Independent artist, Alice Gosti talks through the pandemic and her project Liminale

My name is Alice Gosti, I use she/her pronouns. I am an Italian-American immigrant choreographer, hybrid performance artist, curator, DJ, and architect of experiences. I am usually based out of occupied Duwamish and Coast Salish land, now named Seattle (USA).

Since March I have been in Perugia, Italy where I was born and raised and where I have been in quarantine. I was raised in a bi-cultural family of artists, installation makers, and space transformers. My performances live and breathe the dualities within a multicultural environment. I like to work simultaneously with film, installation, wearable art, sound, poetry, digital platforms, and audience interaction to create durational performances integral to their non-traditional sites, to create cultural moments for audiences from one to 15,000. I make what I like to call socio-political performance spectacles. I am interested in the way that history and politics enter the body and condition the way we move, relate and are in relationship with our own bodies and others’. I am a museum, gallery, art festival child. My parents, SANDFORD&GOSTI immersed my brother and I in as much art as they could get their hands on. Art was everywhere at all times.

I started dancing when I was very small. Around seven years old I was fortunate to meet and become Valentina Romito and Rita Petrone’s student at what was called Dance Gallery. Their philosophies around movement and art are pillars in my approach to dance as a meaning-making art form. At such a young age they encouraged me to see poetry in all things. I believe that dance/movement/art are powerful tools to dismantle and destroy systems of oppression. To do so, we have to question everything, including the foundations of those practices. 

I had just arrived in Italy, literally two days before lockdown. I was supposed to be here, on vacation, for three weeks, spend time with my family, meet my new niece Lidia and travel to Bologna and Rome to see my best friends. That was the original plan… as we all know that did not happen.

I am still here. I’ve gotten to spend some safe amazing time with family and friends. Reconnect with a lot of wonderful humans in my life. Which has been incredible. From a work, creative prospective, at first I got very sad and worried. I kept asking myself – What am I going to do?

My art form is all based on people being together in the same room. All the stages of dance happen in rooms filled with people. Either learning from each other or witnessing each other. After a couple days of that I wondered if this was the time for me to study and learn a new job. Maybe the opportunity to learn a money-making skill, such as programming. I let that one go and realised that I have a lot of knowledge that could help other people. Even if I did not know how and what to do exactly, I could start from teaching some really simple dance/movement classes for people stuck at home. So, I started teaching. This amazing group based in Boston started a teaching platform called freeskewl (@freeskewl) where I pitched the idea of switching the site-specific work I had been making in public spaces to our private spaces. It worked. The scores, the exercises, the philosophies we have been working on for so long were working. With some adapting and switching they worked in private spaces too.

At that point I was talking to my longstanding dance teacher Valentina Romito, who also is the director and curator for Home: Centro Creazione Coreografica. We were supposed to have an in-person residency and we were talking about different options. At one point she asked me what if I did a completely digital residency? Could I write her a proposal about what I would do in a digital residency? By that point I had already organised and produced two Gatto Nero virtual cabaret events with artists from all over the world logging in to perform. I was feeling very curious about how to approach live performance in the virtual realm. Can we still create powerful moments of togetherness even if we are not breathing the same air? So, I proposed Liminale. I originally was awarded an in-person residency in my town Perugia that was supposed to happen in June. As the pandemic was continuing the idea of having an in-person residency was looking more and more impossible. Valentina Romito, Home’s director at one point asked me: what would you do if we moved your residency to the virtual world? I made her a proposal, and that project became Liminale. Liminale had two parts. A 3-week workshop session with 12 movement artists meeting twice a week, for 2 hours per session. A 4-week rehearsal session with six movement artists, meeting twice a week, for 3 hours per session. This project is looking at the way that we can think of the spaces of our confinement as locations, places, inspiration for site-specific performance.

Will we ever come back together? It is impossible to answer that, but we are trying to learn and keep working as much as we can in this moment. Stay present. Create. The grief, the screen exhaustion, still come, and I am aware of my privilege in this situation. I don’t have to worry about food, about a place to sleep. But maybe this little story can inspire one to imagine all the new ways we can make work, together while afar. 

I proposed a method of work. I was going to use the site-specific classes I had created for freeskewl as a starting point and deepen that practice while thinking and inviting dancers to experiment with different platforms. Simultaneously I also started learning as much as I could about Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, and OBS. I wanted to figure out what the unique storytelling capacities of each media were. Valentina really liked the idea so we started working. I never really stopped working creatively. I rested, I found some stillness and some slow pace which allowed me to create a regulation in my practice that I had never experienced before. I knew that if I did not use my body every day, especially in the lockdown phase where we were not allowed to leave our houses, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. It has happened before in my life to get my schedule all messed up so that I cannot sleep, and the night and the day start meshing and all of a sudden, I am sleeping way into the day and staying awake deep into the night. This was not the moment and time to let that happen again. So, I am hyper regulated. Moved my body every day. Had synchronous workout sessions with my best friend Katie in Atlanta.  Started teaching Buongiorno Core a bi-weekly full body movement practice on Instagram, which started with my parents and I, then my brother and friends all over would log in and do it live with us or afterwards. I endlessly miss being in a room with my collaborators. I miss creating for people that will be in the same time and space with me. The way my brain is, it made no sense to wait. The thing that made most sense was to see what we could make inside these limits. ‘What could we learn that may end up influencing our future directions?’

As Covid-19 spread so did the regulations and limitations on social gatherings and physical proximity. As a dance, performance and movement person, it meant that almost all of my work as I knew it was gone or put on hold. The grief came in. The insecurities. The fears. The confusion. The existentialism. It all came in. Then I remembered a quote from Beth Pickens’ book Your art will save your life. Premise: I am not much of a self-help books person, but this one has some precious gems in it, including this – Anytime you feel overwhelmed by humanity’s impact on people, animals, and the planet, or, really, anytime you think you cannot leave the house because the world is too hard, I want you to think about the art, performances, music, books, and films that have made you want to be alive. In that same moment I was reminded about something I say and practice all the time in rehearsals and when I teach. An obstacle is the possibility for a new creative solution. The current obstacle is that we cannot rehearse in the same space, we cannot share our creations with an audience by sitting in the same room. In that moment I chose to recalibrate towards all the things I could still do, and let go of the general narrative based on all the things that are lost and that we cannot do. 

At times it was really hard. All the skills I had acquired in the years of being in rehearsals, teaching, facilitating seemed at first gone completely. One does not understand how much unspoken communication happens during an in-person class/rehearsal/meeting until you are not in-person anymore. Sometimes it felt like I was speaking into a void. A void that was also sucking all of my energy and creativity. As the process progressed and as I was also having more rehearsal experiences with other projects, I got more comfortable with the feeling of the void and realised that there was a whole new set of insecurities that I had to deal with, which were mostly just my own. 

I had to figure out new ways. I had to let go of a layer. More than ever my work became a practice in trust and autonomy for all those involved. 

The dancers were amazing and taught me so much, held my insecurities and my transparency as much as I held theirs. We found ways together, listening and responding. Trying to find the advantages of having rehearsals in a non-synchronous way. I am very thankful to this group of humans. Working with them ignited my dreams and my visions. Inspired me to keep thinking, playing, and wondering. We created something really special together and I am super excited about both the outcome and the work that will follow. I personally thank Alyza DelPan-Monley, Anna Borini, Clotilde Cappelletti, Rosaria Di Maro, Teresa Feio, Sara Maurizi, Cecilia Ventriglia, Simona Ceccobelli, Matteo Vignali, Paolo Rosini, Mattia Maiotti, Tereza Hradilkova, Marcella Martusciello, Sharon Estacio, and Giordana Patumi.

Part of Liminale was to play and possibly understand more of the different ways to engage with the audience. The assumption we started working from was that we do not know if and how performing in this virtual domain works in the ways that we have been interested. Can we experience togetherness through this virtual world? 

We know film and video work. Theatre, dance and live performance, we have been working on this since the beginning of time. Starting with rituals and ceremonies, we know these art forms were some of the first ways that humans used to express themselves. We have all that work to do in regards to the possibility of working in the virtual and digital ‘domani’. As humans we have developed and evolved with and because of these art forms. Our brains have learnt to understand narrative in a certain way, and we have built narrative in a certain way to follow the desires, needs and capacity of our brains. 

In this project we used Instagram stories, posts, and lives as ways to experiment and connect with audiences. We had two live events on Instagram – a talk/presentation of some of the performers involved and a short cabaret experiment where nine of the performers shared live some of their studies. During the final four weeks of our residency I encouraged the artists involved to think about what they would do in this digital/virtual world. After all the work and experiments we had done together how would they engage an audience in an experiment on togetherness. They came up with incredible projects, research on # in relationship to performance, video and photographic diaries created by the audience answering questions from the dancers, questionnaires based on ideas around different performative themes. 

My intention was to encourage my collaborators to see the infinite possibility that there is as you look deeply into the infinite potential of co-creating while afar, looking beyond what we already know, not only to expand what the audience thought might be possible. Finally, our closing experiment was a live performance on Zoom. An itinerant performance in which each audience would construct their own experience by following one or another. There is a lot I learnt during this event; which is why I need to continue working on this project. It is as if we are barely touching the surface of these ideas and there is so much more potential to play with and discover.

The generosity of the audience and of the performers allowed me to really see what we were doing, how to move forward and also how to evolve. It showed me that it is possible to experience togetherness, be touched by the poetry and magic of performance even at a distance, even while we are not in the same space. 

I learned and am still learning a lot from Liminale. I had three big goals with this project: figure out how it works/feels to create and rehearse inside of Zoom; could we feel together even while far away and could the audience experience anything with us. I learnt that to work on Zoom is exhausting but not impossible. The collaborators can give you a lot of energy and inspiration. It is different but it is still there. We did feel together. The rituals of rehearsals, the breathing together, the building of tiny unisons, the discussions, all allowed us to feel together, in some moments more than others. Other moments we felt more distant than ever before; alone in a dark void. The audience response was also pretty vast in range, some felt strong intimate connections with the performers, others felt mirrored into their very own experience of quarantine life, others at moments felt like they were voyeuristically watching into the windows of their neighbours; peeking into a world that was not theirs to look into. Some felt connected to the whole, felt community for the first time in a while. The felt like they could breathe together with other people. Cecilia Ventriglia reminded us about this wonderful quote from Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It is somewhat easy for some of us now to dismiss the hardship that was full lockdown. Or maybe it is just me and my tendency to forget how hard things can be. 

With Liminale we saw the light that was coming through the cracks, we went to look at it and we played and risked. 

Sara Maurizi brought this up on the last day of rehearsals that we had after the performances. As artists that have travelled and continue to live and work all over Europe (and the world) working in the digital, virtual domain allows us to engage with all of our audiences. We are bringing our art directly into people’s houses, which means our art can be anywhere in the world at the same time. I chose the times for the performances intentionally to facilitate viewing from different time zones. I was in Italy, while my family and friends in Seattle were watching, while my friends all across Italy could watch, while my friends in Germany were also able to log-in, as were my friends on the East Coast of the USA.

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Dance, in most of its forms, continues to be controlled by economic or cultural privilege which in many ways limits access to it. Cost of classes, cost of uniforms and shoes, cost of hair products, cost of tickets to see performances. Liminale seemed to enter people’s houses in a way I had not experienced before. In my durational site-specific projects, I often talk about democracy of the audience. I am interested in offering contexts in which people, the viewers can choose and define the rules, boundaries and limits of their own engagement. Liminale felt like it was accessing a similar concept. You decide how you engage. You decide which dancer you follow, which landscape interests you. You decide how and when you enter. That said I am completely aware of the fact that internet, internet access, computers or devices that can play video, and being technologically comfortable are also some huge obstacles.  

I am sure that this project and this experience will continue to reveal new levels of knowledge to me as time passes and I continue to work. 

As a mixed-culture person, as somebody that has lived in two worlds for my whole life it was very special to engage with both of my worlds. For the first time all my people could participate, not only as an audience but as performers. I could work with artists from Seattle and artists living all over Italy. Theoretically if I were to do this piece again, I could work with artists from all over the world at the same time.  As a bi-lingual bi-cultural person I desire deeply to exist in situation in which my multitudes can be seen and accepted simultaneously and not one at the time. And this rehearsal process, this project, these experiments, continuously give me that opportunity. In these situations my creativity thrives; my brain, my ideas flourish and expand. 

I miss dancing. I miss dancing in a room. I miss dancing in a room with people. I miss rehearsing in a room full of incredible collaborators. I miss performing. None of this will ever, ever replace the feeling one gets from a live performance. I do not think that this is the only future for dance and the performing arts. But I do think that the virtual and digital world together with different technologies can create new experiences. Again, it is not about re-creating the live, in person experience. It is about understanding what the marriage between these art forms can create, that is unique and specific to these platforms. To be super clear, performers straight up video recording themselves moving in a random space in their house and sharing it on social media is not what I am talking about. 

I am talking about dance created intentionally for the space it is being filmed in. Filmed in a way that embraces the concept of the dance and of the space it is being filmed in. And consequentially presented on the platform that best complements the space and the intentions. Everything, all the choices are following the intentions of the art piece that is being created, or the experiment that we are trying to play with. 

Some days, especially when I think nothing will work, and I get very discouraged; when I feel more alone; I think of the fact that dance has been one of the very first art forms, and we have had thousands of years to experiment with it, grow and change with it, understand it, and somewhat master it. We have not had that much trial and failure relating dance with technologies and the virtual and digital world. In comparison, what we are doing now is not even an embryo yet. We have so very little knowledge on how to move and engage in this world, which is both exciting and terrifying. 

This is especially true since we all continue to make the mistake of trying to find in it the same sensations, connections we have when we experience live performance. It is simply impossible to come at it with a completely fresh prospective. Because our world, the world we knew has been swept away from under our feet in the matter of a couple days. And we are still dealing with the loss, in some cases we are still mourning and dealing with the fear that that world will never come back.  

It feels more than ever like the future is a mystery, full of experiments that I had never thought I would embark on, yet that strangely bring together all of the skills that I have accumulated in the years. That said I am one of those makers who cannot really stop, nor do I particularly want to. At the moment I just finished filming a short film with one of my old-time buddies and filmmaker Luca Truffarelli here in Italy. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers and have wanted to work together ever since, but the timing never clicked. 

MALACARNE and I took a break from rehearsals in August. But we are planning on picking up in September continuing the work and deepening the research that started with Liminale. We are going to take the fall to see how far this idea can go. We are hoping to have a premiere in late 2020.  We are also producing and in the planning stages of two new dance films, which won’t premiere until 2021-22. All the events, performances and residencies that we were supposed to have, have been postponed and we are hoping to pick those up as soon as things feel safer and I am able to travel back to the USA. 

I was selected as one of four finalists to perform for the DNAppunti Coreografici showcase during the RomaEuropa Festival (Rome, Italy) October 31st. This will be my first time in front of a live audience in almost a full year. 

I have been brainstorming new classes to present @freskewl. At the same time, I am getting ready to teach at Cornish School of the Arts (Seattle) for the first time. I will be teaching a class based on the ideas of Liminale, and the class will include a series of public streaming events organised by the students and one zoom performance event.

After taking a little break from Gatto Nero, the virtual cabarets, I am also hoping to pick that up again. I’ll get some help and bring it back to a monthly event. 

I miss dancing with other people. I miss being in rooms with other people. All this, as I have said, does not replace that. It never will. It is a new window, a new possibility, a new format, a new way of creating art that still makes place for physical poetry, ritual, and togetherness. 

Nonostante ci fossero tanti limiti noi abbiamo cercato di respirare insieme

                                                                                                                        -Cecilia Ventriglia

Header image: still from film with Luca Truffarelli.