own show at the National Theater. Yet he found the Bulgarian art scene parochial and conservative, and sought his fortune on more cosmopolitan stages.
Over the next decade and a half he created some thirty-five productions, asserting himself on the avant-garde theater and dance scene and performing at festivals in Vienna, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles. and in cities around the world. In one of his most acclaimed productions, “Lili Handel (Blood, Poetry and Music from the White Whore’s Boudoir)”, he plays an aging androgynous diva, who spends much of the show mostly naked, desperately trying to reveal its glorious past. . In the end, she draws a vial of her own blood and sells it to the public’s highest bidder. “Dimchev understands ‘performance’ in the broadest possible terms,” commented a reviewer of the show in the Financial Time wrote. “It is anything you do to feel alive.” In another show, “The P-Project”, Dimchev sits in front of a dragging piano and asks viewers to take the stage and perform everything from dancing to kissing to simulating sex, and pays, in cash, on site. “I-Cure,” which he performed in New York in 2014, features blowjobs, poop images and songs about healing energies. “Animalist one moment, delicate the next, he combines darkness and lightness with verbal and physical dexterity”, Gia Kourlas, at the Times, said.
Dimchev is sometimes described as a provocateur, but he does not see himself as such. “For me, my provocation is a consequence of my curiosity to investigate things beyond my personal comfort zone,” he said. He does not like to be cataloged, and this impulse eventually took him away from the performing arts scene, a cultural network largely funded by foundations and ministries of the arts, which had come to feel at home. and predictable. Cosmopolitanism could, in its own way, be provincial, he decided. “I would play in front of fifty people or even fifteen, but I would still get my three thousand euros,” he told me. “There was something wrong with that.” Even Bulgarians who recently invited Dimchev to sing in their homes are mostly unaware of his artistic career.