THE ODYSSEY OF EMMA DANTE

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Elis­a­betta Pasca

“Le Monde” de­fined her as a “fe­male vol­cano:” au­thor, ac­tress and avant-garde di­rec­tor, Emma Dante, like a mod­ern Ulysses, ex­plores the myr­iad feel­ings of life with­out for­get­ting her Ithaca, “be­cause the voy­age is im­por­tant, yes; but it’s also im­por­tant to re­turn at the right mo­ment.”

Hers is an in­tel­li­gent provo­ca­tion thrown like a stone to shake up still, murky wa­ters: it is a ges­ture dense with strength and mean­ing, a move­ment that cre­ates con­se­quences, widens hori­zons and opens up new points of view, like the ever-widen­ing con­cen­tric cir­cles that de­velop from a sin­gle cen­ter of dis­rup­tion. This is what hap­pens when the provo­ca­tion—a pro­posal to ban any rep­re­sen­ta­tion of clas­si­cal texts for at least five years in or­der to fa­vor the re­birth and pro­mo­tion of new dra­mas—comes from Emma Dante, the Ital­ian play­wright and di­rec­tor with an imag­i­na­tive and evoca­tive cre­ativ­ity, who by now moves within the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional world of the­ater with the full knowl­edge of the spe­cific weight of her artis­tic re­search. Hers is an in­ex­haustible voy­age, like that of the Odyssey, a path that, be­tween Palermo and Rome, has brought her to ex­plore the cru­cial is­sue of hu­man­ity—the du­al­ity of life and death— in or­der to cre­ate a truly pop­u­lar and uni­ver­sal the­ater, a the­ater in­ca­pable of leav­ing the spec­ta­tor in­dif­fer­ent, a the­ater like a de­ci­sive stone hurled into the deep­est heart of hu­man­ity.

Emma Dante be­gan as an ac­tress, af­firmed her­self as a the­atri­cal di­rec­tor and play­wright, and now grants her­self an in­cur­sion into the world of cin­ema as both di­rec­tor and ac­tor: how would you de­scribe this artis­tic jour­ney?

Mine has been a rather nat­u­ral process. I didn’t by any means be­gin with the idea of ded­i­cat­ing my­self to the­atri­cal di­rec­tion. I had no con­science of want­ing to be a di­rec­tor; it just hap­pened. I wanted to form a com­pany and I was a part of that as an ac­tress; it’s just that it didn’t work, be­cause I wasn’t able to ex­plain to the oth­ers how I wanted things to be done, and so I left. The exit from that scene then de­ter­mined my new role, although I didn’t de­cide on it in a ra­tio­nal man­ner.

As for the movies, on the other hand, I have only made one film; I’d say that that is not enough to speak of cin­e­mato­graphic ex­pe­ri­ence: I am es­sen­tially a the­ater per­son and deal with the­ater. Cin­ema is cer­tainly an in­ter­est­ing foray be­yond those con­fines, and it has nour­ished me, but the world of cin­ema is a very “for­eign” en­vi­ron­ment for me, one in which I am not at ease. I need hu­man­ity to do my work well: cin­ema is a field that is too cal­cu­lat­ing. It has be­come dif­fi­cult for me to find a pro­duc­tion com­pany for the sec­ond film I would like to do, and for that rea­son I have to con­clude that I feel much more com­fort­able in my the­atri­cal world.

“The­ater is my medium. Through the­ater I can re­late my un­ease, my des­per­a­tion, and also my joy and light­ness”

Italy is of­ten hostage to a con­ser­vatism nour­ished by the fear of change. Does the the­ater to­day have the nec­es­sary means to shake it­self out of sta­sis and en­gen­der a new process of au­then­tic col­lec­tive cathar­sis?

We start from the pre­sup­po­si­tion that to­day is the same as yes­ter­day. There aren’t dif­fer­ent epochs, there are ways in which things change, but the sub­stance is iden­ti­cal. Italy is con­ser­va­tive now as it was be­fore, it doesn’t seem to me that there is any par­tic­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion. There are highs and lows, but I don’t be­lieve that the eras are dif­fer­ent. What sense is there in speak­ing of “young peo­ple of the

past?” That phrase is non­sense; I’ve never been able to ac­cept it as an ex­pres­sion. In the end, the ar­gu­ments that hu­mans make are al­ways the same, there are steps for­ward just as there are steps back­ward, but in the end one al­ways finds one­self fight­ing against the same things. It’s clear that the­ater is the mir­ror of what we are, much more so than any other form of art, be­cause the­ater is dy­namic, it ex­ists in move­ment, in life. On the other hand, a paint­ing, and even cin­ema in its own way, both im­mor­tal­ize an image and fix it. For this rea­son the­ater pre­cisely puts hu­man­ity in front of it­self and can there­fore be a much more in­ti­mate ex­pres­sion.

Abroad, your the­ater is ac­claimed even in its darker and more ob­scure mean­ings: in Italy, how­ever, bod­ily po­et­ics con­tin­ues to stir up trou­ble and scan­dal. Are there still taboos that can­not be rep­re­sented in our coun­try? Why is it that the pub­lic has dif­fi­culty in con­fronting the ob­scene and prefers to ig­nore it and con­fine it off­stage?

I’m not the di­rec­tor who cre­ates scan­dal; there are other names that cer­tainly cre­ate much more dis­tur­bance than I do. My shows cer­tainly shake things up, move or even make peo­ple an­gry, but this is also a bit from per­sonal taste. Per­haps in the be­gin­ning there was a cer­tain dis­rup­tion, but now peo­ple are used to see­ing my the­ater and choose to see it, who­ever can’t stand it doesn’t come; on the other hand, those who en­joy emo­tions and ques­tions come. There is no longer the con­flict

“With the pass­ing of the years there has grown a closer re­la­tion­ship be­tween the­ater and daily life. The stage has given me the im­agery with which I over­come any ob­sta­cle”

that there was in the be­gin­ning. Con­flict oc­curs when an artist is not very well known and then speaks out with vi­o­lence. Nowa­days my sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent, I am no longer an up-and-com­ing artist; I am no longer a young artist. I am an artist who con­tin­ues to carry out her own re­search, but whose re­search is al­ready rather con­tex­tu­al­ized, in the sense that the spec­ta­tor, like the critic, knows ex­actly what path I’m fol­low­ing. So there is no longer any scan­dal, just a bunch of noise cre­ated by the me­dia. Re­ally, there was noth­ing scan­dalous in this show.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tion of pain on­stage con­sti­tutes one of the fun­da­men­tal hubs of your the­ater: can putting pain and mourn­ing in plain view prove to be a ther­a­peu­tic choice as well as an artis­tic one?

Well, to give an ex­am­ple, in Italy rep­re­sent­ing death is some­thing that can cause a scan­dal. This is an in­ter­est­ing theme to dis­cuss. More than a ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect, I would say that the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of death can be both­er­some; it can be an­noy­ing to talk about some­thing that in the end con­cerns us all. No one—ab­so­lutely no one—will be spared from that point of view. Death is there­fore the only theme that con­cerns all of us, with­out dis­tinc­tion. Taboos such as ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and gen­der dif­fer­ences, mis­ery and fam­ily dif­fi­cul­ties con­sti­tute a whole se­ries of prob­lems that don’t nec­es­sar­ily concern every­one. Not every­one has prob­lems of poverty or the taboo of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, but every­one shares the same prob­lem: every­one has to die. Death is re­ally the only thing that unites hu­man­ity, and it is for this rea­son that my the­ater con­fronts it, be­cause I want to cre­ate a pop­u­lar the­ater and I want to speak of a theme that con­cerns us. The two great themes of my the­ater are pre­cisely these: life to­gether with one’s part­ner, and death. So this might cre­ate scan­dal, be­cause per­haps some­one prefers to go to the the­ater to be en­ter­tained, to have a nice re­lax­ing night out and not think of the prob­lems they have, and in­stead finds him or her self con­fronting a tragedy. The scan­dal comes from this.

Your ca­reer be­gan in Palermo, con­tin­ued in Rome, and now lands once again in Palermo: what does this jour­ney mean for you and what does it have in com­mon with the voy­age of Ulysses that you put on­stage?

All hu­man be­ings have to con­front a jour­ney dur­ing the course of their life, even if some don’t feel a need to do so. I feel that I have done so, and mine was cer­tainly a very beau­ti­ful jour­ney. Years pass, and feel­ing one­self ever young is a sen­ti­ment that in my opin­ion is rather mis­taken. Nowa­days I am con­scious of the years that have gone by, like Ulysses, who was old when he fi­nally got to Ithaca. Let’s not for­get it: we al­ways tell our­selves, how nice, the hero ar­rives in Ithaca, sees his loved ones again, he will be happy, but in re­al­ity he finds his dog Argo dy­ing be­cause of old age, he finds Pene­lope full of wrin­kles and sad­ness for hav­ing had to wait so long, and his son Telemachus has grown up with­out his fa­ther hav­ing been able to watch him grow­ing up. So Ulysses re­turns to Ithaca, but what does he find? Ulysses’ jour­ney is quite beau­ti­ful, but at the end, when he re­turns, noth­ing is the same as when he left. So he poses him­self one or two ques­tions, be­cause yes, the jour­ney is im­por­tant, but it’s also im­por­tant to re­turn at the right time. I will never be a hero­ine like Ulysses, but then, I’ve also cho­sen not to be: per­haps I’m not as am­bi­tious as him with re­spect to the idea of the jour­ney. It is fun­da­men­tal to find the right mo­ment to re­turn. I be­lieve that I re­turned at the best time for me, be­cause I was still young and strong enough to do the things I had done in this city, Palermo, and in this is­land, Sicily, that I love and hate. I didn’t come back as an “old per­son,” I came back while still young and now that I be­gin to age I sin­cerely would like to go away; I’d like to leave my Ithaca once again. The next step is go­ing away from Ithaca—even Ulysses, in my opin­ion, leaves again right away, he im­me­di­ately finds an­other rea­son to go away the day af­ter his re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

What fu­ture do you fore­see for the the­ater in Italy, what fron­tiers still need to be vi­o­lated, and what type of plan­ning needs to be put into place in or­der to help new re­cruits and re-in­still vi­tal­ity into the­atri­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions?

In my opin­ion, we need to fi­nally have the courage to take a while—from five to ten years—in which we for­bid the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of clas­si­cal texts in the the­ater. Ban Shake­speare, ban Pi­ran­dello: per­haps the only one I would leave un­touched is Ed­uardo, be­cause he’s much more re­cent. If we ban a bit of clas­si­cal stuff and try to come up with coura­geous the­atri­cal pro­grams which give space to new plays, then per­haps some­one will have the courage to write them: it doesn’t mat­ter if they are good or bad plays, but they will have the courage to write new sto­ries, and on the other hand the pub­lic might de­cide to go to the the­ater to see them. Oth­er­wise noth­ing will change, peo­ple go to the the­ater and act like chil­dren who al­ways want to hear the same fa­mil­iar bed­time story, and this is the be­hav­ior of a child. A ma­ture per­son, a sea­son sub­scriber, an in­di­vid­ual who chooses to go to the the­ater be­cause he or she wants to open their mind, can­not al­ways ask for the same story. In my opin­ion, we need to have the courage, both on the part of the pro­gram­ming direc­tors as well as the pub­lic and the crit­ics, to en­dorse a cer­tain type of pro­gram­ming that isn’t al­ways the same old story or the usual tra­di­tional texts that every­one agrees on, and in­stead in­vest in new plays. If this sup­port and this faith ex­isted, im­por­tant new tal­ents might emerge; I’m cer­tain that they would emerge. The prob­lem is that in re­al­ity theaters do not pro­gram new plays: they’re afraid. New plays are al­ways con­fined to festivals—al­ways. There is never a sea­son pro­gram poster in which the ma­jor­ity of the projects are new. So here we are: one can ac­tu­ally imag­ine in­tro­duc­ing a ban, even just for five years. Some­times, great works of art are born out of pro­hi­bi­tions: if an artist has ob­sta­cles, this can de­velop in him a great sense of de­fi­ance and chal­lenge, it can be an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise. Of course ban­ning things is bad—i am say­ing this to pro­voke—but one has to stir up the wa­ters.

Euripide’s tragedy Medea in a pro­duc­tion by Dante

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