Io sono Rocco
€ 16 / € 13
Meet the artists after the performance on 27/05
Theatre maker Salvatore Calcagno was born in La Louvière into a family with Sicilian roots. His work has always had an autobiographical bent, but Calcagno transcends the purely neo-realist portrait of everyday life by means of a cropped writing style and an almost obsessive attention to rhythm, colour, light, and detail. In Calcagno’s theatre, the language of the body prevails over the spoken word. At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, he takes a step forward and creates a chamber opera cum theatre of gestures, with a Pasolinian touch. When his father died, Calcagno discovered a series of old Ennio Morricone records in his house. With the music of this famous Italian film composer as a starting point, Calcagno created a ‘fantasised, choreographed journal’, in which his own grief lies at the heart of the dramaturgy. Io sono Rocco, an attractive duel between death and beauty.
Set & direction
Axel Ibot, Elise Caluwaerts, Chloé de Grom
Composition & arrangement
Émilie Flamant, Douglas Grauwels, Antoine Neufmars
Atelier costume Théâtre Varia
Special thanks to
Claude Schmitz, Pàtryk Wwhassenhov
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Varia
Garçon Garçon asbl
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre de Liège, Théâtre Varia, Charleroi Danses, Maison de la Culture de Tournai / Next Festival
Festival Actoral, Théâtre de Vanves - Scène conventionnée pour la danse, WBT/D, Istituto italiano di Cultura in Brussels
Théâtre Les Tanneurs, Théâtre Océan Nord & [e]utopia for the technical support
Interview with Salvatore Calcagno
I’d like to go back to where it all started, before INSAS and the creation of your first two pieces La Vecchia Vacca (2013) and Le garçon de lapiscine (2014). You came to theatre via film, music and watching lots of dance shows with your sister. Did you have a desire to create shows from a very young age?
Because I played a musical instrument and went to concerts, I realised that I could create my own music with its own rhythms. But it was something that stayed in my head. At the cinema, I discovered images and emotions. I remember the westerns that were broadcast continuously on an Italian TV channel my parents picked up in Belgium and Italy. They liked shows, acting and beauty. The actors and actresses had to be beautiful. They loved Ornella Muti and Claudia Cardinale. At the theatre, I discovered the stage. I saw dance shows by Maurice Béjart in Brussels and my sister’s shows too. As soon as I realised that it was possible to convey something on stage that produced additional feelings, I felt a desire to create my own shows. I was twelve. I imagined images: a person walking on stage, another spinning round wearing magnificent clothes. The images were already very aestheticised.
What films, music and plays did you like back then?
I loved spectacular pieces. Now I like starting from the infinitely small – the micro – and working towards the large – the macro. I loved films that touched on sensuality and desire – something that can be found in my pieces – created by playing with the camera, Pier Paolo Pasolini zooming in on jeans, filming outside in the rain, wind and sun, or the actors’ acting. A form of harmony that’s hard to explain because I’m still looking for it. I listened to all kinds of music, but was fascinated by pop music, the hits and how they were put together. A hit is a hit because it’s put together in a particular way. And it’s gauged by when it was made. There are the hits of the 80s, the hits of the 90s and the hits of the 2000s, etc. I already paid a lot of attention to how the work was put together. Afterwards, I was sensitive to the frailty of the filmed actor, to the desire that lights up his look, his excitement, his way of being in front of the camera, like Maurice Pialat or Jean-Luc Godard… Major film-makers able to capture what exceeded the construction of the image: the beauty of the actor. When you manage to get that from the actor, it’s extraordinary. In theatre, it’s more complicated. You can’t hold on to anything. Nothing’s confined. Theatre is the art of the ephemeral.
Io sono Rocco is without doubt your most personal work. It’s a very moving story about life and death, filial memory, and almost seriousness, a seriousness that wasn’t in your earlier work. What state of mind were you in when you tackled your work?
Io sono Rocco is a strange creation. It emerged from a series of events linked to loss, the loss of my father and of the victims of the attacks in Paris and Brussels. It produced a feeling of rage and a need to assert that I was still alive and not afraid while feeling extremely fragile. That’s what I try to capture in Io sono Rocco. There’s a form of abstraction in it that emerges from specific personal feelings; it requires extremely sensitive handling. That’s why it’s my most personal work. And I ask the performers to call on very personal feelings too. There’s a kind of tragedy in it too, but it mobilises life. I think the best example of this is the work of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. It’s tragic and comic at the same time. Before my father died, I promised him that I would make a film or create a show in which he would be the hero, with very beautiful music and beautiful actors. He’s Rocco. But he’s also a little bit me. We’re currently working on the second tableau, that of the duel between Rocco and Death. When I watch Chloé de Grom and Axel Ibot act, I see a form of love story being sketched out too. I find all forms of fighting death wonderful. I know that feeling. The fight with death is similar to a love story. It’s complicated, it’s hard, but it’s beautiful. When I watched my father pass away, silence moved in; an immense silence that was both tragic and magnificent. That’s why death shouldn’t be demonised. Ugliness is often close to beauty. These are very abstract sensations that are hard to put into words. I can only do this on stage. In Io sono Rocco, it’s about giving back a presence to absence. Except that here Rocco is the hero and he wins. The characters are silent. Their silence reigns but, at the same time, it’s extremely inhabited. And the music travels in this silence.
The gesture in the piece La Vecchia Vacca seeks out the beauty of motherhood. The gesture in the piece Le garçon de la piscine seeks out the mystery of eroticism. What is the gesture in Io sono Rocco? Is it about searching? Because you say that the piece is being put together, that it’s a box of experiments?
The first gesture of Io sono Rocco is the search. When Christophe Slagmuylder suggested I take part in the 2016 Kunstenfestivaldesarts, he asked me what I wanted to create. I didn’t know. Then as we discussed it, he emphasised the importance of my relationship with music and with the body in La Vecchia Vacca and Le garçon de la piscine and suggested I work with a dancer and an opera singer. I agreed and decided to experiment. Io sono Rocco is less a show than an aggregate of fragments of research, indeed fragments of emotions. It’s the first time I’ve worked with a dancer and an opera singer. Experimenting is difficult and fascinating at the same time. It’s an opportunity. After that, the second gesture is obviously that of silence.
Io sono Rocco is also a trinity. There are three figures: the Mother (Elise Caluwaerts, the coloratura soprano), Death (Chloé de Grom, the actress) and Rocco (Axel Ibot, the dancer). They are full of fictions: terror, life, the battle, protection etc. The piece is divided into three tableaux. It can be compared with a sonata form. There’s the exposition of the theme, its development and then an exposition again. What is the staging principle for the three tableaux?
Today the first tableau is that of sorrow, that of the Mother. The second tableau is that of the duel, between Death and Rocco. And the third tableau is wandering with Rocco and certainly the Mother. Io sono Rocco is on a loop. The third tableau is the hardest to create because it has to come from itself. It’s about letting go and exhaustion. In it I work a lot with Axel Ibot, imposing music and moments of silence on him. I also let go so that it can live and so emotion can be born. I’m in the process of looking for the principle of the staging. But I’m sure of one thing, it has to flow from the subject: the record player, the vinyls and the CDs that belonged to my father. And the crackling of the vinyl is the common thread. It’s a sound you never tire of. It crackles for a long time. It’s clinical silence too.
Your way of working is quite astonishing to see. It’s a curious blend of personal creativity and an organised martial system. You think about everything and behind you there’s an army of collaborators.
This army’s important because it allows things to relax a little. There’s rock musician and sound creator Angelo Guttadauria, my childhood friend from La Louvière. Theatre’s totally alien to him, but as we come from the same city, he understands the universe that I want to create. He can therefore consolidate a musical dramaturgy without difficulty, both in terms of the rhythm and the body. I ask him to create certain fragments of music with a particular instrument. And he dissects bits of existing music with me, emphasising for example the importance of a trumpet and the need to bring it to life on stage and in the actor’s body. He helps us find the precise rhythm. So during the rehearsal you saw, I asked him to work on a very precise rhythm that corresponded to a moment from the second tableau, that of the relaxation of the body. Antoine Neufmars works on the visual dramaturgy: the composition of the image and its colours. He brings lots of material. He takes an extended look at all the visual elements that make up the show. The visual dramaturgy is important because it summons up the sensations. And our research is sensitive. Douglas Grauwels is the dramaturge, but he doesn’t actually write the piece. He’s never there at the start of rehearsals. He comes at a given moment, unsullied by anything, and watches the whole thing. We’ve already worked together on two earlier creations. He knows exactly where I want to go. Émilie Flamant is a big collaborator of mine, she always has been. She’s the safeguard. She makes sure I don’t deviate and that I stay true to myself. And that’s even more important since the Kunstenfestivaldesarts is very sensitive to what is particular about the artist, to what he or she is. And then, she’s an actress and we’ve worked together before. She’s extremely sensitive and she reacts sensitively. She pokes fun at the dramaturgy. It’s the heart of the show that interests her. She trusts a lot in the first intentions that are often the best. Émilie is the first person I talk to about a project. Amélie Géhin is doing the lighting. This is created by observation, summoning up precise images. She caresses the bodies. It’s very hard to achieve the colours I aspire to on a theatre stage. It’s easier, for example, to attain the quasi-perfection of a face lit in the half-light and easier to play with hyperrealism in the cinema than in the theatre. Lastly, the costumes are both everyday and symbolic. But it’s still too soon to talk about that.
In Io sono Rocco, there’s choreographic work not just in its composition but also in the very composed movements of the performers. The piece associates mime and mimodrama, forms you rarely see on stage today, almost old-fashioned, swallowed up by time. It’s more novelistic, more mythical. This choice seems to mark a change in your work.
In my opinion, it’s less a change than an extended gesture. La Vecchia Vacca already flirted a bit with mime. I place language where the bodyis. I’m also very interested in the everyday gesture and seeing how it develops,how it becomes sublime and mythical. Our research work is verymuch rooted in everyday life, notably through very specific actions. Forexample, I can give Elise Caluwaerts the following instructions: “You’re in your room, you put on your trainers, you light a cigarette. You struggle with dental floss”. The most interesting thing is to develop an actionand see what is retained. Monsters often emerge. And the mythical characteremerges out of them. I like watching the exuberance, the poetryand the coarseness of the specific gesture on stage. The choreography issketched out as we go along, without me really looking for one. I haven’t prepared one. It’s sketched out because we develop it, develop it, and developit again. Because we feel it still needs loosening up or breathing.The choreography is set in the space-time of the music. It was the ultimateconstraint of Io sono Rocco. In my opinion, mime combines threefundamental elements: silence, poetry and absurdity. It’s the perfectform for Io sono Rocco. It’s contemporary in terms of its context andin the way in which it’s embodied. It’s a very poetic form, reminiscent offilms by Jean Cocteau or Marcel Carné. It can go a long way in detail,absurdity and delirium.
There’s the scene with the duel between Rocco and Death. It’s luminous, sensual, dangerous and political all at the same time. Some people might see a metaphor for resistance in it: Io sono Rocco, I am Rocco, I amCharlie, I am Brussels.
In the piece, there are codes that are born out of the attacks committed in Paris and Brussels. And they interest me. In Io sono Rocco, Death has several faces and costumes. Everyone is mistrustful of everyone else today. That’s a fact. I don’t want to reinforce it or deny it in the staging. I’m just taking it into account. The show is political, but it’s like this within poetry. There are other codes. After a painful event, you always feel the need to make it less dramatic, to the point of making it grotesque so as to be bearable. I make use of this process a lot in the piece.
Your pieces are very musical. How does music inspire you?
Music summons the colours, identified and identifiable, that you connect to instantaneous images and emotions on which it’s possible to project the show. It brings other images in its wake. For example, there aren’t any horses on stage, but there are. The music summons them. The idea is to travel. And the music allows it. In Io sono Rocco, I do my duty as a son, a director, a son-director, to interpret the music my father left me in my own way.
What is your first memory of music?
Without doubt, the music of the ice-cream man when I was a child. After that there’s all the Italian music of the 1950s. I really like the song Cento Giorni by Caterina Caselli.
Interview by Sylvia Botella
Brussels, 2 May 2016
Translation: Claire Tarring
Salvatore Calcagno (b. 1990) was born in La Louvière and as a child spent his time travelling between Sicily and Belgium. His early interests were in music – singing opera and playing the guitar and the piano – but ultimately he has devoted himself to theatre, working on his own visual and rhythmical obsessions. He graduated as a director from INSAS (Institut National des Arts du Spectacle) in 2012, winning the Marie-Paule Delvaux Godenne Prize. In 2013 he created his first piece, La Vecchia Vacca, for which he was named ‘Best discovery of 2013’ at the Belgian Critics’ Awards and was nominated for ‘Best Production outside Québec’ by AQCT. In 2014 he created Le Garçon de la piscine, an ode to contemporary youth. And in 2016 Io sono Rocco, a ‘choreographed, fantasised chapter from his private diary’, is to be created and performed at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Calcagno also works as a playwright, like for Armel Roussel’s Après la peur in 2015. With the actor Dany Boudreault he created a hotel room performance, Sarà perché ti amo. Finally, Calcagno also directs plays he hasn’t written himself. It will be the case for his next stage creation: La Voix humaine by Jean Cocteau.Back to top