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Fabrizio Plessi, Elvis Costello, Mauro Bigonzetti.
Fabrizio Plessi, Elvis Costello, Mauro Bigonzetti
Photo: Alfredo Anceschi

Mauro Bigonzetti and Aterballetto Recreate Shakespeare in Their Own Way

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 16 May 2001 - Following guest appearances earlier in the season from Antonio Marquez and Company (Spain), Stephan Thoss with the Ballet of Kiel (Germany) and Uwe Scholtz with Leipzig (Germany), the Theatre of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, an important French centre for international dance, recently hosted Mauro Bigonzetti and Aterballetto, the most outstanding contemporary dance company in Italy today.

After offering three of Bigonzetti's abstract pieces set to music by Xenakis, Purcell, and Beethoven on a visit last year, the troupe performed their director/choreographer's latest creation , Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, premiered last October at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna.

In less than four years, since taking over the company he joined as a dancer in 1982, Mauro Bigonzetti has proved himself to be one of Europe's most original and inventive choreographers. He has not only raised the technical and artistic level of the dancers, but rebuilt an attractive repertoire, bringing a new audience to dance with such additions as this intriguing full-length ballet, his first narrative work.

"It's a project I have been planning for a long time", he told me between rehearsals at the suburban theatre. "Theseus, Hippolyta, Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demetrius, Titania, Oberon.", he said, ticking them off on his fingers, "not counting Puck and the rest of the fairy world and the tradesmen; there are roles for all the company before you even consider the richness of the underlying stories within the main story, and the contrasting atmosphere of the court and the world of fantasy in the forest. It's a fascinating, enigmatic play, and I have always known how I would translate it into dance. The problem was to curb my impatience and wait until I had the dancers with the right temperament for the parts! All the characters are inspired by them. It is a very Mediterranean version where I have followed Shakespeare in my own way, picking out what I consider the most important tableau, and where the unexpected, the unanticipated plays its part".

His "own way" has been to adroitly weave four complicated sub-plots into a highly successful and satisfying one act ballet where the interest is centred on the relationships of the four main couples, and where the atmosphere is set immediately the curtain rises on the evening before the wedding of Theseus to Hippolyta, the captive Queen of the Amazons.

"Both Hippolyta, a trophy captured in battle, and Hermia, at odds with her father, are being forced into marriages not of their own choosing, " explained Bigonzetti, " and so although Shakespeare is talking of love, relationships are very strained, and are cold, almost glacial. I tried to reflect these feelings in the choreography.

" With Hermia's flight, the action moves into the forest, and the imaginary world takes over, imbued with mystery, and dominated by Titania, the very feminine and feminist Queen of the fairies. I see her less as the conventional fairy queen, and more as a strong-minded liberated woman. Despite the fact she is interpreted by a Belgian dancer ( the astonishing Ina Broeckx), she is very Latin, and fascinates by the contradictory mixture of aggressive behaviour towards her husband and tenderness towards her ridiculous donkey lover."

Broeckx, sensual and dynamic with her shining mane of swinging long blonde hair was mesmerising in her slinky black sequinned jump-suit. More tigress than vamp, she certainly gave the impression that if she could have killed Oberon , she would have. A similar ambiguity was developed in Puck, androgynous and disturbing, with one foot booted, the other on pointe. More satyr or snake than fawn, he/she caused trouble rather than mischief, and deceived rather than misled. Generally speaking , rather a nasty little piece of goods.

Bigonzetti: Midsummer Night's Dream
Midsummer Night's Dream
Choreography: Mauro Bigonzetti / Photo: Cavalieri

"It seemed an obvious step for me to ask Elvis Costello to compose a score as these ideas could not work with Mendelssohn's music," said the choreographer. "I've admired Costello's work for many years and he came to Reggio Emilia to talk the project over, and to get to know me. We subsequently worked side by side over the text, our first concern being to evoke an atmosphere, and so he created three or four motifs to mark the predominant themes of conflict, love, desire, and ambiguity. His music, full of strength and passion, sent out images instantly and gave a clear structure to the work. After, we concentrated on each theme, developing the timing to suit the choreography as we went along".

The set designs are by Fabrizio Plessi, an internationally known artist who is full of unique ideas, and who again concentrated on creating a particular atmosphere. His decor, full of surprises, captures the "strangeness" of the story.

Bigonzetti: Midsummer Night's Dream
Midsummer Night's Dream
Choreography: Mauro Bigonzetti / Photo: Cavalieri

"Somehow or other", he continued, "although we're a company from different backgrounds, with different temperaments, nationalities, ages and physiques, we have found our own personality, and everyone is working together in the same direction. The dancers learn more in performance than anywhere else, and now that they are getting more opportunities to express themselves, the level is automatically rising. Technically, being trained at such schools as the Paris Opera Ballet, the Opera of Rome, the Ecole Rudra Béjart, San Francisco Ballet School and the Academy "Princess Grace", run by Besobrasova, their possibilities are enormous. Ballet master Karl Burnett was himself trained at the Royal Ballet School," Bigonzetti added. "But while they are all soloists, the star is the company, and I think we are beginning to make our mark in Italy."

Mauro's easy-going personality and friendly smile mask a steely determination to push his company to the top. He knows what he wants and gets it, and the level of the troupe, already soaked in his language, has gone even higher. Proof that a vital young company of quality, undeterred by hard work and discipline, can, when inspired by a charismatic choreographer/ director accomplish miracles even in a country like Italy where dance has about the same prestige as greyhound racing in France.

Calendar: Kylian Festival
Centro Regionale Della Danza / Aterbaletto
TEL: +39 0522 273011
Reggio Emilia, 13 - 20 June 2001

13 June at 21h00
Aterballetto: Tribute to Kylian
Pression, choreography: Bigonzetti
Heart's Labyrinth, choreography: Kylian
Furia Corporis, choreography: Bigonzetti

15 - 16 June at 21h00
NDT 2 and NDT3
Compass, choreography: Kylian
Indigo Rose, choreography: Kylian
Sechs Tanze, choreography: Kylian
A Way Alone choreography: Kylian

19 June at 21h00
No More Play, choreography: Kylian
Wings of Wax, choreography: Kylian
Petit Mort, choreography: Kylian
Forgotten Land, choreography: Kylian

19 June at 21h00
No More Play, choreography: Kylian
Wings of Wax
Falling Angels

Related Article: June 2000 Interview and profile of Mauro Bigonzetti
Related Websites: Centro Regionale della Danza - Aterballetto

Suggested Reading: The Complete Catalogue Raisonné of Fabrizio Plessi’s Video Sculptures and Video Installations" (Chorus Verlag, Mainz, 1998).

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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