Luisa Valeriani in his latest essay “Performers – figures of change in widespread aesthetics”, looks at the artist and the consumer as a sole figure. Both represent social and anthropological practices of creative spectacularisation which nowadays emerges from below; these ” performers ” favour their point of view and their own style by staging an innovative artistic creativity that goes beyond fashion, but which is also related to both the political field as well as sociology.
She says that “architecture, rather than the abstraction of the project drawn, speaks the language of images, emotions, sounds (the roar of the stadium as the patter of footsteps, voices of the market and the street, cries of children and flights of swallows ..), and that each of them is brought to live its daily experience as an event, and architecture as a daily experience. Because of this I feel like recalling and embracing a spectacular experience, communicative and very “touching” (like fashion); the experience of an artistic career born from below and which, as a tangible postmodern morphing, is naturally intertwined with places, spaces and environments which turn into activating “the performance in situ”. It is a body-material interactive performance which the company Il Posto di Venezia parades meticulously based on its experience and professionalism.
The performances by the company Il Posto are events of great impact and appeal. They are made on the facade of buildings which are important in the life of cities like bell towers, historic buildings, contemporary architectures or others significant places in the territory. They are performances of vertical dance, which is now ranked among the most popular arts in the recent years. One of the most spectacular and fascinating arts in spite of the tremendous sacrifice that lies behind every live performance, the only way they perform,.
In Italy the author of this ” spectacular balance ” and founder of the company “Il Posto” is the choreographer and dance-educator Wanda Moretti. She departed from Venice and enchanted audiences around the world, performing at the Singapore Arts Festival, the Biennale International des Theatres du monde of Rabat, at the Fools Festival in Belfast and at the Mittelfest. Wanda is the author of a path of vertical dance which began in 1995. She also studies the space in its anthropological, social, cultural and architectural features. From this analysis she creates an event-show where space, sound and movement combine in a single representation
Together with her choreographic work, she has undertaken a personal research on the educational potential of dance in schools and extracurricular structures. She studied at the Mousikè Centre of Bologna in collaboration with the Chair of History of Dance – DAMS University in Bologna and with Aterballetto. She is also teaching, doing some training and workshops for museums and organizations. About her work she says: “Vertical dance offers a different observation standard of the place. The place is not a simple container of the event but becomes itself part of the performance. The show we propose adds to the space a new unusual and unexpected point of view and music by Marco Castelli, performed live, creates an atmosphere in which the event comes to life.”
So the performance – in this case the vertical dance – blends with its surroundings, with the rough surfaces of a bell tower, with the bricks of a gallery or a civic tower, with the Artistic Heritage which welcomes all its persuasion and grace in a contrast that attracts and become complementary. It was Venice that gave the first input to Wanda; Venice, the mother par excellence of architectural art worldwide, where the typical streets do not allow us to see the horizon as if to indicate the only possible way out: the sky.
And between heaven and earth the artistic creation comes to life. Rhythm suspended in an immersive-performing experience that leaves no room for errors; body domination and “èloge de danse”. A performance that overflows in our “everyday spaces” redefining iconic “symbols” by actors; a convergence between art that moves and that which does not move; integrated testing and changing sets of cooperative processes, the need to let those sites “relive”, those sites and emblems, those “space of experience”, which is- to put it as Franco Speroni would- “a symptom of reality, a fascinating reading of the world beyond any interpretative arrogance.”
Massimo Schiavoni: Who was Wanda Moretti and who is she today?
Wanda Moretti: I startedmy dance training very late, following some amateur courses when I was around 12 years old. My strong passion for contemporary dance began when I was around 18 years old. Because of that I have been busy looking for something more; I have met and have even chased teachers, I participated in workshops and met people as well as learning techniques. In addition to contemporary dance I did yoga, tai chi quan, capoeira, I have no objections with regard to any form of movement. And then, I was into the Movement Analysis based on the studies of Rudolf Laban which I studied while I was training in dance. Along came also harmony of space studies, coreology and the interest in architecture and visual arts, learning methodologies, teaching and art education through a body process. Today I am and I feel the result of a gradual and perhaps unconscious approach to the vertical.
In 1990 I had an experience with the Canadian artist Jana Sterback; I was part of one of his works, Remote Control a Motorized crinoline / skirt. I was suspended 2 meters above the ground level for the Art Biennale. Then in 1993 at the Teatro Guardistallo with Cassandra by Crista Wolf I climbed a huge spider web made of rope and placed on the proscenium. Finally the work Aprimi un nascondiglio by Alda Merini in 1996 for the Poetry Festival in Venice; on the wall, a type of ‘Mary Poppins’ crucified, I represented the parallel and elusive world of a psychiatric patient. From this point on, the vertical became a need, I felt every experience was to be made on the wall. I needed that point of view to see the dance and watch the space around me. All uphill: the personal experience and the architecture, the search for dancers and choreography, the certifications required for those who work above the ground, safety and then the body seen with different eyes.
Massimo Schiavoni: Tell me in detail how passion and the need for contemporary dance and related studies and methodologies also associated with space, architecture and art education come to you. I want to know what techniques, processes, events and what people were essential to your artistic growth towards a discipline which is both versatile and multifaceted, innovative and meticulously complex and delicate.
Wanda Moretti: Without wishing to make a summary of the history and the origins of contemporary dance, let’s say that, unlike other kinds of dance, this one is born and is still today a research on the construction techniques of movement and choreographic composition. In the study of improvisation structures by Trisha Brown, for example, there is a modus operandi that allows the realisation of an artistic project through the application of rules of detection of space and shapes which are associated with a process of the creative practice of movements. A piece of art is the result of a thought that excites us and helps us to see and understand different meanings. Rudolf Laban, to whom we owe a scientific method of movement analysis and a system of movement notation (labanotation or cinetography, treats the body like a piece of architecture and allows us to reflect on the planning of a movement.
Another extremely important example is the recent work by William Forsythe which is presented at the website http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu. The exploration of a short choreography, is analyzed and interlaced with different forms of space writing, and of graphic and sound visualisation. Regarding the teaching of art, I am back again to the Labanian influences, which pushed me to an always open research that considers the body, perception and art as fundamental for knowledge and for learning methodologies. Of course, there’s more, but I think this is the ‘core’.
Massimo Schiavoni: How would you entitle your artistic work if you could not use the term “vertical dance”?
Wanda Moretti: I would say, “the practice of moving spatial planes “. Indeed, space practice where the body of the dancer is in charge of the negotiation of borders and boundaries in vertical territories, with a variety of sensitivities, knowledge and skills.
Massimo Schiavoni: How important was a city like Venice for your “birth” and artistic growth, a city with its art and its constraints – although fascinating and unique – its dislocations, the paths and routes “obliged”?
Wanda Moretti: Certainly I belong to Venice and I’m certainly influenced by stones and the presence of water; everything is toned down and softened by water, our roads are “water”, things and homes float, and gravity seems to be less important. Even the floor is softer and more elastic than the “mainland” roads. The inhabitants are accustomed to the rise, fall, slide, surf, movement into deep water. Sometimes I get the impression that the magnetic force that causes tides, causes something in me too. I remember a research project by some planners with whom I worked as a choreographer in 2008, together with the architect Cristina Barbiani with whom I share part of this research for a project on the redevelopment of La Defense in Paris: we were studying how the quality of the space – depending on the type of action that allows, encourages and suggests – affects the quality of living.
The vertical dance performance that we made in Paris was used as an investigative tool in very special urban contexts. I chose a gray multi-storey parking building with a -4 underground level, to blast over 10 floors into the sky, and so alongside the skyscrapers. The aim of the show was to see if through “dissociating” practices, something different from the usual customs could somehow affect areas and people. Here you have the answer to your question; it is surely this: the body is the medium through which we experience space, we are “carriers” across physical spaces, and we express personal judgments through the experience of our body. The place where we live always reflects what we do.
Massimo Schiavoni: How does your performance take life? The places and locations – historical buildings, architecture, towers, castles – and the choreography go together or is there a defined hierarchy?
Wanda Moretti: In most cases we have committees, so the choice of locations is a request coming from others. What I do with my company is to interpret the architectures that are proposed to us; we decide how to set up, where to place the dancers and if it is possible we create something on-site, refining the “listening” in the short term we are living in that place. Regarding the specific construction of the show, the subject grows slowly inside of me: on this I prepare studies, I research and I make hypotheses. Then I talk to Marco Castelli, the musician I have founded the company with. He writes and plays the music we use in the performances.
I share and discuss the project with him, then we process everything on our own. We then do the rehearsals with proposals by both of us to be explored. Marco is a jazz musician, he plays saxophone and live electronics, is an artist accustomed to work improvising. He has a particular talent for sound design. Then I also discuss with Andrigo Marianna, a beautiful dancer, who has been with me for many years. She has a unique a skill in movimg on the wall. In general, it is necessary to give more stimuli and to be clear and ready to take the proposals the dancers make and start again, if necessary.
Massimo Schiavoni: You told me about the musician Marco Castelli and about the dancer Marianna Andrigo. How did you meet and how did your collaboration start? Do you also work with other artists-dancers who are not permanently in the Company?
Wanda Moretti: Marco was a friend of some musician friends, I met him at a concert: he plays in various jazz groups, and collaborates on various projects for musical theatre, video, performances, and readings. He has always been very “diverse” in its interests and was immediately tested when I told him what vertical meant to me. The first collaboration together and with vertical dance was in the show with Alda Merini. I danced on the wall and he took care of the music and played on stage, accompanying and linking the reading of poems by Alda and my dance. In 1999 for the first great performance of vertical dance: Progetto Proteus, which was produced for 16 dancers at the University of Architecture in Venice, Marco put together and directed an orchestra of 10 brass and 6 percussion instruments.
I remember this show with real emotion; the cloister was full of spectators and everything was moving: the sound and the movement on the ground and in the air: it was a great experience. It tied for all the works to come. In a project with the Compagnia Il Posto, we consider music as a chance to further investigate space; to add information to its perception. I think it’s a great chance to use live music composed on purpose for dance because it allows a more targeted research and a better interaction between the form of dance, the dancers and the place in which the performance takes place.
Marianna is a dancer I selected in 2002. She had never been on the wall, but once the shelf below her feet had been “changed”, her predisposition to vertical was suddenly clear to me. She was young, now she is 27 years old. She has the experience and energy of a mature dancer who has danced everywhere. I’m very happy when we are together. She can dance wherever she is able to negotiate space with the intelligence of the body and she can manage her weight, strength and balance on windows, gutters, cornices, skyscrapers and houses mountain, on the stone, marble, on the battlements of castles, glass and aluminium, granite and slate. I think Marianne is the historical memory of most of my work She has accumulated a wealth of information and practices that make her a champion today.
This is why sometimes I have trouble in comparing her to other dancers. She left the company for a few years, but today Marianna collaborates as a dancer and helps me in the rigging (construction and assembling of ropes) of performances. She has a great expertise in vertical dance, and an important technical knowledge of this work. Other dancers who work with me are professionals who play a regular training in their basic technique.
They prepare themselves for vertical dance with a specific training which I personally teach them when I choose them. As for all contemporary dances, the training and the learning of the techniques comes while we prepare choreographies. Collaboration with other artists and groups in Italy and abroad are part of my work and I’m often called for choreographies, workshops and for the production of “specific” vertical events.
Massimo Schiavoni: Can you remember and outline for me your first performance of vertical dance? Rehearsals, sounds, smells and emotions.
Wanda Moretti: The first performance with Mark and Marianna? Do you know Teatro Verdi in Cesena? It’s a trendy place, a former theatre turned into a nightclub. The climate is very aggressive and not that poetic. We had a carpet of 2500 people glued one to each other who were looking up: Marianna and two other dancers were on the wall, Mark played the saxophone on the platform of the DJ.
We did 3 sets of 4 / 5 minutes, the last one between 3o’clock and 4o’clock in the morning. I remember the rehearsals we did in the afternoon went well. Nobody was there and nothing would happen until midnight: then the sea of people and bodyguards who escorted me to let me reach the strings and test them before the first performance. I remember the smell of spirits and a lot of concern for the girls on the wall! Then, we have only worked outdoor on buildings in the streets … deep down we are street artists.
Massimo Schiavoni: What does it mean today to be a street performer?
Wanda Moretti: What a difficult question! Mark would reply: “being too cold or too hot and having to answer strange questions”. And Marianne would answer: “is like being a fairground worker, we are there and people come and watch us”. One of the aims of our work is to bring people to the built-up space – blurring the boundaries – so for me it might be on the streets and between the houses.
A point of view which is not exactly the one of street artists. We are an hard “genre”, we do not fall precisely in the category of dance activities, we feel more akin to contemporary art, physical theatre, but we have also an “acrobatic” look that brings us to the circus disciplines: and also issues of architecture and visual arts. We work primarily in restored open spaces, but also in industrial archaeology venues. We have performed plays in historic buildings and modern architectures in unconventional places, towers, steeples, farm houses, churches, museums, bridges, trees.
I like to think that the relationship which takes life among the places where we work and the performance is as a public work, in the street, in front of everyone. During the setting up of the show there is a break-building phase, we enter and exit from all the sides of it: it’s like weaving a thread between the inside and the outside, to connect but also invade. People are interested and comes back several times during the construction and testing, which often lasts a day or two: then they also see the show and let us know what they think. They always ask why we chose their town and why we chose that very building.
Massimo Schiavoni: One of the most interesting things is the contact and exchange with the audience which is inevitably involved during the rehearsals and fittings. Can you tell me about and describe one or more “scenic places” where you have encountered difficulties or where it was somehow harder to work because of the physicality of the building and because of other problems not related to the performance in situ? What are the places in which you can give the best of yourself?
Wanda Moretti: Ridracoli Dam on Romagnolo Apennines, a concrete concave giant, 103 meters high and nearly 500 long, a very difficult location. People were watching from above the crown and below near the reservoir: they were all far away and also there were dancers among them. The vacuum was impressive, as well as the acoustics; dancers hardly heard each other, and music bounced from one point to another creating resonances and echoes that we were unable to correct.
There were 10 small bodies almost invisible on the huge stage and I did not know how to make them move. The hundred feet of rope that was left to each of them and needed to get them on the ground had a three times weight, it looked like a stick planted hard and durable. It was a bit all “against” our performance! I think the scene was breathtaking but when the architecture is so far from the human scale it is also far from the natural scale: it seemed to me it was refractory and difficult to be transformed into something else, there was no place for nature nor for man.
One of the most charming places was the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, a sixteenth century palace with a courtyard overlooked by 144 arches across 4 floors of galleries, a spell of lines and forms in a perfect synthesis. We did the performance by night working on several orders of height and on different sides. Most of the audience was lying on the ground to see comfortably and was surprised to see dance appearing always in different places. Dancers seemed to materialize in space and the strings were not visible, the sound of Marco propagated magically and also the acoustics were perfect.
I worked a lot on the show design: is one of the places where I wish to return. An extremely delicate place that surprised us for the architecture itself, a historic building in the heart of Venice. I absolutely wanted to use all the 4 walls facing the courtyard: it was there that the German merchants were locked in from 7 pm to 7 am at the time of the Serenissima Republic. They did their business and played their games, very risky games leaving traces and recording the Istrian stone with signs which are still indecipherable.
Perhaps all places are perfect, all are possible to be managed, they all have different energy, although there are structurally half windows, gutters, cornices and triples. I feel when they have that energy that has to do with living, with history and modernity that belongs to us.
Massimo Schiavoni: Venice definitely has a unique charm from an artistic and empathetic point of view which cannot be replicated or adequately described here. Please talk about your many experiences abroad on the occasion of many festivals like the Singapore Arts Festival, the Lugar a Dança in Portugal, the Biennale International des Theatres du monde in Rabat. Shows presented gruelling rehearsals, different cultures and people certainly not easy to forget.
Wanda Moretti: Yes, people that we will not forget and do not want to forget: we have discussed for months with Hang Quan, the Deputy Director of the Singapore Art Festival, thinking he was a man. only when we arrived we realized that she was a woman! We did two shows a day for 8 days and a preview for the press: the riggers who set up the installation on the building were two “super” Maori, powerful and fast. without carelessness they worked on the roof of a skyscraper, aluminium coated, with a temperature of 40 degrees. We were guests at the Hilton. There was a pool on the roof from which we could see all of Singapore: its skyscrapers. We were constantly surrounded by people who made us feel perfectly at ease. It was a very nice experience, we worked hard with new energy every day.
In the summer of 2005 a devastating fire across one side of the Atlantic coast from Santiago to Coimbra in Portugal, seemed to precede our tour: we met sites with gray ashes still in the air. Despite this ongoing tragedy, VO Arte did not want to stop the shows and we went ahead and felt the fear of people who saw the red sky. The fires were close, but they went to see the show, they brought a chair and remained to see us with a handkerchief over their mouth because of the ash, they clapped their hands and offered us some wine.
We’ve been back there several times, also last year for the 7th anniversary of the CAE – Centro De Artes and Espectáculos Da Figueira Da Foz, and the architecture that overlooks the ocean in a surreal completely white landscape. Rodrigo Nunes was our tour manager, a film student who works for the Festival and with Ângela Arrojo, from the production team, we spent a few evenings in “vida loca” style!
Also last year, at the International Biennial of Morocco, we were all worried about the installation. Nothing worked and although there were perhaps more than 40 technicians taking care of the rigging (sound and lights), only one seemed to work: every 3 hours a muezzin called them back and they went away to pray. Then they came back on the set to do a little (very little). Eventually, almost by magic, everything worked … it was exhausting. We set up the installation on one side of the National Theatre Mohammed V, a theatre with 5,000 seats with an average of 3 shows per day!
Massimo Schiavoni: What comforts you and satisfies you more than anything else in this balance between being in heaven and on earth? Is there any place where you would like to perform but still you could not do it? Tell me in a word (if there is one) a limitation in this discipline so “wild” but even so scrupulous.
Wanda Moretti: The desire to fly becomes poetry and the body, dance and movement help us to transform this subtle and profound desire to break away from the floor challenging gravity, to break away from everyday life to rediscover the flight of art, a new reason. The border is not being able to fly. There are plenty of places in which I’d like to create a new work: the interior of Pescheria in Pesaro, the courtyard of Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the Ponte Vecchio in Bassano del Grappa, the Bargello Museum in Florence, the Mole Vanvitelli in Ancona. I could go on listing areas in Italy as well as worldwide.
Massimo Schiavoni: Of course I understand your desire to perform in other fascinating and engaging places, not only in Italy, and this is normal. You have already talked about “particular” experiences difficult at times but always representing a “challenge” to yourself and the external environment. What was your most successful performance, the one where the edge of not being able to fly has shown up the most? Tell me about your next show and future projects of this wonderful artistic project you’re pursuing with passion and elegance, with determination and sacrifice.
Wanda Moretti: I often walk with my eyes upwards, I look at houses and think about where I could hang the dancers, in which position a moving body would have the most meaning. Which part of the building makes me “move”. The best performances are those in which the use of space excites everyone. Preserving the vertical dance characteristics, the use of “empty” spaces as I feel the need to add a reflection on the forms of the landscape that surrounds us. I try and think new angles, another perspective that shows the visual and kinetic environment turned into figures, visions, different forms. I want to use dance to put each area of a building in communication with the environment, through the elimination of boundaries and roles, because everything is a space that changes only according to the body.
This is an ongoing project for places of various kinds, as in the realisation I created for the Festival Valle Olona headed by Gaetano Oliva, from CRT of Fagnano Olona – a festival that deals with environment and landscape – last year we made the show in an abandoned mill located in Medio Olona park, near Varese. The deep aim is to encourage the actual knowledge of places, landscapes and spaces that, while seemingly outside the usual routes of socialization, belong to those who live and work there.
We want to suggest a reflection on the change of the landscapes, on the need to preserve and maintain traces and signs of the civilization that preceded us, the knowledge that the spread of a culture heritage is expressed through the link between places and individuals. Future projects? Right now, the tour of my new show Exuvia, also I’m engaged in a study of lifting water tanks at the entrance of towns, so present architectures in our landscapes.
Massimo Schiavoni: Before you leave and I thank you for the collaboration, I would like to ask you one last question: what is your relationship with the new digital technologies, such as video or 3D mapping – digital processing in three dimensions mainly used for architecture. Do you think somebody could somehow “experiment” with your creations.
Wanda Moretti: My experimentation is just a beginning. I see/think the use of video as a further investigation tool on space, and then on the body and movement. I use video to show points of view that the audience do not see. This is the reason why I started using video: to send in real-time and without any change the image of the dancers during their performance, to let them be seen from different angles. This phase is a challenging part in the sense that on every show I re-think the “points of view” according to the place where we are. The result is to re-project bodies on the nearby buildings, in different sizes. This idea was realized with Exuvia, which is the latest show on the subject of transformation. The use of 3D mapping programs is still a study.