The Compagnia Zappalà Danza has presented more than eighty dance pieces in its three decades of activity, and for its 30th anniversary, choreographer Roberto Zappalà wished to create a new work with music by his favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music has featured frequently in his creations. Rifare Bach (Redoing Bach) uses Bach’s music as well as reinterpretations of it (from scat singing versions to 1980s synth styles), though it begins with a primitive acoustic environment – think Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs.
French harpsichord player and conductor Emmanuelle Haim neatly summed up the potency of Bach’s music:
It feels so naturally written and genuine… You can listen to Bach from many points of view: you can admire the science of it, the incredible intelligence of it, but even if you don’t have any musical training or knowledge, you can still enjoy it for the incredible spontaneous life of the melody. It is very well worked out, but it seems almost as if it was written as it went along.
It’s easy to see why Zappalà feels an affinity with Bach’s music because his approach to creating dance is similar. He moves his dancers in intricately woven patterns, using highly coordinated and often rapid sequences of movements, in pairs, trios, and up to all ten dancers where if one dancer is slightly out (like a harpsichord player striking the wrong note in Bach) the choreographic dissonance would be apparent even to those without a trained eye. Yet, as this doesn’t happen, the choreography flows with a naturalness that veils the complex series of movements that gives it impetus.
The dancers are dressed in velvet-textured unitards – red, prune, gold, green, sky blue – with colourful makeup resembling butterflies or flowers. Just a Bach’s music is ‘natural’, a base over which other composers have built, with its mathematical rules and harmony, Zappalà creates a work celebrating the natural beauty of the bodies and movements of the dancers, and that of animals and plants, without pirouettes or jetés or other codified feats. Though it is a celebration of these things, there are obviously overtones of the threat to nature’s existence too. Zappalà often reflects on social issues without resorting to a narrative.
Rifare Bach is very much an ensemble piece, but individuals stand out, like the tall and supple Erik Zarcone (in gold) who dances a beautiful duet with Filippo Domini (prune), before being joined by Delphina Parenti (blue) for a prolonged trio. Silvia Rossi (red) who apart from being an excellent dancer also has the most gorgeous face, shares the stage with Anna Forzutti (green) for another beautifully synchronised duet.
During the closing moments, snow falls and, in the last few bars, Zarcone and Domini are seen in a box of golden light as coloured petals descend.
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.