First Love an ode to romance| Marco D’Agostin | Review

Word by Giordana Patumi.

‘First Love’ is like a letter put into an envelope and addressed to your first love. It is the story of a young boy in the 90s who did not like soccer but liked cross-country skiing and dance. But, since he did not know any movement he enjoyed replicating those of skiing, in the living room, in his room, swallowed by the perennial green of a province in Northern Italy.

Marco D’Agostin, winner of the 2018 Ubu Award as best performer under 35, has developed his research since 2010 as a guest choreographer on numerous international projects, presenting his work in many of the main Italian and European festivals. 

His work questions the role and function of memory, and focuses on the relationship between performer and spectator: dance, a complex geography in which sounds, words and movements collide continuously, always tends towards the emotional compromise of those who perform it and those who watch it.

Active in the field of dance and performance, Marco D’Agostin is known for his fluid, dynamic poetics. After a disjointed training with masters of international renown (Claudia Castellucci, Yasmeen Godder, Nigel Charnock, Rosemary Butcher), he consolidates his path both as a performer (for the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Alessandro Sciarroni, Tabea Martin, Liz Santoro among others) and as an author (his works have been touring all over Europe since 2010). 

D’Agostin states, “It interests me when I see a body move or I make my body move, that somehow there is a surrender on the part of one’s biography and one’s sentimental posture towards the world and the things of the world. There is the surrender of something, that is, that the gesture is filled with something with a level of self that is not necessarily anatomical, but that has to do with feelings. I would say in the last instance, in order for the feeling to move the body, something must necessarily be surrendered.”

Sometimes we rediscover forgotten drawers where old receipts, photographs, greeting cards and small objects are hidden; preserved and safely stored in distant times.

The memory resurfaces and illuminates a faded past in which those items were precious treasures, untouchable amulets, giving back lifeblood to feelings left to dry like flowers between the pages of lost diaries.

This is the feeling you get when you open, before the beginning of ‘First Love’, the envelope given to each spectator. Inside the envelope, there are no hall sheets, the director’s notes for Marco D’Agostin’s work are a photograph, the words of a song, a pin with the drawing of a mountain and a sticker. They tell through metonymic references, the first love of the dancer: cross-country skiing and the heroine who represents it, the champion Stefania Belmondo, who in the polaroid kept inside the envelope smiles next to a still childish Marco D’Agostin.

‘First Love’ is a cry of revenge, desperate exultation, dismemberment of nostalgia, in a swing between realism and poetry, between body and word, which originates in the reinterpretation of the most famous race of the Piedmontese Stefania Belmondo champion, the 15 km free technique of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a mythical feat that immediately becomes legend, an incredible epic tale suspended between dream and reality that culminates in a victory so impossible that, as the words of the commentator say, “it seems to be staged”.

D’Agostin builds an intimate plot in which body and voice interact to compose a new and unusual grammar, at the same time pressing and delicately poetic of poignant beauty. 

With ski steps morphing into dance steps, onstage we find a boy who has now grown up, no longer a skier but a dancer, no longer on the snow but onstage, able to merge the tumultuous memories of his first falling in love with the competitive atmosphere of sport and the emotions that only the Olympics can give. The imagination of Marco as a child, divided between his passion for dancing and skiing, overlaps with the reconstruction of the original commentary of the race, the dramaturgic score of the entire show.

And it is here that an unexpected short circuit is triggered: the private story, ephemeral and nostalgic, mixes with the heroic narration of the sporting event, giving us an interpretation that leaves us breathless. The public, however, in the dark of the room relives that race on his skin. 

The liminal contrast between the extreme autobiographical subjectivity of the narrator’s perspective and the cold chronicle report enhances the intensity of the story: the dimensions of past and present interpenetrate, and before our eyes the dancer becomes, at the same time, object and subject of the narration. Because D’Agostin brings together in a single body-voice the athletic gesture that becomes a spectacle, its narration, and the essence of being a spectator, whether theatrical or athletic.

This double, or rather triple plan of action, is made explicit only in the few moments in which the incitements addressed to the skier turn into exhortations addressed to Marco, to himself, a dancer who is no longer a competitor but still a competitor, because the attitude to competition is never detached from everyday life, the discipline to concentration is never forgotten and is also reflected in the choreography, which thickens the liquidity of nostalgia in a score of movements and contractions that is rigid and meticulous.

D’Agostin meets his myth and onstage rewrites that love letter lying in an envelope of memories in the hands of the spectator. But he does not limit himself to interpreting it in another handwriting – that of the body – transforming it instead into a process of expiation and redemption: Marco didn’t become a cross-country skier but a dancer. “Forgive me my first love” sang Adele (and Marco together with her) at the opening of the show – and in his dance we recognise, in fact, the need to pay off a debt towards an apparently betrayed dream, but also the will to express gratitude towards a possibility, a road, a life that even if not covered, is in another form still present.

Stefania Belmondo, meanwhile, wins the race. She triumphs, despite everything. D’Agostin, once again director of his own memory, calls on the stage the snow, the beginning and the end, the root and the legacy, the boundary where the sense thickens, that begins to fall placid and melancholic on the stage. A stage that few times has been so close to life.