Holding personal history in ‘ROMA’ | Review

By Hannah Draper. ROMA by Anthony Lo Giudice was performed at Dance City, Newcastle, Friday 9th Dec 2022.

A wooden bench. A vertical backdrop of clay coloured paper. A brass gong. Glasses filled with water. Golden light. This is what the audience is met with as they enter the theatre at Dance City in Newcastle. 

The mother, dancer Caroline Reece, is the first on stage. She sits upon the bench and opens her legs wide, heels raised – her stature reminding me of the matriarchal figures in Paula Rego’s paintings. The naked son, danced by James Southward, is birthed from underneath, slowly coming to standing limply like a new-born fawn and caught by the mother who slowly carries him offstage.

A golden cymbal doubles as a halo, held up behind the son’s head as he falls into the lap of his mother, forming the image of the Pieta (the classical depiction of the Virgin Mary holding the dying Jesus in her lap). Later this image reverses and the son holds the mother in his lap. The piece explores these reversing roles of adult and child, of lover and loved and of perceptions past and present. 

Image by Scott Miller.

The choreography is slick, gentle, and carefully crafted to build tricks of the eye. Images swell up and dissolve away; focused around the central bench that sits in front of the studio-style backdrop, family portraits are attempted, and failed, arrows of wheat and dried flowers pierce hearts, controlled by hidden dancers from behind. Audience members are handed a camera and asked to take photos, emphasising our voyeurism of this awkward family dynamic which comprises of different versions of the story of Anthony Lo Giudice’s parent’s break up with a cast consisting of the the son, younger mother and father and the older versions of them.

The son has a few beautiful solos. The closed-eyes nature of them that makes them feel both troubled and indulgent; showing a window into the memory of a child’s inner world alongside their inability to understand the full extent of their parents’ realities. He has one solo wearing a crown of thorns with crosses on it, and a later one when the mother has pushed spaghetti through his hair to make him another thorn of crowns, or radiant halo, which precedes to scatter across the stage during a spiralling solo. These explicit representations of the son as Jesus seems to comment the archetypal son in Western and traditional European cultures and what weight this sacrificial role might still hold in our cultural consciousness. In another moment he dances joyfully in a skirt before the mother tells him to take it off. The piece explores these ruptures of trust and understanding in relationships and the clashing of cultural codes and expressions, exploring the Lo Giudice’s mix of English and Sicilian parenthood. 

At one point, one of the musicians, Brendan Murphy, starts a slow acoustic rendition of Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’, while playing the glass harmonica, creating a haunting atmosphere as the young mother sits at the bench weeping. From this memory we feel sympathy, while a different version shows the older version of the mother (Reece) with ram’s horns held above her head. I feel conflicted about the representation of the mother with somewhat satanic imagery, and later as a narcissistic attention seeker dressed in a silk, red dress, but also enjoy the conflict of depictions of people in their own versions of stories with their representations through others’ eyes, or memories and the exaggerated re-enactment of these. 

ROMA was first made ten years ago but has been re-visited and developed for this iteration of the work. The piece builds a transient and beautiful image of family relationships, showing how time and memory effects our construction of the past and the small interactions and moments that seem to stick in our minds, whether misremembered or not. The bench serves as a symbol of meeting and chance present in all encounters, with the backdrop and repeated motif of photographs reminding us of the difficulty and danger of attempting to capture one truth and one identity and the more complex understanding and beauty that might come from holding these different stories at once.