Narrative bodies
by Marco Baliani

The first time I saw Michele and Antonella dance was on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre in Rome near via Tuscolana. Dino Somadossi had urged us to come. The show was called Terramara. So Maria and I decided to spend that sunny day in the darkness of a theatre yet again. The show had just begun when we arrived. We remained standing, enchanted, for a long time and what we perceived was wholly unexpected. I say “perceived” because the first sensation was not just visual but tactile and olfactory too. Outside it was spring but inside there was a summer bursting with oranges and sweating bodies, as though we had suddenly found ourselves in a mythical land where everything was concentrated into pure energy and bodies took on metamorphic shapes. Since then I have kept track of the work of this “odd couple” whenever I have had the chance, via their shows and performances as well as by working with them, inviting them to hold workshops supported by my own experimental theatre research. It was certainly also due to those meetings that movement, body language, gesture, sequences and working with the body as an autonomous source of communication became part of the research and theatre work conducted over the years with Maria Maglietta, helping shape an authentic source of poetic inspiration for us. That first impression has remained intact and been reconfirmed over the years: when the pair dance, sheer Eros is released into pure space. I mean Eros in the ancient sense of the word, which regards not only sexuality, although in Antonella and Michele’s shows the sensual aspect of physical desire is always tangible and there is always a magnetic attraction of one towards the other that captures and seduces the eye of the spectator. But the Eros I refer to is that of passion, which for the ancients could just as easily belong to a hunter as to a lover, to a warrior or to a politician - that passion which condenses into sweat on the skin, visible exertion, physical adhesion where the body is both prey and vehicle at once. Herein lies the clear feeling of materiality in their shows, I believe, the materialness of bodies that are always extreme in their physicality but also the materiality of objects, of tables, chairs, oranges (I remember a torment of underpants taken off and accumulated in Pabbaja, another one of their shows), as though things could not help but be drawn into that vortex of passions and in their turn be passionate. There is a surplus of energy, a blatant wasting of labour and repetition of gestures, a joyful challenge to the laws of mechanics, a demonstration of excessive existence. But their gestures always pursue an inherent need and are rarely merely aesthetic or made just for the sake of it. Perhaps that is why I love their work and the way they build up their stage actions, their gestural scores. Recently, while preparing Sackrifice, a show involving Albanian, Lebanese and Italian actors as part of the I porti del mediterraneo project, I asked Michele and Antonella not only to run the introductory workshop but also to help me define the show. We had already worked side by side in ’92 on Antigone delle città, a theatrical event commemorating the massacre on 2 August in Bologna, but the presence of over a hundred actors did not really make more in-depth relations possible. Although their running of the workshop did transform the training session into a long dramaturgical sequence and allow the whole enormous, mixed group to establish some kind of togetherness. With Sackrifice I really had the chance to see them at work: the exemplary discipline they implement right from the start which seduces the participants, especially actors and actresses who do not come from the dance world. This is stimulating: for their routine work on the body to encounter the real, physical obstacles of bodies that are untrained yet full of passion, thus contributing a sort of incompleteness and, I would say, a healthy roughness to the creative process which is fully compatible with their idea of dance. For them, as for myself and other artists, techniques are only a support. They are necessary but never to be displayed, working below the surface like a secret of perfection to aim for. I was also impressed by the creative methods they employ to create forms. They always begin with real data, those bodies, those substances, those stage spaces, that time. There are no prefigurations or pre-established forms and even the music is a textual component that is not added later but instead occurs together with improvisations and rehearsals. There is a search for narrative dance in this method, as though the gesture, the sequence of movements were already a story in itself, the completion of a path. This is very obvious in their shows and goes hand in hand with the sense of passion I mentioned earlier, where the bodies are vehicles and not icons, a means rather than an end. The aim is not aestheticism or virtuosism but rather to say something, a plot, a fragment of discourse, a feeling. The bodies do not want to replicate dance forms that have already been codified, heading instead for other acting and recitative shores in a blend of languages that brings different paths together. Thus they ask and force the spectator in turn not to fall back on already-codified forms of perception. And so over time, from the first shows to the present day an ever- more-refined dramaturgical intent, a rarity among dancers, has become apparent. A necessary attempt to build the work as a whole, a theatrical container allowing bodies and their erotic passions to be channelled into a meaning, a path, I would say almost a story. Out of this grew the collaboration with Letizia Quintavalla and Bruno Stori, which in turn led to shows such as Romanzo d’infanzia, obvious proof of the dancers’ maturity in measuring themselves against a plot and bringing it to life in the first place with their bodies, which thereby become narrative bodies. Thus childhood, fairytales and also clowning around and the irony of shows like Spartacus, which presents physical bodily feats in a hero-comical, farcical key seem perfectly on track to me, a natural consequence of the Eros I referred to at the beginning. Because in adhering to passion there is a basic lucidity, a sincere game that makes existences light: one of the roads, certainly - the other is to fall into the tragic destiny Antonella and Michele also attempted in Alcesti, a sign of the inevitable line, like the blade of a razor, that Eros always walks. When it really does occur the childlike game is utterly serious, leaving no way out and demanding total adhesion, a way of losing oneself. When I see Michele lift Antonella up in one fluid movement I am overcome by a sort of childlike longing because I suddenly see the promise of an imaginary world come to life, where bodies are no longer restricted by the laws of gravity and weights and where desire, decision and action occur as if in a single luminous readiness, outside the adult world where decision devours almost all the time.