Is it my world?

Marco Mazzoni, Gina Monaco and Massimo Conti, members of the performance group Kinkaleri (Prato) in conversation with Angelika Stepken.

Let us begin with the project Is it my world?

(MM) Is it my world? is a project of shows and performances that began about two years ago at spazioK, a self-managed space we were keen to open and to share with various groups and people working in the arts, creating connections and relationship, hosting performance projects, residencies and experimental work with a common need to explore new territory in a self-questioning way.

Is this an open process that you have begun, which is on-going?

(MM) Yes, it is an open project, in the sense that the idea was to work on a continual series of proposals that are not all that regular but are shaped by our desires, by possibilities, by a series of working circumstances, retaining the relationship of freedom we have with our project. The aim was to not substitute the figure of the programmer, but to work on the edge. This also manifests itself in the relationship we have with our work.

(GM) A space for residencies, for presenting work and other things, alternating a series of occasions for sharing and engaging with groups in the area but also from wider afield in Europe; when we can, we try in fact to create occasions to coming together, and the space itself materializes this possibility. We have been here since 2001, and in the last two years the project has taken on a more outward-looking form; we like the title, which is also the question itself, because it defines this place as the physical space of a question. What is it? What belongs to us? What could belong to us? This, in broad terms, is the current project, which is gradually evolving, yielding different responses each time.

(AS) Was the idea of inviting these groups due to a lack of performing spaces and funding?

(MC) We are trying to structure a precise space. It is true that the relationship with the public is not easy, but it is also an attempt to take the question to audiences, who are trusting in a way, because they do not exactly know what they are going to see. In the sense that the goal is to be, in our dealings with the city as well, a place in which we would like to make people understand that there is not just one form of relationship with a show, that there is not just one relationship with things. This is what really concerns us.

(MM) Here in the city of Prato, we find ourselves between two cultural institutions, the Metastasio Theatre and the Pecci Museum – a theatre and a contemporary art centre. Our work has always been open to influences from a series of references, really creating a boundary that lies in a half-way position. In fact, it is no coincidence that we have been working with both institutions for many years. Therefore, we are situated within, and engage with, the local area.

I read somewhere that at the beginning, fifteen years ago, you started out as a dance company…

(GM) In terms of a ministerial framework, we are still a dance company, but this has always created an enormous misunderstanding about our work. We work with the body and so we have been labelled in this conventional way, but in actual fact our production path goes beyond dance in a purely choreographic sense. We explore the body, movement and stage presence, and this has created a lot of ambiguities about our position. For ten years, the locus of our work has been this border territory. The question has always remained open for us.

(MC) It is true, though, that this multiplicity has always made us feel extraneous with respect to everything. The dance world welcomes us, but at the same time does not consider us as dance. In other situations, we are regarded as a theatre group. Our shapelessness has always given us great personal freedom to do what we want to do and to grasp opportunities, but from the point of view of our dealings with market, sales and programming circuits, everything is more complicated, because we have always been seen as the risk element. This is also one of the reasons that led us to create such a space, where we host choreographers, artists and musicians with an idea that has always been half way between things.

(GM) As for what we were saying about financial issues, it is true that this is a period in which possibilities, opportunities, situations and thought itself are being inexorably restricted, and so the idea of opening a space with a certain programming density is also a political choice: to offer a space so as to be receptive to dialogue and to respond to the needs of the moment…

That is, to create a public as well…

(GM) … To create a possibility, because the public has disappeared. The spaces for engagement have disappeared, the occasions for showing one's work have disappeared, and so recreating a space for dialogue is also, politically speaking, the space for a question, as we said. It seemed to us to be a response to the period we are living through.

On the one hand you tour international and European festivals, on the other you have been in Florence and Prato for the last 15 years…

(GM) The European dimension, and the local, territorial one are, in a sense, our two legs.

(MM) This is also determined by the different works and how much you are able to distribute them. Is it my world? is also based on the time available to us, the residual time of the work, of production, of rehearsals, while trying to achieve a continuity in what is on offer and a differentiated presence in the area.

(GM) Because everything stems from the fact that we are perhaps one of the few groups with a private space that we pay for independently and manage ourselves. This gives us great organizational freedom, but also a great financial burden. This is perhaps not all that usual for Italy…

Also because, from another point of view, you have not become institutionally professionalized in the last 15 years…

(GM) In fact, I would say something more general about the Italian situation, because after 15 years of work and experimentation you feel the need for fresh engagement, also in generational terms. But this is not acknowledged and reflected in the cultural policy of this country, and so in the end we once again set out to self-manage this kind of transition.

(MM) This was also determined by our desire to remain very independent regarding certain things, and so we have not pushed very much to get into and to run institutions.

Being independent means that what happens is always under your control…

(GM) Yes, it means great freedom. As Marco said, it is the only source of satisfaction from that point of view…

Let us talk about All and your artistic process…

(MM) All is Kinkaleri's latest project. It began a year ago – the first workshop was held in March. The first show was a kind of concert. We were invited to a venue in La Spezia. One preliminary point: over the years we have carried out a series of reflections on the theatre, on movement and on dance, during which various authors occupied our interest. Before All we focused on the staging of two texts, working within the structure of the written text through two works that concerned two repertory playwrights: Bertolt Brecht and Jean Genet. The two shows dealt with the staging from a dramaturgical point of view: we can say that they were the first two shows that used the text as the central form of the work, then layered with other levels. Up until then we used to abandon the text if required in favour of the staging, while in this case the text remains powerfully present in front of the audience, and our work is concentrated around it. After this, we began to think about how to start afresh, what to look for and find. And that was the start of All. This gave rise to a series of projects, for example the idea of doing a concert, something we had never done before, and that of inventing an alphabet of gestures for communication. Thoughts gradually stratified, and coalesced around the figure of William Burroughs, as an initial nexus for reflection.

(MC) Let us say that it was also something of a mirror of what we have always done, that is, to search for this relationship of freedom. And at a certain point I believe that there was a kind of declared kinship. Culturally, personally, intellectually, I think that the artistic area of thought and the relationship with things that has always been closest to us is what Burroughs carries in his wake (not just him but also other authors in America from the Second World War onwards). Post-war American culture has always been a point of reference for us. Suddenly Burroughs appeared to be a sort of mirror, something we had always been but which we now declare openly. Starting with this figure, we were receptive to all possibilities, from his conflictual relationship with the word, with the code, with power and with the political sphere…

This level that you describe as conflictual is central to your work in general…

(MC) Yes, even simply in continuing to do what we wanted to do. Normally you start off in a certain direction, and then, as we said earlier, you present your work and at a certain point you stop exploring. Some people never stop exploring, simply because it is part of their lives, and so the relationship between life, artwork and politics all resides in the same person. There is no longer any distinction between working time, study time, art time and so on… In my view, this is the main thing that prompted us to embark on a project like this, from the creation of modules to the complete diversification of things, and, paradoxically, perhaps for the first time, we tackled the choreography issue in compositional terms, giving ourselves a code, creating it, in order to then find freedom within the code itself.

What do you mean by code?

(MC) We associated a certain gesturality with each letter of the alphabet. From a certain point of view this might seem very schematic, but actually, when it is introduced, it acts, like a microbe, as a kind of choreographic freedom for those who perform it: there are no more lines to follow, formal lines, but lines of intensity, dynamics, lines of forces that oppose and mingle with each other. For us, this was a paradox: all of a sudden, Kinkaleri invented a choreographic relationship, in the sense that it created a world with its characteristics.

(MM) There is also a relationship of objectivization of the gesture, which becomes extremely personal and subjective on stage. Constructing a vocabulary to apply to written texts that someone learns off by heart and then re-performs actually enables the re-emergence of one's personality, because that gesture has a myriad of possible interpretations, like the word, like language. The idea was to start from some modules within the structure, and then intervene to bring out individual subjectivity.

(GM) It is a strange, delicate balance between objectivity and subjectivity: there is the objectivity of a code made up of gestures, and the subjectivity of the execution, which, within an established grid, defines personal relationships with the object itself, with the intensity, with the way of interpreting it. What is more, in the performance we very often build an intermediate scenic situation between the inside and the outside; on various occasions we have found ourselves presenting the work in situations where the exterior of the performance venue is related to the interior, creating an on-going relationship of dialogue. If this takes places in already defined situations, warehouses or particular non-theatrical spaces, the idea of exploiting the possible openings to create discharges makes it possible to establish a continual connection between inside and outside, positioning this work in an intermediate area, connected with the language it utters and the part of the world that it casually encounters. The exterior, with respect to the viewer, takes on a determinate form and becomes the horizontal element of dialogue. Technically speaking, this is achieved by positioning microphones outside, making it present visually and sonorously, and collecting what happens by chance as an objective data, placing it then in a continual relationship with the action taking place on stage. There is also another rule that determines the object itself; in every episode of the project, reference is made to a particular text the performers learn by heart and that comprises the formal base on which to build the event.

All is not a show then, but …

(MM) They are different episodes, chapters, that are not intended to become a single show, but which exist each time for what they are; they can then be re-performed according to circumstances, because they are written episodes and not improvisations, and can be transformed each time depending on the place, the text and what you are trying to tackle. Each time we adjust and measure the performance we put on.

Is working with this process a new experience for you as well?

(GM) It depends. We have always worked with processes of drawing close – sometimes more clearly defined, and sometimes more hazy. Let us say that the whole path is often made up of chapters. Sometimes we used to work to then arrive at a form that in some way encapsulated the experience of a particular phase. In this case it is the opposite: there are lots of independent episodes, because the staged forms are different. As Marco said, the very concert form we experimented with at Villa Romana is part of this same world. They are single objects that are shaped on each occasion with different rules and are concluded.

(MM) I would almost say that it is more of a work about the rules we set ourselves on each occasion, because in All we have actually adopted a series of languages that are put into play. For example, the closeness I found with Burroughs in this project was his resetting of thoughts in favour of forms, which were somehow his applications for writing something new, for generating another thought. These are things that were very useful, not so much for applying his thought to that work, but as a way of reflecting on the various possibilities. What Gina said is true – the movement itself, the idea of the code, can, in certain circumstances, be provided by the dancer, who, with his or her subjectivity, blends in with the surrounding natural environment. But it is also true that it can exist in its pure form as well, because that code also emerges and is transformed into something else, because in reality all things, in the moment in which they are staged, speak by way of the references they activate…

(MC) Returning to what was said earlier about language, everything refers to the relationship with Burroughs and his political tie with the world, the relationship with conflictuality that is created in the freedom of artists to show themselves and to find someone willing to listen to them, someone willing to be infected by the virus. Just think that the relationship with the word and with the world may be multiple as well, not only the dominant one in which the word is necessary for power, for dominion. Returning to the choreographic issue about the real and about representation, I would say that it is linked to the space, as we have already said, but it becomes a central element of the whole work, because the dancer is also continually in this inside /outside. The dancer exists as executor but at the same time as subject: this relationship therefore operates constantly on different planes. The relationship with the real is a relationship of continual representation. The difficulty that exists is that of thinking of those signs only as signs to be interpreted. Actually they are part of the real. This is a little bit what we have come to realize.

This is also to avoid a false expressionism, a false representation…

(MM) We have always tackled expressionism by identifying mechanisms whereby the body was led to assume that form not because it represented it but because the surrounding context forced the body to enact it. The pathos you could find in certain works by Kinkaleri was not because the dancers simply had to pretend to be part of it, but because they were forced to engage in a dynamics that at a certain moment revolted in their body like a state; tiredness, for example, this tiredness acted in such a way that, despite themselves, they became an expression of force.

But also because an individual is already, in him or herself, body, thought, emotions…

(GM) And a subject. It is like the idea of communication: I am talking to you, but somehow I am also shaping myself in this relationship. These elements coexist.

(MC) In fact, another chapter focuses precisely on what the dancer thinks when he does a work like this one, on why he finds himself thinking inside and outside himself at the same time, without tackling form but tackling space, time, rhythm and everything in the simultaneity of the text, on why he acts each time with the text rather than form in mind. It is all inside a very small space that the dancer translates continually: time, space, code. In a sense, it is a very concrete situation.

(GM) In fact, this work of translation is always present, and never foregoes expression, stage presence and the virtuoso skills of the dancer; even where the use of the body becomes virtuoso, this is centrifuged with all the other elements of the project, appearing on and off. That is why in this work we use educated bodies: bodies that have a sense of rhythm, of time, of space.

(MM) For this reason we decided to tackle the work with very rapid compositional forms. All these shows stem from a number of reflections for which a concreteness has to found in a limited period of time, because in reality you have a thought, a rule, you apply it and accept it in its structure. In this work there is the idea of the speed with which the compositional modes of the works can be structured in different forms: for example, in the four days of the residency at Villa Romana we constructed the work with the musicians, a kind of internal /external dialogue that enabled continual listening, determined also by the amount of time with which these choices are made possible.

And also the presence of perceived time.

(MC) Yes, the presence of time – accepting the attitude of executing things in its presence, being there, accepting it, wanting it, and wanting to find a possible solution at all costs.