“My own Pulcinella, symbol of truth and freedom”. Conversation with Michele Merola
Interview by Lisa Cadamuro – NID Platform staff
Pulcinella is a classic of XX century dance. It was staged for the first time in 1920 by Ballets Russes with choreography by Leonide Massine, music by Igor Stravinskij, scenes and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Why did you choose this work, and how did it feel to approach a great classic of the past?
In creating this new version of Pulcinella, I searched – while respecting the past and the great masterpieces produced on this theme – for my own way of portraying this character, putting together some pieces of the original score by Igor Stravinskij and the “detours” composed by Stefano Corrias. The idea of the performance, which I developed with Cristina Spelti – who also curated the scene and the lights (the costumes are by Patricia Villirillo) – emphasises the lonely, melancholy and tragic side of the neapolitan ensign; but also portrays him as an image of truth and freedom.
Alongside the pieces by Igor Stravinskij, there are the contemporary “detours” by the composer Stefano Corrias. Can you tell us something more?
I have already worked with Stefano Corrias on the reinterpretation of Ravel’s Bolero, the score on which I created my previous choreography. In the case of Pulcinella, Corrias created an actual soundtrack, made up of some pieces from the ballet and new pieces composed for this occasion. The contamination of the original score is determined by the need to provide more intimate moments, so as to better clarify who Pulcinella really is and highlight the introspective side of the character.
You chose not to follow the original plot, and focus more on the character. How does Pulcinella fascinate you?
As a stock character of the Italian tradition, Pulcinella is part of me, of my culture, being of neapolitan origins. I had been thinking for a long time about a choreographic piece on this character, which has lived through over four centuries of history of the Italian theater. Starting from the study of tradition, I tried to narrate my own Pulcinella…a melancholic and tragic one, for sure; but also a symbol of truth and freedom. The inspiration for this choreography comes from several sources, besides the tradition of the original ballet: in particular, I drew from Tiepolo’s pictorial iconography, from the 104 tables of his Pulcinella ovvero Divertimento per li ragazzi (Pulcinella, i.e. amusement for children), and from some writings on the philosopher Giorgio Agamben.
In our imaginary, and also in the original ballet, Pulcinella is in black and white. Here, Pulcinella is in red. How come?
On the black and white, dominating in the costumes, a spot of red appears: it’s Pulcinella’s heart, which beats beyond any attempt to kill it and keeps on pulsing, for better or worse, in the back and in the white. In fact, the ongoing possibility of rebirth of the character is perceivable throughout the choreography; all that is new, all that is truth may be stifled, but always comes back to life because the freedom Pulcinella has inside.
You established your company, MM Contemporary Dance Company, in 1999. How has your way of creating changed over these years?
Sure enough I tackle the choreographic work with a different level of maturity. The path towards the staging of a new project is much longer and better thought out, I search for the reason of each step and I try, together with my dancers, not to leave anything to chance. Moreover, having a core group of dancers that has been working with me on a stable basis for many years now, the work is enriched by their own feeling and perception of the movement I am searching for. It is a symbiosis which always leads us to discover new paths, although my dance keeps on taking cue and inspiration from the tradition of contemporary ballet.
This is your second participation to NID Platform. What do you expect from the 2017 edition?
For MMCDC it is a honor to be part of the NID Platfrom programme of this year: it is an important recognition, and certainly a sign of appreciation for the work we have been carrying out these years with the company as a whole. We are very happy to be in Gorizia. In this new NID, we hope and wish that the opportunities to meet and dialogue with Italian and foreign professionals grow further; and that, compared to earlier editions, the presence of new foreign professionals – programming all genres of dance, thus giving a chance and space to different styles and different Italian realities – is increased. Finally, we hope that NID is also a real chance to foster exchanges and partnerships among Italian artists, who are the witnesses and spokespeople of contemporary culture.
Michele Merola was formed at the Association of Classical Ballet directed by Liliana Cosi and Marinel Stefanescu in Reggio Emilia and later worked as a dancer in companies like Toulon Opera House, Aterballetto, Arena di Verona. He’s the artistic director and chief choreographer of the MM Contemporary Dance Company, founded in 1999: he created for the MMCDC many choreographies, on tour both Italy and abroad. Since 2000 Merola also created new works for many other dance companies: Aterballetto, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre, Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Junior Balletto di Toscana, Teatro Nazionale di Belgrado. In 2008 Merola wins the Premio Positano Leonide Massine per l’Arte della Danza and in 2016 the Giornale della Danza Award as Best Italian Choreographer. Since 2010 Michele Merola and Enrico Morelli are the artistic directors of the Agora Coaching Project – Reggio Emilia, advanced training program for dancers.