Joy Enjoy Joy by WArd/waRD-Ann Van den Broek. Photo© Rio Staelens

review, article

Equilibrio Festival 2024, Rome

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Joy Enjoy Joy by WArd/waRD-Ann Van den Broek. Photo© Rio Staelens
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Sounding out the 18th edition of Rome’s Equilibrio dance festival

Given the relation of dance with music, it is not surprising that a festival of contemporary dance, like Equilibrio, Il Festival di Danza Contemporanea di Roma, is an integral part of a music institution, the Musica per Roma Foundation. Now in its 18th edition, this year’s programme was curated by Emanuele Masi, who has been in this position since 2021, in the footsteps of Spanish dance critic Roger Salas and Flemish choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, among others. Mainly located in the Auditorium of Parco della Musica Ennio Morricone, a multi-purposed architectural complex designed by architect Renzo Piano to celebrate the art of music, this year’s Equilibrio festival renewed cross-institutional collaborations in Rome that saw a handful of performances in other locations – most prominently Vertigine, a dance season curated by Orbita | Spellbound National Centre for the Production of Dance under the direction of Valentina Marini, featuring Irene Russolillo’s Fàtico and a focus on Piergiorgio Milano at Teatro Palladium.

Whether for the architectural acoustics of the auditorium or the festival’s music context, aurality certainly seems to be an element threading this year’s featured works. In Closer/On the Other Side, a double bill evening choreographed by Benjamin Millepied for the corps de ballet of Rome Opera House, the minimalist notes of Philip Glass were performed live by the pianist Lucio Perotti. All the Way was an intimate trio of Meg Stuart with contrabass player Doug Weiss and pianist Marian Carvalho, while in Riflessi, a piece conceived for young audiences, Camilla Monga and multi-instrumentalist Giulia Tagliavia influenced each other in a live music-dance performance. In Russolillo’s Fàtico, her vocal research was a central aspect of her choreographic and spiritual universe where the linking of voice and body in an intense construction of presence lent to each moment of her performance a rare authenticity. Making a step towards accessibility – an initiative that will hopefully grow further in upcoming editions – Equilibrio also offered people with visual impairment the chance to access Marcos Morau’s Firmanento through the poetic audio-description of Giuseppe Comuniello and Camilla Guarino.

Fàtico with Irene Russolillo and Edoardo Eansonne/Kawabate at Teatro Palladium. Photo © Giuseppe Follacchio
Fàtico, with Irene Russolillo and Edoardo Eansonne/Kawabate at Teatro Palladium. Photo © Giuseppe Follacchio

In Sofia Nappi’s Pupo, powerful moments, often in synchronicity, respond to the rhythm and feeling of music: bossa nova gives a relaxing attitude to the body, tango music inspires playful duets, Balkan sounds awaken folkloric groundedness paired with loud exhalations, and psalmodic voices generate a mystical dimension. Nappi draws her inspiration from the story of Pinocchio about a wooden marionette becoming a human. In the Sicilian dialect, pupo means both puppet and a little boy, and in Nappi’s Pupo the dancers celebrate the freedom of dance – combined with its war-like dynamics – manifested through pleasure in moving, and only occasionally interrupted by flickering micro-movements as if a puppeteer were manipulating the dancers through invisible strings. Undulating spines, sensuality and sequential movement compose a groovy language not distant from the movement aesthetics of Hofesh Shechter or Ohad Naharin’s Gaga, that has shaped Nappi’s movement approach. But if Pupo’s strength lies in the celebration of movement, it also has a double edge: despite the movement’s richness, the dense choreographic work needs more balance between pleasure in moving and the art of sculpting movement in time.

Pupo by Sofia Nappi (trailer)

In Joy Enjoy Joy by Flemish choreographer Ann Van den Broek, the returning and pulsating music motif of ‘joy enjoy joy’ drags the spectator into an almost trancelike dimension. If the playful word repetition in the title asserts that the subject is joy, the work itself is less straightforward. Its intoxicating high energy is manifested by performers who continuously transgress their physical limits. A live video feed puts the muscular contractions of the face during moments of joy under the microscope, in an anatomical exploration of pleasure through a micro-choreography of close-ups. At times, the performers coalesce in a synchronised choreography of gestures, a sort of a movement alphabet multiplied among them, and the dislocating lip sync between recorded voice and live body creates alienating effects. Wheeled metal structures that store objects superficially associated with glamour – fashionable clothes and shoes, a disco ball – are suggestive (when still) of a clinical bed or a psychoanalysis session in search of what brings joy. Van den Broek explores the nuances and depths of joy along with its ephemerality through contrasting images as part of what looks to be an endless game in which surrendering to your limits would entail losing joy – or is it actually surrendering that brings joy?

Joy Enjoy Joy, by Ann Van den Broek (trailer)

Italian choreographer Piergiorgio Milano is also keen on cinematographic influences in his work White Out. Part of the focus on Milano by Orbita | Spellbound that also included his tender and savage Denti (Teeth), which received the Equilibrio festival award in 2009, White Out expands Milano’s choreographic research on dance and contemporary circus, here expressed through a theatrical setting and a cinematographic treatment of time. The stage is covered with artificial snow, like a mountain in winter, while the scenes, accompanied by a windy soundscape, unfold without linear progression. The end of the story is revealed at the beginning, as the work opens with a sole survivor, dragging the corpses of his two companions – all dressed in their ski suits – on a foggy night. As if in a film flashback, the following scenes unfold with a bittersweetness and the doomed hope that something will change the tragic end. An analogue radio plays Whitney Houston’s I will always love you for an ironic, sketch-like trio; the snowflakes swirl and smother, and the dancers lean forward on their skis in out-of-balance positions. A vertical rope climb is unexpected, and sudden drops are breathtaking.

White Out is a story-driven choreography with a recorded audio-diary that is fascinated by the whiteness of snow, the gratification of gliding on mountain slopes, the allure of the unknown and the desire to reach the sky – but it is also dedicated to those who have disappeared in the snow during fatal accidents. Above all, it is a metaphor for the exploration of the inner self, a melancholic journey from adolescence to maturity, from companionship to loneliness, formed through the bittersweet language of circus.

Piergiorgio Milano in White Out (trailer)

A bit of irony, some playfulness, a flavour of American country music and a portion of visual poetry are the main ingredients of That’s All Folks by Fritz Company (dancer and choreographer Damiano Ottavio Bigi and director Alessandra Paoletti). While the slogan That’s all Folks clearly signals the end of Looney Tunes episodes, here each ending forms the beginning of a new situation. With minimal scenography and an atmospheric light design, the scenes, connected through smooth transitions, evoke natural and emotional landscapes, outer and inner, palpable and oneiric, a universe inhabited by a multicultural cast originating from different parts of the world – Asia, United States, Italy. The performers sit around a white ring like silent spectators at a play; the light paints a rising ‘black hole’ in the colour of a pinkish full moon and casts reflections of sea waves on the performers. Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance seems to be resurrected in a solo for Taiwanese dancer Ching-Ying Chien. In That’s All Folks, geometry, cosmology and form become a pretext to refer to something personal that resonates differently with each of us – an echo of the enigmatic visual and movement language of Pina Bausch or Dimitris Papaioannou, with whom Bigi has collaborated in the past.

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This richness was often combined with an immunity to the global and local events that tantalise our present

Blue Quote Mark

As the festival’s name suggests, this year’s programme aimed for an equilibrium between dance, music and visual arts – that is, the essential elements for dance performance: movement, sound, set and light. Yet this richness was often combined with an immunity to the global and local events that tantalise our present. Furthermore, if the 2023 edition had featured only one female choreographer (Ambra Senatore, in a co-authored piece), this year’s edition paid more attention to gender equity. It also offered a balanced programme between international and Italian choreographers (predominantly white), between mid-career and established artists, and offered stylistic variety (within theatrical Western dance) ranging from neoclassical dance to contemporary circus. The collaboration with Orbita | Spellbound also demonstrated a will to follow through the paths of artists previously supported by Equilibrio festival, such as Russolillo and Milano – something that emerged at a roundtable on the diverse approaches of the National Centres for Dance Production, a recently established production mechanism in Italy.

While the main festival programme finished towards the end of February, Senegalese choreographer Germaine Acogny’s religious work Rencontre Avec Saint François was a spin-off coda – an unconventional conclusion inside the imposing church of Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli, uniting us in a spiritual and participatory moment of rhythmic togetherness. Tapping our hearts and stomping our feet on the marble of the church by following a short choreographic phrase by Acogny, and dancing to the uneven rhythm of the drum, became equivalent with a small celebratory dance of life – a blessing until the return of the festival next year. 

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09.02.24–24.02.24 Rome, Italy
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