INTERVIEW WITH VIRGILIO SIENI AND MIMMO CUTICCHIO
Your collaboration began in late 2016 under the title Palermo_Art of the Gesture in the Mediterranean_ Academy on languages of the body and the marionette theater, a project that has given rise to shows, performances and workshops within the arc of a planned three-year duration. What made you decide to carry out this shared experiment?
My encounter with Mimmo came out of a desire to explore the links between the body of a performer and the body of a marionette, with the aim of widening the technical study of the body and the gesture that has long been a part of my work. Naturally, we initially took some cues from Gordon Craig’s and Kleinst’s reflections on the marionette. The focus of our exploration is not so much the puppet theater, but the marionette itself stripped bare – its wood-and-metal skeleton. The protagonists of my research here are once again the primary elements my work revolves around: gravity, joints… from this point of view, the marionette lets me contend with whatever comes out, and goes beyond our everyday life and habits – it represents a new expressivity, a new way of composing and associating the joints of the body, a new way of balancing in gravity. In trying to relate to something other than yourself, you have to accept a sort of crisis in what you do – you have to strip yourself of your habits and hone your perception and intuition. We trusted each other, and together the two of us sought to create a third thing.
My work has always had to do with a jointed body, a body that, through technique, sought out all of those fullnesses, those junctures in which the body takes on weightiness, assumes a dynamic and thus moves. In this vein, spending time alongside a marionette stripped down to its skeleton has taught me a great deal about movement and the fragility of the gesture and how to suspend it.
Not just new information, but emotions above all.
Our meeting was part of the destiny that brings together people who are doing similar sorts of exploration. From our very first discussions, we realized that there were points in common in our work. I had already worked with puppets stripped nude. And the world of dance wasn’t new to me either. When, as the son of a puppeteer, I watched my father moving the pupi (marionettes) from behind the stage, I noticed that his movements were harmonic, even in immobility. After having taken my pupi from a little puppet theater to the large theater stage, in some shows I introduced dance along with the marionettes. So my journey had already begun when Virgilio and I decided to experiment together, to go beyond what each of us individually was already able to do. We decided to experiment with young people, in an initial workshop phase, looking for the soul of Craig’s super-marionette. In my first experiments with Virgilio I used marionettes in paggio(without armor) and nude marionettes, and a player piano for the music, the rhythm of the Sicilian cunto.
The concept of ‘resonance’ seems to be the basis of your collaboration. But what do you mean by this term?
The idea of resonance, in dance, indicates not being subject to gravity and thus not entering into a dimension of depression of the body. ‘Resonance’ isn’t just the attempt to find ways to pick ourselves up, but above all it’s the constant dialogue with gravity through the joint system. I guess I could say that politics today could learn a lot from this concept. Resonance has to do mainly with listening, with establishing an attitude of openness, a stripping back of superstructures that weigh things down, a letting go of prejudices and standing face to face with the other to understand the human, cultural and political dimension. For the dancer, resonance comes from technique – you need to understand how weight can resonate not only in your feet, but throughout your body, in horizontal planes that coincide with the joints, and not just vertical ones. So resonance is a life experience and a democratic experience of the body, but also a political experience that requires practices of listening and waiting.
The ‘Opera dei pupi’ (traditional Sicilian marionette theater) dates back to the 18thcentury and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There are two schools, the Palermo school and the Catania one, and consequently marionettes that are made differently – the former are lighter and more flexible at the joints, and the latter are heavier and have fixed limb positions. Does this collaboration spring in part from a desire to protect a dying tradition?
The marionette tradition dates back to Greek-era Sicily. When I opened my marionette theater here in Palermo (the last one in the city), I was 25. During the 1970s and ‘80s I wrote new texts, constructed new marionettes and did everything I could to keep a tradition alive that had been born at a time when there was no cinema or television. Experimentation and openness to young people are the only things that will allow this art to survive. In ‘97 I opened the school for Marionettists and Storytellers, thanks in part to institutional support. For me, the future is contemporaneity – tradition and avant-garde are just words. Practice and continuity in contemporaneity – that’s the real tradition.
I’m interested in preserving the meaning of man as an inhabitant of the earth – working with the body allows me to continue to ask myself questions in the pursuit of a higher level of awareness. In this case, the problem isn’t just the marionette and the marionette theater as endangered art forms, but everything that pertains to a past, and how to preserve it, whether holographically or by fueling it from within. Evidently the marionette theater, like the boy, need to be built from within, so it can shift with the times. What I find interesting, then, is finding in the art of the marionette something that can give us the impetus to intuit new strategies for today. The traditional marionette costumes, which almost always include armor and a cape, make reference to the stories traditionally narrated by this type of theater, from Orlando Furiosoto Jerusalem Delivered…
In Nudity the marionettes are stripped, and the title seems to announce that from the outset. What happens when a marionette is stripped of his ornamentation? And what happens to a body?
This work with Virgilio is really interesting because it lets both of us understand the possibility of a doubling. When we worked on the madness of Orlando – a typical scene in pupitradition – personified by the marionette, Virgilio helped the character, in that moment of madness, by stripping him of his weapons. On the other hand, when I bring the angel on-stage in the marionette theater, it flies, thanks to the strings that lift it; but Virgilio can’t fly, so he does the contrary, crawling on the floor. And an angel crawling on the floor is sort of a Kafka-esque metamorphosis. In life there’s never one truth – the road never ends, there’s always something else to add. That’s what we try to teach the young people we work with.
Nudityrefers to the fact that on stage there’s just a dancer who ‘simply’ moves his body and a stripped marionette who is ‘simply’ a skeleton. But when I say ‘simply,’ you need to watch out – life is very complex. Everything is very complex. And today big political problems become too simplified and summarized – everything is made too simplistic. I mean, complexity is beautiful, because it requires meditation and strategies. So the title of this work, Nudity, is important for me because it expresses a tabula rasa that leads us towards a complexity. A becoming aware of the fact that everything has its junction.
Interview by Chiara Pirri