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Presente Futuro 2022

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Wake Up! with and by Marcella Meloni. Maimè Circus-theatre (Sardinia, Italy)
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A performing arts festival in Sicily that nurtures and rewards young artists – but is it enough?

From 25 to 28 May 2022, Teatro Libero, the ‘free’ theatre of Palermo, Sicily, opened its doors to the 16th edition of Presente Futuro, an international performing arts festival dedicated to emerging artists under 35 from Europe. Contributing to the cultural life of one of the most vibrant and multicultural cities in southern Italy, Presente Futuro operates within an international and growing network of performing arts. This year’s festival combined 13 performances of experimental theatre, dance, contemporary circus and everything in between. This hybrid programme usually includes uncompleted works up to 20 minutes long, whether short works-in-progress, excerpts or longer pieces adapted to this length. These creations ‘compete’ with each other for different awards that will enable the selected artists to develop their ideas and eventually complete their works within a year’s time frame. Although the 20-minute time limit creates a common axis for their evaluation by the jury, the spatio-technical adaptation, which is limited to the possibilities of the hosting institution and the conventions of the festival-taster, may alter a work or a concept and render the selection process unfair for the ‘competing’ artists.

In this frame, one selected artist may receive financial support equivalent to €1500, a one-week residency and the presentation of the completed work at Teatro Libero (Presente Futuro award). The rest of the selected artists are granted residencies to the partner studios and theatres: Between the Seas cultural organisation in Greece, Teatro Comunale La Fenice di Arsoli in Rome and Teatro San Materno Ascona in Switzerland.

Woman in silk dress sits astride a wooden chair, behind a translucent front curtain with a red floral pattern
Rosarosaerosae – The Skin of Images with and by Sara Lupoli. Art Garage Choreographic Center and Körper International Dance Contemporary Art Center (Naples, Italy) / Theatre des Calanques and PianoBe (Marseille, France)

The winner of this year’s Presente Futuro award was Sara Lupoli with Rosarosaerosae – The Skin of Images, who also received a residency award at Teatro San Materno Ascona. It is an eerie work that combines movement and videos projected on two constructed screens – one covered with white folded fabric, perhaps a wedding dress turned into a projection screen – and suggests a topography of the inner world of a woman. It begins with a startling superimposition of the performer’s image projected onto her own body, clothed in a transparent blouse with red brushstrokes symbolising violence upon the female body. Short delays between the projected images of the self further distort Lupoli’s physical body, affirming the impression of a battered woman – as if Rosa, Rosa and Rosa, the three names of the long title, were looking for internal peace and reconciliation with each other. The overlapping projections on Lupoli’s body also create outstanding optical illusions reminiscent of multi-perspective cubist paintings. Wim Wenders’ desert images from Paris, Texas paired with Ry Cooder’s original soundtrack of the movie, and the projection of the lake of indifference taken from La carte de Tender (inspired by Madeleine de Scudéry’s novel Clélie, Histoire Romaine), are suggestive of trauma, loss, loneliness and ignorance, and the quest for true and mutual love. The beginning is undoubtedly ingenious and promising but the rest of the work left me looking for more originality and cohesion – which, since it is an unfinished project to be developed further during the year, is perhaps a positive aspect.

If Rosarosaerosae manages to draw a performative cartography of the female soul, Wake Up! by Marcella Meloni reflects further on femininity. It is a physical and amusing work based on circus, puppetry and clown technique that creatively uses props and object animation through the body to portray the obsessions of another female character (by coincidence also called Rosa) who is isolated in her home and gradually rebels against the conventions and stereotypes of femininity imposed by western society. Its light and humorous tone certainly makes it accessible even for a non-expert audience, but I was perplexed that it received both the Between the Seas award and the award by Teatro Comunale di Arsoli (Rome). Since the latter prize is named Per un Teatro Necessario (For a Necessary Theatre), my expectation was that another piece, Pornodrama2, would have been a more ‘necessary’ recipient of this award.

The heads of three people: a young man with stubbly beard and tan top on the left. An older man with eyes closed and long hair in the middle. A woman with tied black hair and black top on the right. All wear earphones, and all seem lost in the world they are listening to, their focus turned within though their hands reach towards each other
Pornodrama2 by Camilla Guarino and Giuseppe Comuniello. Fuori Equilibrio APS / Versiliadanza (Firenze, Italy)

Camilla Guarino and Giuseppe Comuniello’s Pornodrama2 is an intimate dance trio fused with text. Very far from physical theatre or dance theatre, the work begins with a duet between Simone Chiacchiararelli and Guarino, who describe their sensations as they touch each other’s aura. The dancers move delicately and gently as if attempting to hold a feather, and their voices, amplified by tiny microphones attached close to their lips, are accompanied by melodic music. Everything seems excessively sweet even when the third dancer (Comuniello) enters to move effortlessly and with admirable confidence. Initially, I felt like watching a somatics session – given the sensorial vocabulary of text and movement – until I began to question the reason for Comuniello’s unusually wide-open eyes and tensed gaze. I wondered if he was visually impaired – a guess proved true after the end of the evening, when I saw his partner helping him down the auditorium stairs. The words in the performance – actually the audio description – that had until then seemed redundant, suddenly took on a different value. Witnessing how a performance space made for the sighted can embrace people who ‘see’ differently made me reflect on the transformative role of art, and its role towards an inclusive society. For this reason, I thought this choreographic exploration of the complementary use of words and movement really deserved a special mention.

Man with sandbags tied to his body in the centre of a circle of stone blocks on which sit various audience members in covid masks
Sovraccarico by Damiano Scavo. Ocram Dance Movement (Catania/Sicily, Italy). Photo © Aurora Pica

Another work that received no attention at all from the jury but stood out for me was Sovraccarico (Overloaded), a participatory piece by Damiano Scavo, produced by Ocram Dance Movement. Its effectiveness lies in its repetitive and clear structure. After effortlessly executing a dance phrase, Scavo approaches the audience and asks them to pin one or more magnets onto a body diagram on a small whiteboard. He affixes small sandbags to hooks on his clothing, according to where the magnets were placed. He repeats the initial phrase, now with a different quality because of the sandbags, more heavily and with less equilibrium. Thus begins a cycle in a potentially infinite evolution with the audience indicating the weight distribution on the dancer’s body and the dancer obeying each instruction. Even though the structure remains constant and is to a certain degree predictable, it is enjoyable – and the obedient Scavo responds with sincerity in the shift of movement quality at each repetition. The choreographic structure, performance and audience agency combine into a formal analogy of a social situation that brings the responsibility and the power of deciding for others into play. What situations might it remind us of? Political governance and representation, parenthood, the right to euthanasia – or any other kind of power dynamics where decisions are made that others must follow. In Presente Futuro, only the spectators in the front row were able to engage directly with the performer, but I imagine that a different arrangement of seating and proximity could make this a very meaningful experience for a participatory audience.

Black and white portrait of a woman's upper body, face looking down and one arm extended forward holding a net mesh that cloaks her. The background is of stony hills and sky
In.Contrastabile by and with Jessica De Masi and produced by Twain_Centro di Produzione Danza (Lazio, Italy)

Jessica De Masi’s In.Contrastabile, produced by Twain_Centro di Produzione Danza, is a work of minimal means: the dancer is herself the primary instrument on an empty stage, accompanied only by Salvatore Belviso’s sound landscape. Exploring the primordial conflict between instinct and spirit, De Masi spends a large portion of her performance with her head wrapped in dark, semi-transparent tulle, as if it were possible to isolate the mind from the body and deprive it of the primary sensations that are located in the head – sight, sound, smell, taste; as if it were possible to forget where she is, or where she has been. Jerky and undecided movements intensify the internal fight between feeling and thinking, sensing and remembering. Momentarily, her upper body, with arms raised, becomes lost inside her garment in a shape that recalls a standing version of Xavier Le Roy’s famous all-fours appearance in Self Unfinished; but she soon wears the cloth on her head with her face disappearing again as if behind long dark hair. Downstage right is a small lake of dark paint that she meticulously spreads onto her body. As the paint gradually covers every inch of her skin, shining and reflecting the stage light, she becomes transformed, almost petrified, into a bronze statue frozen in time. This work, rich in poetic imagery, received the Presente Futuro award in last year’s festival, so my expectations were high. De Masi’s case made me wonder to what degree a week-long theatre residency and €1500 in financial support can influence the artistic outcome. Is this enough to promote artistic research and development, or does it only permit artists to do the bare minimum?

I am curious to follow the evolution of the works presented at this festival and to see how those that received residency awards will unfold within a production model based on mobility that is in increasing crisis due to climate change and economic inflation. For since the end of the festival, a question keeps buzzing in my head: how significant are awards in developing and meaningfully contributing to artists’ growth? 

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Palermo, Sicily, Italy
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