A conversation with Daniela Nicolò and Enrico Casagrande, artistic directors for Santarcangelo Festival 2020
by Rossella Menna
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Welcome to the direction of Santarcangelo Festival! Do you feel somehow advantaged thanks to the experience of ten years ago?
E.C. The term “advantage” is not appropriate, the past experiences are really important and the three years with Chiara Guidi and Ermanna Montanari were really significant and formative, but this new assignment is like a distinct, new beginning in a completely different artistic and political environment.
D.N. Times have changed radically. Ten years ago there was a different legislation, which allowed more planning flexibility. Today we have to confront ourselves with an algorithm that decides for us, based on numerical calculations, what kind and how many shows we have to plan, and it’s very complicated to find spaces of freedom inside these grids, because Santarcagelo is not a showcase: you have to create a universe, to identify an idea, let it grow in relation to artists of different nationalities and ethnic groups who embody it with more authenticity, study its theoretical implications, find or built the right space to house the works, activate collaborations, conquer the city.
What are the borders that the world you’re building has? To celebrate the 50th anniversary you wanted to talk about possible futures, prefigure them. What form have they taken in these months of work?
D.N. In radical terms, these “fantastic” futures can only be placed in a digital dimension where the body is dematerialized and in an opposite tribal universe where the most extreme corporeality pulsates in a trance-like state, and also in conversation about neocolonial criticism and rejection of the capitalist system, and of the conception of a time that is only western. It is on these two opposite and complementary fronts that we can really ask ourselves questions about the future today.
That is in Brazil on one side and in the World Wide Web (or in the Silicon Valley) on the other!
D.N. Yes, but also in North Africa, or in the outskirts of Santarcangelo, which is equally dense with different life-styles to get to know and involve. Our map really exploded.
What do you expect to find in these countries and parallel dimensions? Models? Forms of coexistence that anticipate possible worlds? Dystopias that put us on our guard?
D.N. To tell the truth, what strikes us is a different way of dealing with time. Digital technologies and internet, for example, have caused a disturbance in the perception of individual and collective temporality. For some is a form of alteration that will lead to ruin, for others a strengthening of our possibilities. Anyway, all this is not neutral in the relationship of a human being with the outside and the others, and it seems to us that theatre and performance, unlike other languages that perhaps limit themselves to describing or criticizing certain contradictions, are intercepting transformations already in progress, elaborating tools to orient and defend themselves.
So we’ll see a lot of technology on stage?
E.C. Not necessarily. There were years in which the technological tool in the artistic application was a real goal. Just think about how Cauteruccio used the laser on stage in the pre-digital era. The originality of the laser was astonishing. Today this approach is outdated, using a cell phone with a camera to shoot and screen movies does no longer make sense, it doesn’t matter how much and what type of technology you use, but why you use it, and what you say with it. So it’s not about showing the digital tools, it’s about interrogating how and how much this made us addicted, stunned and “tired” (like Byung Chul Han writes), and has distorted the perception of ourselves and of relationships.
And what about the tribal front?
D.N. There are native peoples who experience forms of relationship with time that are unimaginable to us. We are really interested in getting to know and introduce them through artists who question those experiences that, in different forms, belong to their own historical, familiar and cultural background.
It seems that one dimension may suggest answers to the other.
D.N. Between catastrophic visions and utopic visions, there are inescapable questions that we would like to bring to the festival.
You are catalysing eccentric worlds to aks questions to our own. How will the audience react?
D.N. With the same curiosity that we have for what happens outside (our) centre, we hope.
E.C. Besides, after 50 years of a festival that always acted in a public space, through experiments and provocations, the audience of Santarcangelo has become eccentric. Maybe not in the habits, but in concepts: it’s ready for anything and needs solicitations and actions that make it tremble, that make us tremble to feel alive. I feel tiredness in languages and practices, but also great energy in pushing for the impossible.
Then it’ll be difficult to take it by surprise again!
E.C. But we’ll try. That’s why we’re betting a lot on a special project that will reunite in a programme packed with shows, magic rituals, performances and interventions in public spaces of the city, stores, private homes, gardens, squares. We called it Marea, because it must be able to permeate the whole playbill and conquer new gazes (for example those of the workers in the fields around Santarcangelo, who have never been involved in those “intellectual” dimentions, or those of a new generation that prefers other codes or times of representetion), to arrive in the most remote corners, in the interstices, like the water between the rocks.
D.N. With the same spirit, we’re asking to the artists who will bring their own works in indoor spaces to reserve some time to meet with the city, perhaps through workshops, public lectures, sharing methods or thoughts.
Apart from the rhetoric, what kind of communication can be concretely activated between an artist who realizes his work in a public space and a passer-by who intercepts it casually?
E.C. First of all, wonder. The chance to see something that changes the space-time he or she is used to.
D.N. Here’s a personal example. When in 1991 we saw the Mutoids Waste Company in Santarcangelo, in our imaginary of young artists a bottomless pit opened up. That alien vision was a spark for our search. The power of that curiosity was the measure of an obsessive spirit of attraction to people, places and cultures completely different from us, that has always characterized our work. It’s no coincidence that our last book is called Hello Stranger.
E.C. I would like to add that a festival is such only if it generates such sparks. Everyone reacts with their own perception, but it should be a moment where, thanks to a concentration of artists, people and works in a small and delimited time and space, we can create a state of exception, a fracture of habits, of visions. In fact, as a side note, I do not understand the sense of attributing this word to reviews that resemble long or collateral seasons and that do not produce any kind of disturbance in the urban fabric.
It’s no coincidence that the most interesting Italian research festivals were born mostly in small and peripheral cities, countries and villages.
E.C. Of course. In places like Santarcangelo, Volterra, Dro, it was possible to really disrupt the rhythm of everyday life. In a big city, it’s much more complicated to interrupt the flow of days and geometries, unless you have the chance to use space-time dimensions in which, for a few days, micro-communities can aggregate. My ideal festival would last 24 hours a day, for as many days you need to let everyone lose consciousness of where and when. Just think about how memorable Woodstock was for those who had the chance to experience it in 1969, for those who spent four days surrounded by music and completely out of the world, even if just outside New York. Who was there came home a different person. Obviously, it is a fact that the advent of the Internet and the large amount of images and information in which we float today have placed the bar of wonder much higher. And we have to deal with that.
It is also true that the new generations of teenagers are equipping themselves with antibodies against this cyber bulimia which seems to make adults much sicker than young people.
D.N. Our students at Lausanne’s Manufacture teased us about our smartphones and ipads of latest generation, they mocked their own parents for their social obsession. In spite of the distorted narrative often used, the new generation of girls and boys advancing in Europe is richer in impulses and curiouser than the previous one, and seriously questions the contradictions of the tools in its hands. Although chronological age doesn’t make any real sense, and we don’t make it a cage, for Santarcangelo we are also very interested in giving voice to them, to the lucidity of artists in their first experiences.
What do you think it means to be a performative artist for a 20-year-old today? What horizons does he have? What tasks does he assign himself in relation to the world?
D.N. It’s also to ask ourselves these questions that we are working on a project involving some of the best schools and training centres in Europe. The programme of activities that we developed as mentors for the artists of DAS School that we hosted in autumn, for example, was largely built around spaces, cases, experiences and questions asked by some teachers, questions to which participants had to react with their own creative tools, whatever they were. In our experience, one of the fundamental qualities of a performer is to know how to react to unexpected situations, using all their experience, their personal history. To do this it’s necessary that the artist has traveled, seen and thought a lot, that he has a past in which to draw memories and images that he can use in the rehearsal room to feed an idea of world.
And from a technical point of view, what does a performer train in?
E.C. Awareness. The ability to always know perfectly where he is, with who and why, and to express through the gesture not technical perfection, but a significance that’s worth in a specific moment, in front of a certain specific audience that emanates its unique energy. Some define this ability “presence”, or “aura”. But it’s also a technical fact: It’s about being willing to let the issues and materials that you’re dealing with touch and permeate you. In english to memorize something is to learn it “by heart”: it means with the heart, giving it all of yourself. It’s different from just memorizing other people’s words by training the memory and the voice.
It’s about taking a stand, practicing the experience, in a way.
It’s about not shielding yourself from the outside world, but crossing it. Santarcangelo 2020 will offer works very different in style and contents, but the artists that we invited have one thing in common, a distinctive feature which is necessary to us: each of them carries a load of their life realities, a reserve of intense, painful or happy experiences, a true burden of world to share.