Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar introduces Alessandro Sciarroni and FOLK-S, Will you still love me tomorrow? presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre February 2-4:
If you follow The Dance Centre’s programming across the seasons you will already have come across multitalented Italian artist Alessandro Sciarroni: a performer, choreographer and director with a background in visual arts and strong interest in fashion and design too! Alessandro’s connection to Vancouver comes through the international three-year project Migrant Bodies that The Dance Centre participated in, collaborating with partners from Montreal, Italy, France and Croatia. Prior to this project, I had the pleasure of following Alessandro’s rise to international acclaim through other European projects I have been involved with or followed closely over the years, such as Choreoroam, Aerowaves, the Venice Biennale, B-Motion, and the Dance Week Festival which I founded in my hometown of Zagreb.
I am continuously amazed how this quiet, thoughtful, analytical, measured, and rather shy person creates works which mesmerize and delight in odd ways, and which are also thought-provoking and push boundaries. They seem to have a thread-through, however much they appear to be different. The connection seems to be rooted in simple, daily pleasures, ancient traditions and habits, along with cultural references we encounter and take for granted, or others which are quietly disappearing. His approach gives them new meaning, retaining familiarity. There is humour, intertwined with a dose of melancholy, and there is always a physical challenge. Time is often is pushed to the limits. His approach to dance, to performance, can be seen as anthropological as he carefully stages, constructs, (dis)places and recreates strange manifestations in a matter-of-fact way: stripped of original context, providing new meaning, using objects in unusual ways, each sequence redefining the performance space.
FOLK-S, Will you still love me tomorrow? has played in over 20 countries worldwide since its premiere in 2012. Looking back, one could argue it was the first in a trilogy, as Alessandro’s following works Untitled – I will be there when you die and Aurora both also seem to deal with repetition, extreme physical challenge, the support of the individual through a group effort, and trust. In all the challenges he poses both to the dancers and to the audience, there is lots of room for generosity: the communal experience of sharing in the moments we spend together, as audience and performers, united in a joint effort to achieve the goal, questioning how far can we go? What are the borders we and the performers are willing to endure? Where does the point of exhaustion lie? Where is the end? Is this the end? Really the end? Alessandro’s mashing up of disciplines has created quite a stir, especially this trilogy of physically demanding pieces, of which FOLK-S is the start of a long journey of investigations. He deconstructs, decontextualizes, builds up, creating tension through repetition of the patterns (and adding subtle variations!).
FOLK-S is a deconstruction of the Schuhplattler (shoe-beater), a traditional folk dance from the Alpen regions, notably Bavaria and Austria, where the dancers slap their legs and shoes with their hands. Traditionally it is danced only by unmarried young men and given up after they marry. Alessandro came across it on the internet: apparently the Tyrolean group he approached was initially reluctant but eventually he convinced them and learned the steps before creating the piece, and – shockingly! - introduced a female performer into his dance.
He is interested in how an ancient folkloric dance, or any tradition, survives into contemporaneity. He admits he owes as much to the ideas of Marina Abramovic influencing this work as he does to the young men of the Tyrolean folk group, saying: “I didn’t invent these steps, I am using them like Duchamp used the urinal”. There are around 10 choreographic phrases that the dancers work with, taking the lead from each other so that each performance is different, composed in real time. He maintains the purpose is not the choreography itself, but the sense of freedom it evokes. FOLK-S is built on repetition (you will recall Jan Martens’ The Dog Days Are Over last season). As a performance it assumes an almost ritualistic life. The dancers are clear in their instructions: they will dance for you, for themselves, for us, until they cannot any more… There is a sense of bravado, despite the physical exertion that the dancers subject themselves to.
I still remember very clearly the premiere of FOLK-S at the B-Motion Festival in the picturesque, culture-rich city of Bassano del Grappa, on an extremely hot night at the stark performing space of the Garage (literally a dance space created from a mechanic’s garage donated to the Festival by the kings of grappa, the Nardini family). As the performers came on stage, and started to dance, we were glued to their efforts unfolding in front of us. Those who recognized the sequences from the folk dance immediately asked themselves where this was going. As the work evolved, we found ourselves taking on the role of cheerleaders with a strong desire to help the dancers to endure. And as the sweat from the heat generated by the lights hanging low above our heads, we all were breathing to the rhythm filling the room, the movement patterns taking power over us… Someone MUST stop…. Who? When?
I admit I had some challenging moments, but then I was just there, with the dancers… with a strange sense of liberation by the end. I was left almost wanting it to continue forever. The dance perhaps asks us the questions: will you be there when I die, will you remember me? And yes, remember I did.
The Dance Centre presents FOLK-S, Will you still love me tomorrow? as part of the Global Dance Connections series and in partnership with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre February 2-4, 2017 at Scotiabank Dance Centre.
Photos: Matteo Maffesanti (top), Andrea Macchia (bottom)