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Issue 206

Alessandro Sciarroni’s Genre-Busting Performances

Barbara Casavecchia on the 2019 Golden Lion-winning artist

BY Barbara Casavecchia in Features | 21 SEP 19

In his acceptance speech for the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Dance at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Alessandro Sciarroni thanked the artists who cross the borders of their discipline in order to reflect upon contemporary complexity – as well as those who choose not to, in order to keep traditions alive. He added: ‘Thank you for insisting that we study, so we can learn to resist anyone who tells us what to study.’ The inclusion of polarities and the mixing up of genres and skills – from classical to folk dance, from sports to juggling and acting – is central to Sciarroni’s approach.

Sciarroni, who at 41 defines himself as ‘an artist active in the field of performing arts with several years of experience in visual arts and theatre research’, didn’t start out studying dance. Born in San Benedetto del Tronto on the Adriatic coast, he graduated in cultural conservation from the University of Parma, where, from 1998 until 2006, he was part of the experimental theatre company Lenz Rifrazioni. Amongst his inspirations, he cites Helena Almeida, Diane Arbus, Derek Jarman and the rock band Bright Eye. His first true solo performance, JOSEPH_ (2011), saw him on stage alone with a laptop, his back to the audience, obsessively mirroring projected images, as if to test the manifestations of his body in both real and virtual worlds.

Alessandro Sciarroni, TURNING_Motion Sickness Version, 2016, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist

In less than a decade, Sciarroni’s career unfolded at a surprising speed, which is a little ironic: at the core of his project is an exploration of temporality. He does this not by slowing down movement but, rather, by trying to reach a deeper level of consciousness and a precision of movement and gesture, by means of iteration. Mistakes and improvisation are nonetheless part of the journey and Sciarroni accommodates them with a refreshingly human touch. Take, for instance, ‘Turning’ (2014–ongoing), which is based both on animal migration across the Earth and the elementary act of turning on our axis – from archaic rituals to pirouettes en pointe and the trance moves of techno clubbers. The most minimal performance features only Sciarroni himself: CHROMA_Don’t Be Frightened of Turning the Page (2017). Others involve a group: TURNING_Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (2015), for instance, was interpreted at MAXXI museum in Rome by 15 members of the Rome Ballet Company; and TURNING_Motion Sickness Version (2016) was conceived for the company of the Ballet of the Lyon Opera. Each time, different site-specific collaborations are set in place, so that formats remain fluid and
evolution ensues.

Alessandro Sciarroni, AUGUSTO, 2016, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist

Sciarroni’s recent ‘dramedy’, as he calls it, AUGUSTO (2018), includes nine interpreters (actors, dancers and singers) who run around and laugh for the entire performance, oscillating between joy and tears, exhaustion and exhilaration. Laughter is a universal human response to play, pleasure, stress or even fear; we learn how to do it before we learn to speak. Its power relies on empathy, something that Sciarroni pushes to extremes. The title refers to Auguste – the archetypical, red-nosed circus clown – but also to Augustus, the first of the Roman emperors, who could decree the life or death of a person with a thumbs up or down. Sciarroni also nods to the medieval iconography of the ‘dance of fools’, whereby a member of society appears so engrossed in material pleasures and distracted by individualistic drives that he or she inevitably succumbs to the triumph of death in the middle of a dance – an effective metaphor for the present age and its self-obsession in the face of an impending collective extinction. Otherwise, it’s LOL. 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 206 with the headline ‘Laugh Until I Cry’.

Main image: Alessandro Sciarroni, AUGUSTO, 2016, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist

Barbara Casavecchia is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer and curator based in Milan, Italy.