Cristina Kristal Rizzo, Ultras. Photo © Renzo Zuppiroli


Going forward to normal

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Cristina Kristal Rizzo, Ultras. Photo © Renzo Zuppiroli
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Italian choreographer Michele Di Stefano on curation, choreography and the possibility of a ‘new normal’ for dance

After several months of lockdown, Italian cultural life is awakening again. Between theatre venues and exhibition spaces, dance is resurging in Rome, too. Michele Di Stefano (Silver Lion, Venice Biennale 2014) has curated a programme called Buffalo for the Theatre of Rome, where he is in charge as a consultant for the dance season titled Grandi Pianure [Great Plains]. Subtitled ‘the open body’, Buffalo presented artists such as Yasmine Hugonnet, Nicola Galli, Panzetti/Ticconi, Jérôme Bel, Industria Indipendente, Cristina Kristal Rizzo, Francesca Grilli, Daniele Albanese, Collettivo C.G.J., Jamila Johnson-Small, Alexandra Bechzetis, and video projections by Francesca Grilli, Trisha Brown Dance Company, and César Vayssié. The following interview reports from a conversation with Di Stefano at an event organised by Palaexpo, the Swiss Institute of Rome, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACRO).


Michele, where did the inspiration for the title Buffalo come from?

This title comes from a desire and an intuition. The project I conceived for the Theatre of Rome, Grandi Pianure, presents the symbolic image of a solitary bison. It is not intended to suggest an immediate meaning, but more generally, the animal is the reference through which I believe we can better understand the human body.

Buffalo takes place inside exhibition spaces. What is your perspective on ‘alternative’ dance spaces such as museum halls?

In Italy, dance performances in museums are often perceived as borderline works, even a bit extreme. However, if we look back in time, for example at American postmodern dance, we can see how even then there was regular dance activity in non-theatrical spaces. I am convinced that the choreographic body can manage to inhabit any space if it works with an amplified perception. The idea is to give back to bodies a power which can be transformative. Dance can have the power to change different contexts, and therefore the world.

The point of Buffalo was not to simply design a programme of shows to present to the public. Even if we mainly programmed works which had been previously completed, artists agreed to have their performances placed in dialogue with this specific context. I would like to stimulate artists to orient themselves in a different way, combining materials and putting strength of presence at the centre of their actions. We have entrusted the programmed artists to present works on the body for a collective experience – that of the audience. I turned to artists who believe that dance can bring visions of the body, of the gaze and of being together. Particularly after the period of isolation from which we are emerging, I decided to involve artists who have shown themselves willing to test what the body puts into play now, without worrying about the precise grammar of the theatre, which has its own rules of lighting, timing and duration… Dislocating dance to a non-theatre environment goes hand in hand with the possibility of probing the body and its relation to shared feelings, in a context where boundaries are blurred.

Nicola Galli, Mars. Photo © Rodolfo Cammarata
Nicola Galli, Mars. Photo © Rodolfo Cammarata

What do you think is the relationship between curating, dramaturgy and choreography?

I consider contextualisation a very important part of my mission. Starting with the placement of the artistic work means being aware of the ‘pre’ and the ‘post’ of the shows. This can lead us to consider how dance reverberates in dialogue with situations and contexts that, just as clearly, are somehow asking to be choreographed.

When considering dance curatorship in museums or outdoor spaces – such as in Bolzano, Matera, or for Rome’s Tropici dance programme – I treat choreography in a more expanded way than as single performative objects. I have been trying to guess the possible encounters and relationships viewers would meet. I don’t think about programming in itself, but try to reckon with the broader horizon in which the viewers immerse themselves. In consort with the institutions and artists, I can dig into the space between the viewer and the context. I don’t like the idea that curating consists solely of selecting shows.

I am interested in seeing what I don’t know rather than what I already do. I engage artists who are willing to take a more vulnerable stance, which can offer the public a curatorial experience that may not be affirmatory but is based on the complete confidence that dance can change the world. I firmly believe that dancing is one of the fundamental gestures of existence. All roads leading to the presentation of shows can develop from here, in relation to their contexts. Over time, I have realised that in this way I can continue discovering. Curating is, therefore, a choreographic gesture.

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There is a certain exuberance that flirts with hysteria

Blue Quote Mark

How do you think the Italian dance system is awakening from the months of the pandemic?

There is a certain exuberance that flirts with hysteria. There is a crowd of enthusiasm, made up of a desire for recovery. I try to pay attention to those signals that have moved the dance through this exceptional moment. This period has allowed us to relocate some contexts of reference and ways of working and relating.

In my opinion, contemporary dance always seems to be treated as ‘exceptional’ in Italy. What can be done to make dance ‘normal’ in the entertainment and arts system?

I agree. Making dance normal is what I tried to do while working within an institution like the Theatre of Rome. A collective reflection upon this theme is needed. We need to get to that point where it will no longer be necessary to circle the field, because dance will be planned and enjoyed as a normal part of it. Our artistic circuits must be able to evolve and align to what happens abroad, and the ‘dance system’ must no longer leave the main effort to artists. Innovation, even in the choreographic field, must be deepened on a structural level. There are good signs that a collective responsibility is consolidating. We hope that this will allow dance to develop and grow as a neural and plural network, inclusive and finally ‘normal’. 

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Rome, Italy
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