Can You See What I See?
The last of a series of four performances presenting the work of independent Italian choreographers in collaboration with Tripspace, Elena Giannotti’s solo is more than a performance. Addressing one of the most compelling questions within the performing arts, Lo Sguardo del Cane – The Dog’s Gaze, is an insightful, complex physical exploration of the ambiguity of the viewer’s eye.
All’Istituto Italiano di Cultura Elena Giannotti porta in scena Lo Sguardo del Cane – The Dog’s Gaze. Con magnetica precisione, la danzatrice e coreografa disseziona e riassembla trame gestuali schivando ogni aspettativa narrativa. Oggetto della sua acuta osservazione è l’occhio stesso dello spettatore.
Text A few moments before the beginning of the performance, time stands still in the large, empty room at the Italian Cultural Institute. We are waiting for Elena Giannotti, expert dancer and choreographer who has been Rosemary Butcher’s main interpreter for more than 10 years, alongside working, amongst others, with L’Ensemble Dance-Theatre, Virgilio Sieni and The Forsythe Company.
We have just the time to feel a thick blanket of suspense landing silently in that timeless space, when the dancer bursts through the door twirling around. Like images from the past coming distractedly to visit our memory, or embodied thoughts coming out of the blue, Elena’s mesmerising gestures unfold within a threefold structure, with a logic that is as clear to the dancer just as obscure to the viewer. Errant, unspecified, her actions are tossed out, forgotten and then repeated. One breaking into the other, and then coming back again and again, they are minimalist, elegant, focused, precise; simple and enigmatic in equal measure. We focus on every single step, listening to the dancer’s breathe, the gentle sound of her feet on the floor. It is in the temporal development that the net of movements stratifies in multiple layers, building a world of intensity which is absorbed into memory without still being rationally comprehensible.
The Dog’s Gaze, as Elena Giannotti explains, is part of the project Rider In Arena, exploring the relationship between the performer and the ethereal elements of performance. Inspired by the Vision of St. Augustine by Renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio, the piece revolves around the ambiguity of the viewer’s eye, the discontinuity between what is done, what is seen and what is left. The painting portrays the traditional episode of Saint Jerome appearing to Saint Augustine to announce his imminent death. The African saint is portrayed in his studio, the moment he is distracted from his reading by the ghost of Saint Jerome, coming as a luminous shape in the window. There’s a little dog on the left of the painting, and it’s not clear what it is watching, whether Saint Augustine or the ghost of Saint Jerome. Well, the little dog is all of us, viewers, shifting our gaze between the dancer and her ghosts, trying to grab, throughout her body, the meaning of the vision we are witnessing to.
The subject that the choreographer is investigating is one of the most relevant within the performing arts: what happens between the performer’s eye and the viewer’s is the result of a twofold meaning-making, so that it cannot but exceed the performer’s expectations. As Elena Giannotti points out during the insightful post-show talk hosted by Betsy Gregory, her work has developed as a pure sequence of movements, without relying on any narrative. While memories and feelings have come up during the process, her focus is purely mechanical.
This is the reason why it’s difficult to talk about a piece of work like this: each viewer is likely to have a distinct response, made of personal memories, feelings and thoughts. The common mould – the medium between the dancer’s and the viewer’s ghosts – is the kinaesthetic mechanisms which make the audience experience the performer’s movements simply by watching. But what they link to those physical sensations is dictated by their own experience, and makes the performance a unique, unrepeatable journey for each audience member.
The show was performed
Italian Cultural Institute
39, Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8NX
Tuesday 28 November 2017
Lo Sguardo del Cane – The Dog’s Gaze
Choreography and performance Elena Giannotti
Production Company Blu
with the support of: Centro Artistico Il Grattacielo Livorno, CSC- Bassano del Grappa, Dance Ireland