REFLECTING ON Aperto Festival | Review

Words by Giordana Patumi.

The Aperto Festival produced by I Teatri di Reggio Emilia, now in its 14th edition, runs from 16 September to 19 November 2022 and has always proposed with its programme of performances an investigation into contemporary expressive languages starting from reflections on wide-ranging themes. Seeing beyond is the very impulse, concern and raison d’être of theatre, of this complex material art, and of the people who work in it. A search for truth that activates questions, probing reality.

This year presented 36 shows, a total of 49 performances, 8 productions and co-productions, 6 world and Italian premieres, concerts, operas, performances, choreographies, installations, multimedia to go beyond appearances. I have decided to follow different trajectories in choosing the shows to see, seeking a fresh look at contemporary and performance languages.

#1 – Joan Català with Pelat

On 18 September 2022, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a large circle of chairs surrounds Joan Català, a French circus artist, who arrives here with one of his classics, a beautiful and entertaining show, Pelat, in which the codes of live performance are mixed: no one would be shocked if one spoke of this creation as a performance act, or street circus, or participatory theatre.

Holding the strings of everything, in a literal sense, is an artist capable of keeping a hundred or so people glued to their seats, who become completely subservient to his creative design: he plays for a good quarter of an hour with a very heavy wooden pole, with which he performs movements so refined as to border on choreography. A gymnastic practice of the highest level, to which is added a design of movement, in the space of the performance, capable of going beyond the simple physical fact, to become dance, without ever failing to knead the gesture with a continuous reference to the audience, in a creation of mute empathy, but always tending towards irony, towards clownery.

This beauty then begins to play with the audience’s fears: she brings the pole in motion, or hovering, or spinning, very close to the spectators, raises it and makes it fall a short distance from them, and then involves them in a series of participatory theatrical actions that progressively enhance the comic character of the performance.

As always with great artists, actions of particular complexity appear simple, in the success of which the spectators become involved. The feeling that comes at the end is almost a message of social psychology: no hero stands alone. There always has to be at least someone there to keep things in balance, to help, to believe in the gamble of the brave.

A show that keeps you glued to watching from the first minute to the last. For anyone who has a festival with an open-air space, it should absolutely be scheduled.

Pelat is pure magic, ephemeral, created in the here and now. It is a circus show for the square; it starts with a heavy tree trunk, a man and a circle of strangers – who by the end of the show turn into a living, joyful community. Pelat is warmth, expectation, strength, tension and magical, spontaneous participation. Pelat is poetry of the body. Pelat is innovation, movement and collective action. Pelat is risky, sincere and necessary artistic action that momentarily interrupts all possible divisions, creating a shared experience of the world. Joan Català addresses our desires: to belong, to support each other, to wonder, to play. He reminds us of the value of lightness, of not taking ourselves too seriously. Pelat creates a circle of trust and helps us to become better neighbours, each other.

#2 – Annie Hanauer A space for all our tomorrows

In A space for all our tomorrows, the Italian premiere that the Festival Aperto proposes on Saturday 8 October, 6 pm, at the Teatro Cavallerizza, Annie Hanauer, inspired by the historical community of artists of Monte Verità and relating herself to the global pandemic emergency, reflects on the historical and contemporary ideas of utopia, doing so as a woman and as an artist with a disability.

In A space for all our tomorrows, Hanauer attempts to “channel and present the search for utopia, focusing on its manifestation through the body and movement, and leaving room for multiple perspectives.”

“I imagine,” writes Annie Hanauer, “a performance that can be at once powerful, intense and messy, but also uplifting and inviting. Together with two dancers and a musician I will search for ownership of the body, pleasure and power, and the ideas of ‘nature’ and ‘naturalness’ in relation to utopia and the body with disabilities.”

Annie Hanauer’s work delves to different depths, when the relationship with one’s own body is no longer limited to being a drive and becomes a propulsion towards contemplation and understanding of the other. Hanauer brings A space for all our tomorrows; with her are dancers and choreographers Laila White and Giuseppe Comuniello and singer Deborah Lennie. At the centre of the stage, Lennie sings of a perfect world, bright and clean, where there are no gender distinctions and every body is free to show its form, and behind her advances the compact mass of three united bodies; little by little the spotlights vigorously illuminate the individual components of the mass. Three revolutionary bodies.

The light from the spotlights is reflected on the metal components of Hanauer’s prosthesis and White’s crutches. Each of the dancers takes the limelight for themselves while their recorded voices narrate them; although a chaotic scenic condition is rendered because it is more focused on the single expressive moment than on a sense of harmony, it is shown that each movement is the maximum their bodies can strive for, at least so far. The will to motion is an affirmation of presence. Comuniello’s voice explains blindness as immersion in water. White rises up on the splendid muscles of his arms enhanced by his condition; Hanauer rotates his arm. When the oneness wears off, it becomes natural to recompose into a single, self-sustaining organism.

An incredible artistic-ethical vision on the part of the LAC in Lugano and Teatro Danzabile for producing this incredible work and for bringing Italian-speaking Switzerland’s attention to dance and to our society to the top.

#3 – Martin Zimmermann  with Danse Macabre

The Swiss artist Martin Zimmermann arrived at the Aperto Festival (Reggio Emilia, Italy) with his latest creation, born during the pandemic rethinking the concept of our society. We are talking about Danse Macabre, an over-the-top work that mixes theater, dance, music and clowning, tracing the artist’s grotesque stylistic signature. The dancer, choreographer, playwright, director, and light designer recently won the Swiss Grand Prix of Performing Arts/Hans Reinhart Ring 2021 precisely for his ability to fuse the performing arts together and developing their boundaries.

The highly atmospheric set design recreates a desolate landfill. A remote place shrouded in fog, for a performance that speaks of a topic dear to Zimmermann as social exclusion, often accompanied by threat and death. Out of a large piece of cardboard emerges a clownish-looking fellow, tall and thin, wearing a skeleton costume and a black leather jacket; he has a skull-painted face and long dreads; he noisily clicks his tongue and makes funny rat-like expressions; his movements and dance steps explicitly recall Michael Jackson. This bizarre figure, played by Zimmermann himself, embodies Death, who will often peep in to orchestrate and comment on the action, as a kind of stage servant. The three disturbingly misfit characters, are each trapped in their respective loop and from which they cannot break free, until they identify with that place so forgotten by all. They decide to move in together, out of a primal need for contact, to find themselves in a community that will make them feel part of a whole for the first time. So, to welcome them is a house constantly in the balance, which both houses them and throws them back into an endless loop. Among them, death: it creeps silently and wreaks havoc, extends its hand, and then takes two, and almost with a mocking, spiteful air creeps through the spaces left between its victims, making them unaware of its presence. A distressing dance takes place in this paradoxical prison, almost as if it were the performance of a circus made up of human masks that exceed the conceived limits of the grotesque, hiding inside the empty misery of the human condition. Yet, in this most tragic situation, the characters dance along with death, not surrendering but welcoming it in a vital momentum, which makes the show all the more unsettling and mixed with so much bitterness.

Along with Zimmerman on stage, Dimitri Jourde in an uncoordinated old boozer with a huge belly; Tarek Halaby who plays the role of a would-be and inappropriate beauty queen; then there is she, Methinee Wongkratoon: the most curious and intriguing creature imaginable. Each of them seeks a way to be in the world (whether unstable acrobatic balance is the way to go?), and the procession begins to move in a chaotic carnival circus.

Martin Zimmermann does skillful and precise work on the tragicomic. Danse Macabre proposes to the viewer a series of images in which the grotesque is taken to such an exponential level in its tragicize that it is, at times, comic: a pregnant woman who, after having given birth to stones previously felt as a burden in her womb, is in search of self-acceptance and her own beauty; a man who tries hard to perform elementary actions but ends up failing each time, from tying his shoe to sitting on a chair, all objects that seem to want to slip out of his hands; a girl who seems stuck in convulsions from which she cannot free herself, as if her own limbs were the walls of a cage. These are all paintings that portray aspects of life that are all too every day and that precisely in their simplicity construct paradoxical scenes. In this way, Danse Macabre plays on a constant balance between bitter tragedy and bitter comedy, following the principle-explained by Zimmermann himself-that to push the tragic to the ridiculous is to allow oneself to rise above it. The bittersweet in Danse Macabre comes across as violent, aggressive, but also engaging in the wake of those funny circumstances unconsciously created and experienced by the characters themselves, the audience inevitably gets carried away and laughs and desponds together under the prevailing sign of death.