The performance highlight of Dance Now!’s Spring to Dance Now! is the second-half encore presentation of Six Characters, a critically acclaimed “Whodunit Murder Mystery” with theatrical inspiration from Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (on March 31 and April 1 at The Colony Theatre). The dramatic ballet set in the period of the 1920s plays out in non-chronological order, challenging the audience to solve the mystery’s true villain. The piece is complemented by the original score and live performance of Miami Guitar Trio director, Federico Bonacossa, and the dramatically stripped stage and lighting design of Bruce Brown.
Pirandello’s original play introduced six characters searching for an author to finish their story. They lack proper names and are in themselves vaguely archetypical as Father, Mother, Stepdaughter, Son, Boy, and Child. They interrupt a rehearsal in progress of another Pirandello play, thus setting up the device of self-referencing the author in his own work and challenging his own fiction. As the characters yearn for their lives to unfold, they convince the director to flesh out their scenes while they deride the other “actors” for their artifice.
Pirandello contrasts the actors playing characters and the characters themselves and stretches the limits of a play-within-a-play as this modern abstract treatment challenges the concepts of symbolism, sentiment, and the author as vessel versus interpreter. He described his creative role in an essay in 1925, stating that there are authors who “feel a spiritual need that will not permit them to use characters, events or scenes which are not impregnated, so to speak, with a sense of life that gives them a universal significance and value. Such writers are, properly speaking, philosophical. And to this latter group I have the misfortune to belong.”
Choreographers are themselves authors, who through movement create work that can be symbolic, sentimental, romantic, philosophical, poetic, political, or simply random and devoid of any intended meaning except for what the audience layers upon it.
We asked co-directors Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini to give us some insight.
Q: What inspired you to work from this play as source material, and how close an adaptation of content or form is it to Pirandello’s modernist work?
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. With funding for only six dancers, Salterini reached back in his classical education from Italy and brought to the table the idea of using this play for our annual collaboration. We did indeed change much about it in developing the work, thereby creating new characters and a new plot. The thing we really hung on to was the idea that the characters in the story have a clearly defined identity and throughout the piece you learn who they are, what each of their stories are and how they are connected to one another.
“We should mention there is a murder and a suicide (also in the original) and the piece develops in non-chronological order. There are both openly and not openly gay characters and that is what drives the main conflict of the story.
Q: Is the minimal set design of a stripped stage and lighting inspired by Pirandello’s laying bare theatrical artifice and his challenge of symbolism?
One of the other elements that we also hung on to is that the characters are retelling their story in a rehearsal space rather than a coiffed theatre presentation. We envisioned this piece more as [a] play than as a dance, and we wanted to create an environment that you wouldn’t associate with dance. Does this challenge the symbolism of theatre? You tell us!
Q: Why did you decide to use live music and a commissioned score for this particular work? How did that collaboration work, and how different was your choreographic experience as compared to looking for or using recorded music?
The opportunity arose to collaborate with Federica Bonacossa … and we jumped on it. This is something you just don’t pass up, although it is very risky with a composer you have never worked with before. Live music and an original score isn’t really affordable for an organization our size, but Federico was extremely generous with his talent and his time. The process was a true collaboration among the three of us. The majority of the work was created in silence, although originally inspired by a piece he was currently developing. The process had a lot of back and forth, with video and midi files exchanges via email. Federico created a breathtaking score to compliment the work and we in turn shaped our choreography as inspired by his music. The score, just like our work, has both very contemporary and yet traditional elements and will be played live.
With a nod to Pirandello, Salterini’s native Italian roots and Baumgarten’s American artistic tradition, promises a unique recipe for Six Characters in this cross-pollination of theatre and dance with live original music.
Also presented in this weekend’s offering are two ballet duets with pointe work choreographed by Salterini: Paper Walls, where an uptight librarian is distracted from her books by a real life or imaginary encounter to the serenade of Chopin; and Mitosis, an abstract contemporary ballet set to Dakota Suite and Emanuele Errante. Closing out the first half is Baumgarten’s expansion of an earlier solo from the most recent Sleepless Night. With the working title States of Sleep, the piece touches on her “personally difficult sleep life with vignettes of dance” to music that varies from AXIS, Nine Inch Nails, and the collaboration of Aleksandar Djuric and Ludilla Sound Design.
Spring to Dance Now! at The Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, is performed this weekend on Saturday, March 31 at 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday, April 1 at 3:00 p.m.; www.dancenowmiami.org.
Photo by Jenny Abreu