Festival Oriente Occidental

August 30, 2001

Festival Oriente Occidente

Rovereto, Italy

August 30-September 9, 2001

Reviewed by Jody Sperling

Rovereto, a posh town nestled in northern Italy, hosts the annual Festival Oriente Occidente. The program for the festival?s twenty-first season boasted companies of all sapori (flavors) from Europe, Brazil, and Japan. In conjunction with performances, the festival produced a series of highly informative public events, including panel discussions and video screenings.

The first of these was a roundtable on modern-dance pioneer Loie Fuller, who created fantastic spectacles of light, fabric, and motion from the 1890s through the 1920s. Brygida Ochaim, a German dancer who has been recreating Fuller’s multimedia artistry since 1980, was to have opened the festival with a full-program homage to Fuller in the courtyard of the Castello di Arco, a famous local castle. Because of rain, Ochaim instead showed excerpts from her Danse des Couleurs on a hastily improvised stage in the lecture hall. The magic of the moment transcended the lighting limitations. To the strains of Debussy, Ochaim furled and unfurled enormous wings, made from volumes of white fabric and supported by long, flexible, wands. Shifting, iridescent hues illuminated the fabric as it floated into sculptural forms around Ochaim?s serene presence. The glowing, luminescent effects, ike liquid dyes melting in the air, produced a hypnotic awe, precisely the sort of spell Fuller must have cast on her audiences a century ago.

If Ochaim sought to entrance her audience, it seemed that French choreographer Catherine Berbessou set out to shock and numb in her tango-themed Valser. With its violent, high-heels-and-lingerie-style sexuality, Berbessou’s work typifies the Nouvelle Danse aesthetic. Valser began starkly: a woman standing on her head, her bare legs rudely exposed, her face shrouded by her skirt. The action soon steamed up as the cast’s four couples scuffled and whipped each other into tango-inspired leg-locks. The men in this underworld acted like brutes, as when they chased the women and slammed them against the wall in sexual conquest. Or when they clapped their hands, instantly summoning the women. Or, later, when they tore the women’s clothes off, and the scene practically dissolved into orgy. In the best part, the men took charge of the space on their own, stomping, grapevining, and flicking their feet in unison. The stage was covered by a thick layer of dirt so that every footfall set off a cloud of dust. By show’s end, orchestra seat-holders were literally and figuratively covered in grit. After dusting myself off at the Teatro Zandonai, Rovereto’s lovely nineteenth-century hall where Valser played, I made my way to Isera, a nearby town to catch a late show by Italian choreographer Monica Casadei. Invito a Cena con Eros (Invitation to Dinner with Eros) started at the entrance of the Palazzo Municipale, with company members dispensing wine, bread, and cheese. Thus nourished, we were led inside to a covered courtyard for the rest of the performance and were treated to a lighthearted spectacle about gluttony and indulgence. The Count (Philippe Menard) and the Countess (Stefania Brannetti) were portrayed as victims of appetite, moaning and sighing over the elaborate quantities of food set out before them. The haughty Governess (Casadei), who preferred to locomote on tip-toe, presided over the table-setting parade. The company of four Maids (Patrizia Biondo, Nicoletta Cabassi, Chiara Guglielmi, and Ilaria Mancia) accommodated by balancing the variety of trays and serving platters placed on their bodies. The thrust of the drama was periodically confusing, but seemed to hurl the characters into a heightened state of sexuality. Soon, the Butler (Antonio Indelicato) was removing items of clothing from the Count and the Countess with large serving tongs. The dance ended with an intimate, robust duet for the disrobed pair, with wigs, their eighteenth-century outfits, and lots of fruit strewn on the floor. I’m not sure how, but after sparring with a melon and a banana, the two seemed genuinely transformed. Did they learn something about each other by playing with their food? Did the Count and the Countess reach beyond desire in this parable? Before seeing the show, I had asked a friend what she thought of Casadei’s work, and she replied, “Italianissimo.” With all that food and fun, I would have to concur.