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The Crowd can Always only Follow the Same Direction

Abbondanza Bertoni Dance Company
'La Massa' ['The Crowd']

by Rosella Simonari

October 24, 2009 -- Teatro della Cavallerizza, Reggio Emilia

There is a group of people around, on and under a wooden table. These people move as a group, all following the same direction. It is a compact group. Every now and then a member tries to get out, but he or she is invariably re-absorbed into the group. This is the basic dynamic of “La Massa” [the crowd], the Abbondanza Bertoni Dance Company’s latest dance theatre work, a choral work in the grotesque sense of the term, as there are ten dancers who basically remain attached to each other during most of the dance. In some phrases, they almost look like one big body, instead of a group of people. They are dressed alike -- evening dresses for women and suits for men. Their faces look alienated and transfigured by the fact that they stay so closely together.

The piece is inspired by Elias Canetti’s “Crowds and Power” (1960), and it explores the close contact between people, the concept of being a crowd and what this does to one’s own sense of movement and sense of being. There is no real individuality in this group, as they are all levelled to sameness, and in this aspect they find their self-awareness. Movement wise, as Canetti himself remarked, they "can always only follow the same direction". In spite of this, the piece is not static and the group’s movement quality is not bulky at all. As Stefano Tomassini has written in the programme note of the piece, “between the tension of lines, the explosion of forces and contrast of intensities, the real protagonist is the physicality of the energy coming out of the crowds”.

This work requires a high level of concentration and resistance as it is not easy to perform attached to one another. In one phrase, a kind of orgy explodes as the dancers intertwine their bodies together keeping an ecstatic look on their faces and their tongues outside their mouths. The tension builds until it is released through orgasmic whispers. In another phrase they run and jump across the stage -- movements are more fluid and the table always represents their place of departure and arrival. They never really leave it for too long. It is as if it were their safe spot, the place where they feel most secure. In this sense, they erase the fear of the Other as Canetti himself highlights in his work, a fear which is one of the most powerful sources for the insurgence of racism, sexism and homophobia. The close proximity of these dancers also recalls the power of crowds converging in squares and streets to protest for their rights, or the phenomenal drive of some crowds who get together for religious purposes. Proximity as power, sameness as identity.

The Abbondanza Bertoni Dance Company is one of the best dance theatre companies in Italy. Their founding members are Michele Abbondanza and Antonella Bertoni who, during their formation in the 1980s, were considerably influenced by dancer and choreographer Carolyn Carlson. In those years, Carlson often worked in Italy, and she fundamentally contributed to the creation of the artistic and cultural terrain for the birth of a native contemporary dance. Once Abbondanza and Bertoni began to work as a company, they also created their own approach to dance and dance pedagogy which, in part, was developed thanks to the study of zen and of its possible interaction with dance. As Abbondanza remarked in a book interview with Elena Cervellati, “one fundamental aspect in our lessons now is the ‘za-zen’, which literally means 'seated contemplation' (…). It is a spiritual gymnastic, a very beautiful dance step, one of the most difficult ones, a dance step where you do not move”. In their dances, every movement is intense and truthful and “La massa” represents one of their most original examples.

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