"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost”

Good morning Dear Magdalenas,

I’m writing from Salento – Southern Italy – Apulia. I live here with my family in a small house by the sea; it’s the second spring we’re spending here and we are still in a sort of lockdown. Last year has flown, it was rapid yet intense. I have been forced to put in stand-by all my shows and activities, then I had a lot of time to think and reflect.

I have been experiencing several little pleasures during this time: looking at my daughter blossoming in her teen-age; finishing some books - many books; sleeping. I have a garden which I took care of and I spent a lot of my time in. Almost every day I took a walk from my home to high and imposing cliffs: at dawn, when north wind blows, it is possible to see the Albanian mountains and Greek islands on the horizon. We are in the Italian far east, we can enjoy the sun and the moon rising.

Some months before 2020 lockdown, Donata died; she was a woman who lived here since her retirement, she took care of a colony of thirty cats and four dogs. I remember when she walked down to the sea followed by the cats and the dogs. She looked like a piped piper who guides the caravan to the small port of this seaside resort that faces Adriatic Sea; at the port there were fishermen with their nets full of fish. Nowadays I take care of the colony, the local administration gave me the title of "cat lady" – "gattara". I couldn't even imagine that this would be a social role officially recognized by the community.

Maristella MartellaTo be honest, during the first months of 2020 lockdown I didn’t miss dance and I didn’t try to continue workshops and laboratories, interrupted by COVID, even if it was possible to continue teaching and facilitating them on Zoom and other platforms. But something happened during last winter and I changed my mind about the opportunities offered by technology. Tarantarte, the cultural association I direct, used to organize every years artistic residencies in our cultural center, LUG Ex-Macello in Corsano (Lecce), where all our activities have their origins; but this year, due to the health emergency, the Apulian regional administration asked us to continue our artistic residency activities, moving all work online. I was not enthusiastic about this, I often felt lost and without ideas: I always work tryng to develop empathy in the circle created by participants of workshops and it seemed impossible to me to imagine other ways than the real presence.

Maristella MartellaDespite these feelings, I tried to use as best I could the technological instruments and I started experimenting with dance on video: I didn't start with the rhythm and unanimity, as I did in my previous works; I started from the eye in the camera, instead, considering Zoom as a window. Work developed around what was appearing in the video. The thorax, the eye, the pupil, the teeth, the hand's lines, the wrinkles, the shapes made by our t-shirts when we slip them over our heads, just as if we were creating wrapped images.

I went through the details, the microcosm of our bodies and rooms. The experiment I conducted had unexpected results. I decided to continue this online work when residency was over and I created a group of 20 female dancers, each one from her own room, in a sort of virtual unanimity. During lessons, I guide them in the opening training, then we start improvisation, trying to trace a field of action and reaction, in front of a webcam on a laptop. Screens are vibrating then. We exploited the available means, trying not to replace presence, but to create, to study and to experiment. I think that even when theatres and cultural centers will be reopened and people will be able to meet in presence, I will try to maintain active this work on hybrid language of presence/virtuality. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MReKEm13TOw)

Something else happened during this months. Apulian Public Theatre (a public consortium of theatre entities) organized a theatrical review, commissioning Tarantarte and other dance and theatre companies to create brand-new performances with some special features: the performance would be on stage in a local theatre but it would reach only a public at home via a live stream, and the dancers and actors/actresses on stage were required to be sittng at a table set for dinner. We needed a new language to successfully accomplish this work and we felt very uncomfortable at the beginning. All this situations turned out to be an opportunity to experiment, enriching our research with works and theatrical actions. I tried to mix language and dancing narration in the story of for women and their constrictions. Even if I didn’t decide that from the very start, “Veleno” speaks about the restlessness and concerns times we are living.

Maristella Martella

The title, "Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost” is a quote from Pina Bausch.

Veleno - Maristella Martella