In an open-air stone courtyard backed by trees and sky, a woman in black trousers and vest looks skywards. Behind her, another woman in a black strap dress sings into a microphone


Dominio Pubblico: Senza Titolo Festival 2022

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Erica Bravini and Sonia Ziccardi in Onomatopea. Photo © Giacomo de Angelis
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Rome’s ‘untitled’ youth arts festival strikes chords with young people’s complex experiences of unentitlement

Being young is like being untitled. Infinite possibilities lie waiting, but so much choice is also a double-edged sword. Lack of clarity plagues young artists, unsure of what it is they truly want to do, make happen, and sustain. What would that look like in a title anyway? Because it’s more nuanced than the term ‘dance artist’.

Based in Rome, Dominio Pubblico is a multidisciplinary project built to engage with the younger community. It describes itself as a dynamic networking strategy. Or more poetically, like Kandinsky’s ‘First Abstract Watercolour’, initially considered the first abstract painting due to its renunciation of reference to traditional forms. Since its launch in 2013, over 800 under-25s have been involved in the project. Its roots spread beyond the arts; for example, 2020’s Stati d’animo project alongside Bepop! human rights association brought workshops to migrant children and asylum seekers in Rome, led by a street artist, a sociologist and a philosopher.

Senza Titolo (Untitled) – 2 weekends of live dance, music, theatre and visual art (24 June to 3 July 2022) – is the ninth edition of Dominio Pubblico’s annual festival. Youth forms the bookends, and everything in between: producing, promoting and performing. The behind-the-scenes, which is given equal value to the results, becomes an active space for skill development. This formative structure asserts the importance of transparency and equal opportunity for all.

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An expression of Generation Z, devoured and discouraged by climate change, capitalism and the pandemic

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Senza Titolo found most of its content through #NOPRESENT, an open call targeted at under-25s. The selected pieces form the UNDER-25 band of the performance, between which are scattered a few specially invited works with performers not strictly within that age range. #NOPRESENT is an expression of Generation Z, devoured and discouraged by climate change, capitalism and the pandemic. Feeling not only that the future evades them, but that they are deprived of the present moment too, trapped in a motionless void of uncertainty – in Dominio Pubblico’s creatively graphic term, ‘sottovuoto’ (under vacuum).

Giulia Macrì, dancer (and more) and a member of the under-25 direction, a team formed in September 2021, tells me that Senza Titolo represents a collective blurriness. Faced with so many options, it’s difficult to know where and how to act, in terms of both activism and integrating oneself in the industry. The keen will of young artists only leaves them thwarted if they don’t know how to channel it. ‘Untitled’ doesn’t mean they aren’t able to give themselves a name, nor are they entitling themselves to do whatever the hell they want. It is just an honest statement, a reflection of friction in the unyielding conditions of a young artist wanting to be recognised and remembered. ‘We don’t know how to exist,’ says Macrì. ‘It sounds pessimistic, but our message is not a negative one.’ The festival is a desire for renewal, a way to reject preconceptions, making space for more effective art. It is youth after all, as the forefront of an urgent appeal, that can articulate best what needs to change, and therefore youth who will seek and create art that demands honest answers to difficult questions.

The festival’s dance performances took place at Teatro India, located in a large industrial settlement on the banks of the river Tiber, formerly the Mira Lanza factory. The Gazometro, a colossal iron structure that once stored the city’s gas supply, dominates the other side of the river.

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To witness, and witness well, is to pay closer attention to the small effects we have on others

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Onomatopea by Erica Bravini (Under-25/#NOPRESENT) unfolds in open air as twilight falls. Brick ruins border Sonia Ziccardi and her microphone and fresh-faced, jean-clad Bravini. Ziccardi tunes the scales of her voice, the instrument that gradually conjures a landscape for movement. Bravini’s body is not strictly dictated by Ziccardi’s vocals, but plays with its long, sonorous projections. Bravini tests the waters of her space, compresses and releases it, bends around before side-stepping through it, swipes notes from the air with her hands or ducks beneath their trajectory – mouth agape in fascination.

Ziccardi clicks to Bravini’s flirting feet as they plunge into riskier transfers of weight, Bravini working with curves and soft rebounds, pliable and available. Movement seems to overcome her unexpectedly, but she is never swept away, balance remains retrievable. This encounter is the first performative result of their union, but the refined Bravini leaves such a clean trail it appears planned. By the end, she withdraws her focus, becomes almost static. As vocals reached their guttural climax, body fades out, just as the last rays of sun escape us. Only when surfacing into applause, do we realise the meditative state we have collectively entered.

Onomatopea is an exercise of awareness for all; without it, the nuances of Bravini and Ziccardi’s interactions are lost on us, and they are merely practising their crafts beside, and not with, each other. To witness, and witness well, is to pay closer attention to the small effects we have on others. For me as a dancer, it prompts reflection on the delicacy we must practise when working with other creatives; the unstable and often ruthless landscape for artists needs sensitivity and solidarity in its community. Onomatopea seeks a common language between two voices, a desire not far from one felt in society today. For progression we need cohesion, and to find a common ground on which to move forward, we must only listen.

Bearded man in off-white shirt and trousers walks towards left. A woman in offwhite shirt and tan trousers seems to cut through at a different plane: the other diagonal, almost horizontal in the air (he holds her by the waist) and with one leg raised vertically behind her.
Marco Pergallini and Maria Stella Pitarresi in Sinopia. Photo © Giacomo de Angelis

Sinopia by Marco Pergallini and Maria Stella Pitarresi (extra band, not strictly Under-25) is performed in a traditional theatre setting. The word ‘sinopia’ refers to the preparatory layer of a drawing in which a red earth is used. In biblical terms, Adam and Eve are the sinopia of human life. The base layer of Sinopia comprises two spotlights: man and woman, half-undressed, and very alone. In one spotlight, Pergallini writhes, back turned, muscles awkwardly fragmenting themselves under skin. Nearby, Pitarresi ripples rather than twitches, though is confined all the same. The juxtaposition between their enclosure and surrounding sounds of birds and breeze is an uneasy suggestion that utopia is not what it seems.

They magnetise through a series of counterbalances, approached hesitantly but then repeated and accelerated. Pitarresi soon airplanes over Pergallini’s shoulders, and they use each other as pillars to swing, spring and lean from. Synchronised floorwork of extreme virtuosity is a whirlwind physical feat that unfolds too fast to comprehend. They collapse into the ground only to be propelled upwards again.

They are no longer slaves to their spotlights, but rather to the force compelling them to exhaust themselves, a confinement of more sinister implications. This is their expulsion from paradise. Facing each other, and not only in the physical sense, feels foreign but necessary, even if they don’t know why. Stripped nude and collapsed atop of one another, they have nothing left to give to us. Yet it is very clear this is only the beginning.

The exhaustion goes beyond the physical kind, so is relatable despite spectators being seated, unmoving themselves. Piarresi and Pergallini pushed on and on, but by the end, had they actually gone anywhere? Their progression didn’t feel like a forward one, rather a cyclical, enclosed suffering, reminding me of how futile the climate fight can feel, how persistent outcry renders only small increments in social change, and of the stubborn inevitability of losses along the way. If anything, their two bodies coming together was a passionate reminder that our humanity mustn’t be forgotten within the unforgiving, often backwards patterns in contemporary society.

Tu. Io e te. Tu ed io. Noi. Loro. Noi e loro (Under-25/#NOPRESENT) is another outdoor duet, created site-specifically elsewhere and adapted for Senza Titolo. Alessandra and Roberta Indolfi play to our fascination with identical twins as they morph between two individuals and one. Facing the audience directly, one conceals herself behind the other, before clambering onto her shoulders. They run incessantly up and down stage, sliding on their knees, disturbing the ground into small clouds of dust and gravel. Fighting in the brick archway, they move side to side like crabs, in and out of view as they claw and shout. Beyond this, interaction with the space is unmemorable. But their confrontational expressions, daring us to be there – I couldn’t seem to forget them. If there is a piece demanding to be heard, just as youth do, in their furious, enlivened activism, it is this one.

The corner of an old brick courtyard, seen from the inside, with empty arched windows and blue sky behind. In the corner at the bottom of the picture lie two women in crumpled shapes, wearing trainers, kneepads and flesh-coloured tops.
Alessandra & Roberta Indolfi in Io. Tu. Io e te. Tu ed io. Noi. Loro. Noi e loro. Photo © Giacomo de Angelis

Rome is vibrant and spontaneous, its street life raucous and its antiquity prestigious. The city thinks with an Italian mentality, but as the capital, it swells with worldwide visitors, a thriving potential for unusual connections. But it is also a dysfunctional, metropolitan jungle. Dance exists here, but much of it is isolated and niche. Truly knowing Rome isn’t straightforward, even for natives. Luckily, Dominio Pubblico catalyses access. The festival’s support from Teatro di Roma, for example, introduces dancers to performance spaces like Teatro India and Spazio Rossellini, which can be difficult structures to navigate alone. Furthermore, for Rome-based Macrì, multidisciplinary sharings feel ripe with wider opportunity and stabler circumstances in an underfunded industry. By presenting heterogenous works, the festival pools together a wild mix of tools and outlooks. If curious enough, dancers can find enrichment in unexpected places. Unfortunately, dance has a proclivity for elitism, but the freer structures of the independent scene are less suited to closed circles, and dance integrated with other forms supports this necessary position.

Yet to be titled, or rather, yet to be corrupted by systems, the motives of youth are genuine: to make a better world to inherit. They are resilient, technologically wise and impatient. But also, still learning, and their voices must be mobilised sensitively. Dominio Pubblico is built from and inspired by this unpredictable, stimulating age range, people in flux and eager. Here, they are supported but also taken seriously. And perhaps more important than its platform is Dominio Pubblico’s teaching of how to forge opportunity yourself. Wearing smiles brighter than their yellow t-shirts, the team seek bravery to rely on self-innovation and an ability to change the cards, even if an unclear future can look bleak for younger artists.

Fear for the future is not suppressed, but rather harnessed into new forms of energy with which dancers like Macrì give themselves reason to hope: ‘In all this mess, we are waiting to feel out of breath, not with uncertainty, but with love and with art.’ Post-festival, I reflected on what words I might use to name such a precious sharing. I arrived at excitement, autonomy and anticipation. And then thought: perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to seek a title at all. 

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26/06/22–03/07/22, Rome, Italy
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