The lights are on both in the theatre and on the stage when the four performers of Graces enter one by one, the men wearing black cycling shorts and black socks, and then the ‘choreographer' and only woman, ample-bodied Silvia Gribaudi, enters in a black leotard (later black underpants and a bikini, then the three men nude, then gold underpants and bikini – a costume designer is credited, maybe it's the first of the show's jokes).
They stare and grin at the audience aiming for a Brechtian alienating effect and encourage applause (this urging of the audience to applaud – sometimes circus-like rhythmic clapping together with the performers – continues throughout the show). The idea of this show is that it plays with theatrical, and above all contemporary dance clichés, with seeming seriousness, and then pricks the fantasy bubble with humour. They joke with the pretentiousness often seen in festivals (such as the MILANoLTRE Festival at Teatro Elfo Puccini in Milan that this show was a part of) with moments of nudity, sliding around in water splashed on the stage, strutting around with flowers in their mouths and on their nipples, imitating ballet dancers, and all this is undercut with a wink to the audience, by an unexpected event, by a disconnected comment, by something going awry.
Personally, I loathe audience participation, but I've survived having Ute Lemper sitting on my lap, a whole monologue delivered at me by the Italian actress Adriana Asti, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's cats crawling out from under my seat. I'm ready to laugh at most things from pratfalls to double entendres, from predictable opera business to witty ripostes, and have happily laughed along during an evening of cabaret in Berlin while not speaking a word of German. Yet here, the theatrical distancing and ‘joining in' left me cold, and the ‘doing things badly' joke wore thin after five minutes. Some of the encouraged applauding was cringeworthy – though Gribaudi and Matteo Maffesanti (who both created the dramatic structure) would probably say that that was the point. Certainly the three men – Siro Guglielmi, Matteo Marchesi and Andrea Rampazzo – were admirably committed.
Seeing them slide around the stage to “Sing, Sing, Sing” was foot-tappingly fun, building a quickly memorised sequence of words thrown at the company by the audience was amusing, and having the three men – one with a dancer's body, one skinny, and one hairy with love handles – as Canova's The Three Graces made me smile, but it didn't make up for the lack of rhythm and invention (again, that was the point, you idiot!). I was certainly not alone in my opinion, but many were squawking with laughter and applauding wildly (the woman in front of me was almost hysterical with her rapid clapping) even when not prompted to do so. So obviously, I didn't ‘get it' – but I don't think that I'd really have wanted to either.
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.