Alphabet is a device developed to clarify the choreographic composition. A multi-year project born to answer the question “Why is contemporary dance and is it perceived as such a complex and difficult object?” Can you tell us how it was born?

In 2016 we had debuted with Xebeche and we had received as feedback – from people we fully trusted – some annotations that it was a difficult show. Instead, it seemed to me that I had made a huge effort to make it elementary. It was then that we began to wonder why our work is so difficult to read. Were we making reading or communication errors? To find an answer, we went into the rehearsal room to analyze our compositional process point by point, to find words that unequivocally summarized (at least for us) concepts and practices, to work on evidence. Over the course of two years we have found four macro-places of composition: body, time, space and relationship. We understood that there are four elements that are inextricably linked to each other and we analyzed them by establishing temporary hierarchies, thus focusing each time on one of them.

After a year we met students of the history of theater and dance from the University of Parma and we put them in front of our devices – improvisational paths that start from declared rules – asking them to read what was happening by enunciating key words during the ‘action. A path that we could define as one of other direction was determined: the moment a student named what he saw, the dancer became aware of it and returned the action with greater evidence. In the moments in which the proposal was not clear silences arrived, or the keywords became “sentences” indicating that what was happening was confused.

Xebeche [csèbece]

Xebeche [csèbece] – © Daniele Casadio – Dancers: Sissj Bassani, Marta Bellu, Marco Maretti, Rachele Montis

In addition to the students, you have involved professionals from other disciplines, such as architects. Why?

Because we both deal with space writing. The intuition of thinking with architects was structured thanks to the Ipercorpo festival: through a public call organized by the festival and with the help of the Order of Architects of Forlì we met thirty designers, most of whom dealt with urban spaces . We began to investigate the space on three levels: the choreographic one, the living one (from the point of view of both the dancer and the audience) and the perceptive one, thanks to the collaboration with Daniele Torcellini on colour.

With the architects we allowed ourselves to experiment to the fullest: we created actions on an improvisational basis but with a well-defined structure, without giving spatial indications to the viewer to see how he reacted, i.e. how the viewer would autonomously determine his “own” point of vision. On two performances something very interesting happened to observe in the behavior of the audience: on the first day it intruded into the stage space, on the second day it became a wall by arranging itself in the theatrical convention. Yet the stage information was the same.

Il colore si fa spazio - ph. © Gianluca Naphtalina Camporesi

Color takes up space – © Gianluca Naphtalina Camporesi – Dancers: Sissj Bassani, Rhuena Bracci

In experiments like these, does the dialogue with the non-dancers take place only through speech and discussion of compositional principles or also through their participation in the movement?

The most important aspects are observation and dialogue, which start from the acquisition and understanding of the logics. The enunciation of the choreographic indications allows non-dancers to enter the choreography: they begin to listen to the rules, very pragmatic even if in an abstract context, to then recognize them in the composition.

At the same time it is very interesting to find out how, when the methodology is passed on to amateurs, the “alphabet” is immediately understood and perfectly executed from a schematic/design point of view. With the dancers we notice an initial hesitation about the implementation of the “project” because they have an attention on the body which distracts them, in the first place, from the system, making it evident with their athletic possibilities only in a second moment: they are all information on which we are discussing.

There seems to be a double level: that of the show and that of explanation by elements. Do you want to remove the concern of not understanding from the public?

Alphabet is a conceptual device whose fundamental objective is, for me, to try not to ask the viewer any more questions, but to allow everything to be unequivocally correct, even if not necessarily decipherable. If I find myself in front of a hieroglyph I don’t know what it means, but I know it’s correct.

To do this we had to remove the dramatic element, that is, any element that had a narrative reference. We shifted the work to a ‘scientific’ analysis because we were looking for a suspension of taste, judgment, good execution for an observation of the mechanism. It is a matter of stratification of information: each piece of information must have its independence and precisely because put together with others it acquires a different value.

One of the risks of the “audience training” trend is simplification. In reality, the public responds in opposite terms, i.e. they don’t want to see things simplified. In an experiment like Alphabet, the point seems to be to give tools to understand complexity.

Yes. More than explaining, it is about offering tools to be able to read:
to inform that in all of our work the need is not to create a figure, also understood as a narrative or symbolic element to decipher, but that everything comes from “sporting” indications that trigger a system; that the images are debris, residues, scraps, accidents of that system; offer the information of an action that allows each body that performs it to apply it in order to remain different, unique yet exact and adherent to the information; inform the public on what is the point of view from which to observe the object we propose.
This is the bet.

Alphabet is divided into different elements or chapters: field, system, color and maps. Are these the basic elements for reading dance? How did you spot them?

We analyzed our work point by point, finding the themes (and titles) with empirical procedures. Working on the space, we started putting adhesive tape on the ground to create limits which gradually determined a figure with stimulating characteristics of the body: thus we arrived at the ‘maps’. With ‘field’ the observation point was determined, while ‘system’ removed the observation point. The ‘color‘ is the research we are doing with Daniele Torcellini. But more themes and other titles will come.

Color takes up place ph. © Daniele Casadio - Dancers: Daniele Albanese, Rhuena Bracci

Color takes up space – © Daniele Casadio – Dancers: Daniele Albanese, Rhuena Bracci

In one of your writings you talk about the design of space as a “tool to highlight and clarify the choreographic activity”. The map seems to become a grid, a compositional principle that offers rules for orientation, but which must not become a restrictive cage.

It is a real grid, in which to find the error. We started from a diagonal, which became a cross, which became a drawing. The diagonal had the problem that it just catapulted out without offering a kinetic possibility of development of the action, in the cross the vertex became too strong an attracting pole in the activities, while the drawing in progressively forcing this cross began to highlight the possibilities of revolution of space: vanishing points and at the same time geometric shapes inside, territories that can be inhabited. They are like corridors and rooms of a house: exactly as when renovating and furnishing a house we try to imagine the possibilities of using that space, the same thing happens with our map. When several people inhabit the same space, activities and situations are created that leave some unknowns, which are those of the interpretation of the dancer and the use of the public. To return to the comparison with architects, it is like when you draw a square and decide where to put the benches or the crossings: there will always be someone who will sit on the ground or who will cross the flowerbed.

Alphabet - © gruppo nanou - Dancers: Carolina Amoretti, Sissj Bassani

And that adhesive tape remains visible during the performance to indicate the areas and make the device visible?

We tried to take it off once, after allowing time for reading. Thus we verified what we wanted to achieve: that the public read that the dancer does not make random movements but follows the information of a code.

Speaking of the choreographic space you frequently refer to living (domestic or public spaces). Choreography generates and reveals space: does it make you see things differently? Does it also create awareness in everyday life?

The basis of Nanou's existence is that everyone is responsible for himself and it is never the other's "fault" if something doesn't work. The attitude is to always create fluid spaces, to be authorial but also receptive: it is like being in a public space full of people and activating attention devices for a creative discovery in the unexpected. Observation of others can teach and reveal something that one is not capable of building alone. We want to find the balance in an "anarchic" device, with a continuous balancing of the parameterization between the score and improvisational humus.

What does the term "device" mean to you? how does it translate into choreographic practices and a common vocabulary with the audience?

I mean it as a way to start (or stop) a mechanism. I don't compare it to an electronic device, it's not something that makes me do anything else. Rather it indicates what are the rules that can trigger an activity.

Alphabet - © gruppo nanou

Alphabet, as well as your other previous works, questions the frontal and perspective relationship with the public. You have presented your work on stage and in non-theatrical venues. How does the relationship with the public change? How does the fruition of the public change by applying spatial and temporal coordinates different from the typically theatrical ones?

The audience and the method of use are very important elements depending on how we want to use the object in question. The difference between a stage performance and a non-stage performance is very clear: in the first case, from a relational point of view, I ask the viewer to sit on a chair for a specific amount of time, so I must be aware of which be the timing or the triggers capable of taking it where I care. Instead, in the "immersive" relational observation mode, which we have been experimenting since 2013, we ask the public to be free as in a museum, taking the necessary time for themselves, as opposed to what happens in theatrical time and in the frontality of the vision. In this context, internal mechanisms were born to understand how to create distraction through boredom, to move the public through times of satisfaction and fulfillment of the nourishment of an image or situation. In some cases impromptu micro-communities have been created, places of exchange within the installation itself, and through discussion people have returned to seeing what someone else had seen but which they had missed. One thing they still haven't made me do is put a bar inside an installation, and then make sure that the audience can chat and drink while watching the performance.

Now there is much talk of the active and participating spectator. Alphabet seems to consolidate the hypothesis that it is possible to understand what is happening on the scene by participating in the process. There are very different positions on this aspect: do you think it is important for the viewer to be made part of the process? Does trying to dance, to enter the ways of doing, change the way of looking?

Working at Alphabet we realized that the concept of audience is too vague. In an analytical survey of the public it is necessary to deal with different categories (students of a certain faculty, architects, photographers, ...) in order to find common elements of dialogue and fascination with respect to the object in question: the common territory it can't just be the performance, but an aspect of it referring to the reference community (for example, space for architects). In a scientific procedure it is essential to eliminate variables, and then eventually add them and verify if the thesis works. For this type of approach, having a generic user to determine a direct meeting, on a subject that is not yet a "show" risks confusing.

Francesca Serrazanetti, Audience in dance. Community, Memories, Devices. Scalpendi Editore (2019)