In midsummer, the Italian city of Bassano del Grappa becomes a many-limbed festival of dancing
In the last four days of the long Ferragosto week (Italy’s famous mid-August holiday), the small city of Bassano Del Grappa hosted B.Motion Danza, one of the most vibrant festivals in Italy dedicated to contemporary dance, and part of the 42nd edition of the multidisciplinary OperaEstate festival. Despite the city’s size, every year the festival manages to attract a large audience that temporarily enlivens its otherwise quiet streets and squares.
Linked to Centro per la Scena Contemporanea and guided by the artistic vision of Roberto Casarotto, B.Motion Danza operates with care and attention in areas that support inclusive projects and emerging artists, explores and incubates fresh ideas, and nurtures long-term collaborations with artists and like-minded international institutions. This year’s curatorial choices have been informed by international projects such as Shape It, Dance Well – Movement Research for Parkinson’s, Empowering Dance and Vibes – all enabled thanks to a long-standing strategy fostering intercultural, intergenerational and interdisciplinary exchanges. These projects help to expand local society and train its capacity to embrace diversity and the unexpected. Professional choreographic practices and exchanges side by side with community-based projects and inclusive training sessions offer a variety of performance experiences that leave lasting imprints; they mould humanity, expand our imagination, challenge social norms and embrace politics.
Participants from Dance Well, a project initially dedicated to people with Parkinson’s disease, had the chance to perform in The Lion’s Den unlimited by PocketArt (CZ) and Molding Bodies by Ian Ancheta (NL/SV). Witnessing the joy of the performers to be part of these performative experiences leaves no doubt about the ethics of involving everyday people in performance making: its emotional rewards expand beyond the local community.
The Lion’s Den unlimited is an adaptation of the homonymous work (and final performance at this year’s festival) by Sabina Bočková and Johana Pocková (PocketArt) for a group of performers from Dance Well and the MMCDC Agorà Coaching project. Elders and aspiring young professional dancers – each carrying their own unique performativity – reproduce selected gestures coming from mass media culture: fashion, clubbing, sports and everyday social life. Dressed in impersonal costumes, they build a fluid and organic evolution of movement through repetition. Always in sync with the powerful sound design performed live by Lukáš Palán, this small community of individuals embodies signs of care for each other – a young dancer helping an older lady to walk and stay in pace with the rest of the group – allowing us to witness and sense a contagious empathy that culminates in an afternoon party – perhaps suggesting liberation from mass media captivity.
The deconsecrated San Giovanni Church became the working place that inspired contemporary hip hop artist Ian Ancheta to create Molding Bodies with another group from the Dance Well project, that initially invited the audience to observe the church’s architectural details and frescoes. The choreographic narrative unfolds around the negotiations and the challenges faced by a group of visual artists to collaboratively produce a master painting. How do individual actions influence a collective? Spatial relations, domino effects and simple body structures adorned with colourful scarves build sequential tableaux vivants – drafts and brush strokes towards a fictional masterwork left deliberately unfulfilled. I appreciated the choreographer’s respect for the kinetic possibilities of the group, and was left curious to see how hip-hop culture might expand the aesthetics of joy and care that usually emerge from community-based projects.
The façade of San Giovanni Church also served as the urban scenery for Blackbird, devised by Chiara Frigo (IT) in collaboration with the facilitators of the Dance Well project. In the main square of Piazza Libertà, passers-by either spontaneously transgress the designated performance area or stand at the edges. The main performers hold yellow envelopes and gently ask the seated audience questions and tasks that are easy to perform: write words with chalk on the ground, reproduce simple gestures through imitation, sing a melody, cast their body parts with foil. Through these simple actions, a clear composition in space gradually turns into an unstructured celebration of belonging that unexpectedly unites viewers, participants, performers and pedestrians inside a cloud of colourful suspended smoke that lingers after the performance. Blackbird reclaims public space and common time through relationships that emerge spontaneously.
Re-envisioning tradition/recycling memory
Community-making and belonging are enabled by also recognising collective memories and sharing personal stories. The past – activated as embodied memory or accessed through archival material – was present in an array of works in this year’s festival. Athletic stamina, aerobic breathing, the embodiment of rhythm and stomping feet are some of the ingredients that Aina Alegre (ES) uses in Study 4 – Fandango and Other Cadences to explore the memory of the Basque dance tradition. Hypnotically dilating time, Ara!Ara! by Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi (IT), accompanied by the military sound design of Demetrio Castellucci, originates in the rituals of moving flags – symbols of power, national identity, possession, pride and celebration. Call Alice by Temporary Collective (CZ) is an emotional landscape of loneliness and absence imbued with sincerity and humour, where the documentation and archive of a disrupted collaborative practice creatively turn into a performance-making tool. Chasing time coincidences, Elena Sgarbossa (IT) follows a sort of a jukebox logic in Double:Double, sampling sounds, images and movements through a sharing of memories stored in a cell phone. In Some Choreographies, Jacopo Jenna (IT) recycles fragments of dance archives to create an uninterrupted choreography while a video by Roberto Fassone allows dancing nature to perform and reveal the greatness of the animal kingdom.
Learning from nature and performing activism
A series of works broke the invisible fourth wall of theatre and temporarily united audience and performers either by asking them to interact in a relation of encouragement or information exchange, or by engaging them directly as performers. In a collapsing world, these performances nurture ecocentric approaches, explore the activist potential of humour and awaken slow revolutions.
In Insectum in Bassano, Silvia Gribaudi (IT) and Tereza Ondrovà (CZ) prompt us to think of the world through the perspective of insects, and to reflect on the anthropocentric power that we exercise over them. They employ humour and irony to construct a work that is based on the spontaneity of an improvisational structure and flirts with stand-up comedy. Ondrovà’s long and skinny body, almost like a grasshopper, contrasts Gribaudi’s roundness and juiciness of a bumble bee shape in a relationship that brings to mind the iconic duet of Stan and Ollie. They tantalise us by repeatedly playing from a computer on stage the introductory music phrase from Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). When Annie Lennox’s voice is finally heard, Gribaudi and Ondrovà appear wearing close-fitting leotards – golden and turquoise respectively – and perform a short unison combination inspired by fancy jazz gestures. Words get lost in the translation from English to Italian through hilarious connections and misinterpretations, and in an interactive process of rendering the audience responsive, they strive to help us embody the somatic awareness of insects. Gribaudi’s body-positive approach and Ondrovà’s versatility offer a much-needed light-hearted performative approach that contrasts with the predominant conceptualism of contemporary dance-making.
In a full house, Daniel Mariblanca (NO) fluidly moves in shapes reminiscent of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs that sought to capture the beauty of the naked body in its detail. Mariblanca’s 71 Bodies 1 Dance invites us to look at the human body from an anti-illusionistic perspective and to look at the transgender body tenderly as a vulnerable, yet powerful organism that breathes and feels. The work revealed to me its political potential when it became more personal (‘the personal is political’ quoted Mariblanca), and when his skills expanded into a confessional monologue and singing, and especially when he provoked the audience to join him in uttering binary slogans. Mariblanca attempts to construct new narratives about transgender identity and at the same time to criticise normativity by seeding hope for a society that, as the lyrics of his self-composed song describe, can transform ‘hate into love’. Sitting on drifts of earth on a bare stage, Mariblanca confidently proves that nature is never wrong, even if social norms try to prove the opposite.
Agnietė Lisičkinaitė (LT), dressed in silver pants and a white semi-transparent top with white high heels next to her, places a series of placards on the grass of Giardino Parolini: contradictory written slogans making statements about our world and our declining democracies. Her voice, heard from a small speaker in her hands, asks us to lift the placards and join her in Hands Up, a silent protest in the empty streets of Bassano. When we enter the theatre, we see on the screen what we have previously experienced; ourselves marching, the low quality of the video making it look like a real protest on the TV with us as the activists. In front of the screen, Lisičkinaitė dances and sings – emotionally charged, often crying and smiling at the same time – and, topless, covers her breasts and belly with white paint, a colour symbolising purity and female solidarity. In a trompe-l’oeil technique adapted for the screen, she appears with her hands up in front of the city sign ‘Piazza della Libertà’, claiming and surrendering to freedom. Hands Up is an activist work informed by local specificities (Italian law forbids street demonstrations 45 days ahead of elections) that asks the audience to take action in changing our world, beginning from the ambiguous gesture of lifting the hands up.
The experience of holding my hands up with persistence and against my tiredness made me reflect on how much effort, strength and commitment are necessary to change the world and raise awareness of the failures that torment us. The political is not only personal but above all physical. ●