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Beautiful Minds,

Interview with Simone Sandroni, cofounder of Déja Donné

by Donald Hutera

May 2003

 

Déja‘ Donné’s 1999 international hit “Aria Spinta” (roughly translated from the Italian as ‘pushed air’) was a post-modern kinetic screwball comedy. Dance Umbrella audiences laughed and lapped it up in 2001. That same year company cofounders Lenka Flory and Simone Sandroni premiered “In Bella Copia”, a 75-minute performance that will be seen in Umbrella 2003. In English the title converts into ‘fair copy’. Speaking in early May near the middle of a three-week research residency at Dance 4, Nottingham’s national dance agency, Sandroni links the production’s name to the idea of a ‘final draft.’ The phrase “In Bella Copia”, he explains, alludes to ‘going out in our Sunday best to behave in a different way and become somebody or something else.’ But, he and the show itself caution, people sometimes become the masks they wear.

As in “Aria Spinta”, Déja‘ Donné again explore the disparity between the real and actual, the public and private face. They do so with humour, passion and an unruly heroism. Like the earlier performance, this one is full of seduction and play. But it may be driven by darker forces. It could be considered a game, but one streaked with danger. ‘Sex is its main argument or focus,’ Sandroni offers, citing a basic ambivalence in the concept. ‘Sex is something very instructive and rational. It can be prepared, cultivated. You can imagine it. But real sex is also meat. It can be brutal, and very easily frustrated.’ The dancing in “In Bella Copia” – fast, sexy, daring, slithery and sharp – suggests ample amounts of pleasure and combat. Its dramatic subtext is derived from the dancers’ personas and the scenes and situations into which they’re placed. Each member of the seven-strong cast was asked to tell Sandroni and Flory a wish and a dream. One of the women, for instance, imagined being married on a hill with people carrying her about. In the show this airy fantasy is deliberately taken too far. Chivalry leads to a kiss that eventually tips over into power, violence and the violation of rape. Or, as Sandroni puts it, ‘the dancing grows until it becomes a frustration.’ The host of the evening bids us welcome ‘to a world of neverending happiness. Tonight is the night when everything is possible.’ Clearly this man’s hyperoptimism is misplaced, since he winds up sweaty, fearful, stripped and beaten.

There is no narrative in “In Bella Copia” in the classical sense. Minus the conventional theatrical notion of the passage of time, the show thrives on the present-tense. Sandroni compares the performers to people you might encounter on public transport: ‘You don’t imagine how they live, but the experience is very strong.’ He dances in the performance as well as choreographing and co-directing it with Flory. The movement, he says, is based entirely on a minute and a half physical phrase he’d cooked up six months before rehearsals began; he uses words like suspension, floor, jump, circle and spiral to describe it. Each dancer was instructed to select three bits from that phrase and individually find connections between them. From this the dancing grew layer by layer.

Flory, who hails from Prague, and the Anconaborn Sandroni met as members of Flemish choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’s company Ultima Vez. Offstage they became partners and parents. Since establishing Déja‘ Donné in 1996 they have devised just a handful of performances. Their watchwords were, and still are, flexibility and adaptability, that spring from a working method that relies on intuition and instinct. This involves close collaboration with performers who, in Sandroni’s words, ‘are considered interesting people more for their lives than for their professional attributes. Their human baggage is the basis on which the characters are constructed.’ The people he and Flory employ onstage need to know at least the basics about dramatic intention. ‘I have a lot of confrontations with this or that dancer,’ Sandroni says. ‘They might protest, ‘I am not an actor!’ But for me there is no difference.’ Each art form, he believes, uses various methods, tools and languages to achieve the same, or a similar, result.

‘We want to create shows that move people and are independent of fashionable forms or themes,’ Sandroni says.While he and Flory don’t wish to shy away from socio-political content, neither do they want that element to be overt. At heart they use movement and character to expose that huge abstraction, the human condition. ‘We make performances more or less about the same things,’ Sandroni says, referring to Déja‘ Donné and dance-theatre makers generally. Central to life, he believes, are such issues as ‘death, the need to eat, to feel and give love, to have ambition, have sex. The arguments are very limited. But because the number of concerns are small, we [artists] can go very deep. ‘I’m never satisfied,’ he continues. ‘With each performance I see the beginning of the next one. I want to make something better, or surprise myself even more.’ He imagines one day viewing all the pieces he and Flory have created back to back. ‘Then I will understand why I have been making performances.’

**********************************

This article first appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Dance Umbrella News

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance, theatre and the arts for
The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and Dance Theatre Journal.
He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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