With Save the last Dance for Me you put on stage a dance, a popular tradition in danger of extinction. Could you share your interest in the research and revival of this dance?
It was a surprise. I didn’t know this dance. Lisa Gilardino send me a video of this dance and then we decided to go together to see it live in 2018. We met this man, Giancarlo Stagni, a ballroom master and he told us that there were just a few people practicing this dance including himself. Besides the beauty of the Polka Chinata, in my mind there was this element of the dance almost dying. It’s not a very old dance, just a little bit more than 100 years old and the idea that it was already disappearing was very moving to me. I think it was disappearing because it used to be a courtship dance, common among the males before getting married in the beginning of the last century. The lives of girls and boys were very separated, so basically during the parties where all the society came together, the men were showing this dance to the community as a way to show off. The dance was not practiced by women at all. Men were practicing this acrobatic movement in their free time, on their own.
I was very fascinated with this dance because it’s not very common to see a ballroom dance performed by people of the same sex. Practicing this dance was almost like a sport to men. At the beginning of the century it was already performed outside in the courtships and streets and the audience were watching which pair of dancers were the fastest and the best. It was almost like a competition. And about why this dance was disappearing, well it was performed on the courtships and then society changed, there was no need to practice it anymore. Also, the dance itself is very difficult. It’s not something you learn in a few lessons. Giancarlo Stagni found some old videos of Polka Chinata and decided to learn it through them.
Having seen several of your works, where does your fasciation and dedication to circular dances and turning come from?
If I am completely honest I think I have been very fascinated by this sort of spinning and whirling movements since I was a child. But in my work at a specific moment in 2015 I was invited into a project between Europe and Canada. Migrant bodies, a group of choreographers were studying about migration, immigration of the humans but also migration of the animals. I was fascinated by the migration of animals, like salmons for example. They were born in the river and did their first metamorphosis to move from the water of the river to the water of the sea, where they spent the most of their life. And when they think they are dying, they go back to the same place that they were born. In that moment I was fascinated with the idea of using only one movement in each show, so I asked myself which was the movement of migration and it was a circle. That’s how it started. I went to my studio and started spinning to find a technique of my own. I made a lot of mistakes but in the end I finally found out the way of spinning without getting sick. If you see me spinning you don’t of course think about the salmons anymore, but that’s where the idea came from. Turning in English means changing, evolving besides spinning. And the movement still keeps evolving and changing. There was a need to research it with different groups, performers and designers, and when I received the videos of Polka Chinata, they were spinning. Once you learn the technique of spinning, it’s more of a pleasure, physical and mental journey, because while spinning some memories might appear in your mind, which make the movement even sweeter. When I teach it, people are really enthusiastic about it.
Save the last Dance for Me is also an intimate performance on trust and reliance on the other, creating an intensity of movement and expression, what are your thoughts in relation?
I totally agree with the mention of trust. Actually when you spin so fast and when you are hugging someone else while doing so, you have to believe that the other person is not letting you go because otherwise you both are falling to the ground. It’s about trusting your partner, doing your best to support each other at the same time. I think this questions opens the question of intimacy. Actually something we were not very focused on when we started creating the work in the sense that, we never thought that from the audience perspective there was a layer that was connected to intimacy or the fact that the two dancers can describe this kind of a relationship trough dance. Then we started to show this piece to some friends, we really realized that people were kind of reading “love meaning” in this dance, which is actually far from the original dance, man showing off and all of that. We decided not to underline this layer. I only asked them to go on a stage already hand in hand. They keep touching each other until the very end, even while the audience is applauding. I think this reflects the trust very well. I got one beautiful comment from a programmer in Paris. She said after the show that she had a feeling that she wanted to go out and fall in love with someone. And I kind of like it, although it’s not really our intention. We didn’t want to transform something that has a very different connotation into something else. I think everyone can see slightly different things in this dance. In some point of the performance there is a switch, where the dancers transform the effort of the dance into “pleasure” and they start smiling. This changes the atmosphere and transforms this energy of the room.
The dancers were traveling from Milan to Bologna over six months to get lessons. But we produced this piece in the studio only in eight days, because we thought it was going to be presented only in Santarcangelo Festival, as a sort of “sharing”. Also the composers of the piece sent us materials from Barcelona and weren’t even physically present in the studio. I thought it would have been an experience that you do one time in a festival and not do it after that anymore, but now the piece tours the world.
Regarding the dancers in this piece, I was already collaborating with Gianmaria Borzillo, because he was in another piece of mine. Giovanfrancesco Giannini instead was an artist I never worked before. I thought it was going to be a beautiful pair. That’s how it started.
I was talking with an anthropologist in Bologna about this forgotten dance. She told me that dance, doesn’t go in extinction like vegetal or animal species. Extinction of dance only happens, when no one remembers anymore about that. Dance is already immaterial so it has the capacity to appear and disappear and pop up again. It can also jump over generations. We are also doing workshops with this piece, not just to learn the dance but to keep the memory of it alive.