There is a miniature Teatro alla Scala in Milan, which hasn't been seen for 30 years. It is close to the Duomo in the heart of the city, but Teatro Gerolamo, built in 1868, was almost bulldozed. It took a private company, Società Sanitaria Ceschina, to bring it back to life, and in great no-expense-spared style too, from the new lift, to the neoclassical wallpaper in the boxes, to the restored plaster decorations. The theatre reopened last year. It is the only European theatre built to present marionette shows, and so the stage is tiny, therefore it may seem surprising that it has just hosted a festival of contemporary dance.
Emanuela Tagliavia, a choreographer who also teaches at La Scala's ballet school, organised the events with, for obvious reasons, a maximum of three dancers on stage. The proscenium arch is less than five metres across. However, the very fact that the space is constricted leads to an intimate experience, even though the traditional setting lends an importance to the works presented. A singular experience. She has called the mini-festival Pulchra minima (Small is Beautiful) which reflects the fact that the size of Teatro Gerolamo is not necessarily a restriction — it's what you do with it that counts.
Tagliavia's own work Murmuration was on the opening programme of four dance works. She has chosen Prélude de l' Apres- midi d'un faune on which to set a story, devised together with Giuseppe Dagostino. Two women — an Amazonian type and an ethereal beauty — interact on a lazy summer afternoon: two facets of woman? two facets of the same woman? Lou Antinori's costumes were odd, with the stronger woman apparently wearing an explosive belt, which was mildly threatening. She was played by Martina Dalla Mora, who has a strong body and face — an Angelina Jolie of dance. The equally attractive Giulia Lunardi, like Dalla Mora, is La Scala trained, and it shows!
Tiziano Portas's solo piece, Désassemblage, which he performed, was the least successful of the evening. It had one of those pretentious programme notes that some contemporary choreographers seem to excel at which, translated, begins:
The stage as a place of the mind, of the irrational. Our thoughts, a chaotic and unsolvable riddle to which we try to out in order.
It's a ‘been there, done that' piece, with nods to the surrealism movement — a large projected eye gazes almost unblinkingly at the audience — and the requisite recorded phrases in English give it an international flavour. Portas works hard, but his efforts say little.
Mattia Russo and Antonio de Rosa proved to be the stars of the evening, and their pieces opened and closed the programme. The pair direct the Madrid-based company Kor'sia, though both are graduates from La Scala's school.
The first work, Lamentate Trio, seems to be adapted from their larger work Cul-de-sac, though nothing in the programme notes says so. The characters are based on Spanish artist Juan Muñoz's all-grey sculptures. Russo and de Rosa are joined by Giulia Russo to create the trio, and Arvo Pärt's Lamentate — commissioned by the Tate Gallery in London for the unveiling of Anish Kapoor's immense installation Marsyas — is part of the very varied ‘score' they have assembled.
Three patients in a psychiatric hospital, moving strangely with in-turned feet and hunched shoulders, tease and laugh and love. The beautifully devised cold lighting turns bright pink as the three share a memory of night long ago in a ballroom. Their grey world returns, but when a yellow ray of light through an open door shows them a path to freedom they excitedly walk towards it, then their pace slows, and slows, until they halt. Afraid. They don't run away, they are rooted to the spot. Numb. They can't leave their world. They are stuck there forever.
This is what I saw. My story. But it seemed clear and was movingly told. Others will have their own interpretation, but the cleverness of Russo and de Rosa is that they communicate in fascinating ways, with extreme clarity in the interactions they give to the characters on stage. The choreography is extremely detailed and precise, and its split-second timing means that it can't be fudged. All three are excellent interpreters, and nimble, gifted dancers. It was eye-opening.
The closing piece featured just Russo and de Rosa. Yellowplace is apparently recounting a domestic relationship between the two, and a supermarket trolley which shares the stage indicates the mundane day to day aspect of their lives. As in Lamentate Trio, the scope is broad, musically and physically, it is exciting, stimulating, funny — and they do funny very well indeed — as well as thought provoking. Russo and de Rosa are two important talents who deserve stages such as Teatro Gerolamo and Emanuela Tagliavia's inspiring new festival Pulchra minima. But Pulchrum magnum is coming their way very, very soon.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.