A man and woman in dark shirt and trousers against a backdrop of brick columns. He extend his right arm straight out, his left arms folded so that his hand touches his nose and mouth. She leans on his shoulder, throwing a questioning glance towards the camera.


Fuori Programma Rome: focus on Israel

Read Icon Read
Time Icon Pink 7 min
Ophir Kunesch with Maya Navot in Arba. Photo © Giuseppe Follacchio
S pink identity

How was the strand of performances from Israel at Rome’s Fuori Programma festival?

From May onwards, Rome has acted as a polyphonic place for dance and the moving body to be celebrated. In an intense yet well-coordinated sequence of cultural events, Futuro Festival in the spaces of Brancaccio Theatre gave way to Buffalo, a short programme that took place mainly in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACRO) and this in turn led to La Festa della Danza, a week-long programme of free dance performances and workshops that occupied the public spaces of the city, concluding a day before the beginning of Fuori Programma, one of Rome’s summer dance festivals that opened its doors in the middle of June.

The performances of the first week of Fuori Programma Festival (20–23 June) unfolded at Teatro India, an open air space surrounded by the brick walls of the half-demolished Mira Lanza factory, a close distance from the Gazometro, one of Rome’s industrial landmarks. In this frame of contemporary ruins, every evening at sunset, a different story was told about and through the body, about its repressions and its re-claims, uniting spectators in strong and warm applause but also in whispering and rocking their bodies to the sound of familiar lyrics and tunes. Under the theme of ‘unison’, this year’s programme, directed by Valentina Marini, gathered diverse artistic voices and choreographic languages: the high physicality of Dresden Frankfurt Dance Company under the choreographic direction of Jacopo Godani for Symptoms of Development; the rock concert-performance L’universo Nella Testa by Cristina Donà and Saverio Lanza, blended with explosive dance by Daniele Ninarello, who played with the embodiment of the lyrics and concluded with an ‘encore’ sung and played by Ninarello himself; and Marta Ciappina’s performance of Breathing Room, Salvo Lombardo’s choreographic research on breathing. The festival was enabled by alliances with, among others, international institutions such as the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv and the Embassy of Israel in Italy that supported the presentation of works by Italian-born, Israel-based choreographer Andrea Costanzo Martini, and Israeli choreographers Ophir Kunesch and Lior Tavori.

Three figures on stage applauding at the end of their show: two women in brightly patterned, highly stylised corsets and shorts, a man in stylised tunic and shorts
Alex Clair, Shay Kukui, Andrea Costanzo Martini in Mood Shifters. Photo © Giuseppe Follacchio

Watching Andrea Costanza Martini’s Mood Shifters brought to my mind a famous saying by Oscar Wilde: ‘When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss Money.’ Dressed in a flair of Mediaeval and Renaissance-inspired clothes (a waist corset belt with a tiny apron to the front and a short skirt tail to the back, draped short pants, a tasselled fringe around the short trouser legs), the three caricature-style and busker-like performers (Alex Clair, Shay Kukui, Andrea Costanzo Martini) plead for our recognition. As if having just completed a big accomplishment, they prompt us to applaud them and approaching each member of the audience as original street artists of a circle show, they offer open palms or a hat for money. If anyone gives them a coin, they pocket them. Their clapping is transformed into a rhythmic sequence inspired by the dynamics of flamenco, the gesture of self-kissing turns into an orchestrated plea for love and appreciation, and desperation leads to an ironic death on stage that is followed by crocodile tears. Mood Shifters plays with our mood and the performers’; it is queer, funny and as ‘cheaty’ as the simple twist of the wrist that turns a hand waiting to be kissed into one asking for money. By exploring the limits of (over)representation and by embedding mimicry, it places the historic context of street performance into a contemporary setting of interactivity with the audience while carrying the almost timeless truth about the precarity of living from the art of performance (a theme that resonates with most of us, not just art and cultural workers).

Performed the following day and set in an atmosphere of neutrality, Arba, the duet-in-residence of emerging choreographer Ophir Kunesch with Maya Navot, was subtle, silent and crystalline in its precision. Dressed in dark pants and shirts, they stand side to side, their movements usually in unison. When at a distance from each other, they return with precision back to their original spot to be together again, to place themselves as extensions of each other, for her to carry him or for him to lift her. Each movement is carefully chosen and placed in space as if inscribed inside invisible geometries. They complete each other, and when an empty space is created between the limbs of the one, the other seeks to fill it. In an unfrustrated repetition of a movement sequence that merges with choreographic evolution, Arba unfolds without hierarchies, seeking a harmonious co-existence and mutual support between the two performers. The duet is still under development, yet contains a visual and choreographic clarity. If the ambiguity of their last stillness makes us wonder whether or not the piece has finished, doubt dissolves as applause rises like a wave from the audience all around.

Two men in casual shorts and vest in a tango-style embrace. Behind them, the open-air audience watches them against brick walls in the background
Lior Tavori Company in Mars. Photo © Giuseppe Follacchio

Arba’s suspended end led into the energetic beginning of Mars, when its four male performers Ori Moshe Ofri, Amit Marcino, REches Yitshak and Tamar Lev, almost invaded the stage by running from its four corners. Entering in urgency, they jump and climb on each other’s backs to stand tilted as on a cliff edge, risking falling. United in their chests and held by hands in a grip that evokes a variation of an incomplete tango dance, they walk together as one body, as if in a relation of a contained and hidden passion. Walking with dropped pants while covering their faces with their hands, they transmit shame about their desires. The male solo to Saint-Saëns’ iconic music The Swan (the sound recording with Clara Rockmore playing the theremin) exposes the fragile side of masculinity that finally gets liberated in a climax of music and choreographic (over)consonance with the voice of Freddie Mercury singing ‘I want to break free’. Lior Tavori’s visceral choreography unfolds the shades of male identity accompanied by a carefully chosen western music repertory that supports the somatic dramaturgy of a collective liberation from male stereotypes and merges the borders between male friendship, solidarity, warriorship and homosexuality. Mars evokes a utopia deprived of suffering, social suffocation and the constraints and mythologies of gender identity.

It is not by chance that these three Israeli works speak to the European audience of the festival, who wholeheartedly applaud them: these performances are abstract or neutral in a way familiar to the European audience or they even address universal themes. Undoubtedly well articulated at a choreographic level and performed by skilful dancers, they are nevertheless disconnected from their locality and stripped of the geopolitical conflicts of the area, opening questions about the role of art and its infrastructure in the context of the state of Israel. Does this kind of work and its supporting mechanisms serve to distract the international public’s attention from the geopolitical dissidence, or do they become, especially for artists, a means of escape or liberation from it, even momentarily? Both can be true, but the question is unavoidable.