Interview with Transitions Dance Co. collaborator, Elisa Pagani

Words by Katie Hagan

Elisa Pagani, choreographer and artistic director of DNA Compagnia di Danza Contemporanea, was one of three international collaborators selected to create a triple bill of new work for Transitions Dance Company 2019/20.

With the company set to exhibit its new work on a spring 2020 tour, Elisa speaks to the dance art journal about her time with the Transitions dancers; giving us a little taste of what we can expect when the work transfers from the Trinity Laban studios to performance spaces around the UK.

Q: Your work at DNA ‘marries physicality and instinct, sensibility and strength, to explore the complexity of human relationships in their most primal state.’ Why do you take this approach? Also, are you using this approach during your time with Transitions Dance Company?

A: I consider dance to be the most instinctive, primordial, delicate way to communicate; the easiest manner to detect the deep relationships between human beings, society and nature.

I’m attracted to matter and the way it moves. It changes, it connects itself with the rest of the universe. And we are matter. Of course, I’m using the same approach with Transitions Dance Company – I suppose this is a good context to push the dancers to find an honest way to express themselves.

We began by exploring body masses, weight and volumes. We observed and shared the origins of pushing, pulling, moving – as parts of the same dynamic system. Our inspiration was everything from the macrocosmic – the universe – to a shoal. From this practice, we extracted a list of keywords to use through the creative process.

Elisa Pagani

Q: What did you work on with Transitions Dance Company?

A: The piece for TDC is a fairy tale about a ship crew sinking and turning into sirens. The piece begins immediately after a frightening shipwreck in the open sea. The navigators are missing and have to deal with the conflict between the survival instinct and the acceptance of defeat.

The inevitable sinking leads the bodies to a new condition, a transformation of the body, lungs into gills, skin into scales, a human community into a shoal. Men are now mythological creatures who can live a new beginning about rebirth, redemption, new life.

Q: What did you hope to achieve during your time with Transitions?

A: I guess to create a sensitive piece and even upset the audience’s senses. I would lead the dancers and therefore the audience towards a delicate topic regarding a sad metaphor of what has happened many times in front of the Italian coasts.

It’s a current subject I’d like to speak about, as Italian citizens don’t agree with some of the political positions of our government. I’d speak to the audience with no violence, no pain, just a poem. And finally I hope to learn and improve myself, one more time, sharing an intimate journey with sensitive dancers and travelling together deep inside the folds of the human condition.

Q: How did you advise the Transitions Dance Company members? How important is it for them to be strong dancers but also creative ‘thinkers’ and ‘makers’?

A: I suggest they are curious, starving, humble, listening, connecting and always searching for something new. In dance as in life. Above all I recommend to feed their soul outside the studio. A good dancer needs to trust the project and feel free to take their space in the creative process; this is possible if the dancer has achieved an independent way of thinking and making the performance. 

Q: Aside from Transitions, what else are you working on? 

A: I’ve just created a new solo for DNA and I’m going to restage a piece from our repertoire for a festival in Italy. I’m going to meet my new young professional students at Alma Studios in Bologna, and arrange a Russian and a Chinese DNA tour next summer.

I’m glad to export my work abroad, to blend educational and creative work and finally to enrich my inspiration through very different jobs. The next year’s aim is to feed my knowledge with a never-ending research in studying, creating, exploring. But above all I want to spend my time with my family: my husband and my amazing children.

Images: Trinity Laban. See 2020 spring tour dates for Transitions Dance Company here.