The stubborn afternoon rain slowed down into a steady drizzle as we arrived in Cardiff to meet with Italian born artist and choreographer Matteo Marfoglia. With words infused with a receptive exuberance and an impassioned Italian ease, Matteo told us about his upbringing surrounded by dance, theatre and performative arts and his perception of dance as a form of connection through body movement, a wordless kinetic utterance full of visions, adventures, relations and compulsions.
Interested in the idea of bringing dance to people in unconventional spaces, Matteo is now exploring ways of taking contemporary dance out of theatres by creating work in response to particular places and the human fabric that shaped them.
Who is Matteo Marfoglia? What is your story?
I am a performer, a Dance Artist and a Choreographer. I am originally from a beautiful warm and sunny town called Pesaro in Italy but for the past 13 years I lived in two of the most grey and rainy countries in Europe, the Netherlands and then Wales. I like cooking and having loads of friends over for food around a big table spread with good food and wine.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Christmas Time. As a child me and my whole family used to travel by car from our home town to the North of Italy in the Alps to spend Christmas and New Year there. We used to go every year for 13 years and we built a group of friends which came from all over Italy and we used to see each other only once a year on that occasion. It was a beautiful memory to see them every year for 13 years and unfortunately we lost contact since we stopped going (around year 2000), not for any particular reason apart from life that carries on and brings people on to different paths. I especially remember the last leg of the journey. It was an hour all uphill, and as we would get higher in altitude the landscape would become whiter and whiter. Surrounded by snow. It made me really excited. As a kid I imagined like we were entering almost an unreal and magical world.
What about your first memory of dance?
My parents. I grew up around dance, theatre, performative arts and in studios. My parents were both in performative arts, never as professionals, but they were always part of some sort of show, dancing, acting and sometime singing (not really their strength, hehe!). So my first memory of dance is actually seeing my parents performing on stages or being with them in the studio.
What is your definition of dance and what makes it an art form?
Dance is communication. I believe any art form needs to be communicative. As artists I feel we are responsible to communicate to people, and allow people to communicate when are part of one of my works. The beauty of dance is that the body is our instrument of communication, words are not always needed. Everyone moves. Everyone is able to connect to movement. I think dance becomes an art form when the message an Artist wants to convey is not hidden or shadowed by movement but the message becomes the initial source of the movement.
How would you define the connecting thread or underlying ethos that ties together your work?
Connecting to humanity. Common ground. Bring more dance to the people and not the people to the theatres. Collaborative. Inclusive. Honest. Unconventional spaces.
Who are some of the inspirational characters in your field that you follow and what do you admire about their approach?
Well, there are manys and all for different reasons. I recently had a beautiful mentoring conversation with the artist Rosemary Lee in her house in London. It was my first time meeting her and I was interested to know more about her approaches towards dance/movement. What I most admire about her is her inclusive approach towards dance, the way she can bring large casts (sometimes around 60 people) of professional and non-professional dancers together, finding a true and genuine connection between performers and audience, she gently invites the audience in to the performance and let them feel part of it as much as the performers themselves.
Out of all the dance performances you have choreographed, what have been the most successful or rewarding for you and why?
CrossWord (site-specific solo version for Alexandra Pholien). It was my first work I readapted for a site-specific venue, an apartment in Naples. Through this experience I was pushed out of my comfort zone as never before as a maker and therefore I accessed some creative places I thought I was never able to. A citizen from Naples randomly came to watch the show and told me: “It is you first time visiting Naples. You were here only for two weeks, but you seemed to get what Naples and his habitants are about. I could see that all the way through the performance”. That was one of the best comments I ever had and will always remember about my work.
What do you think goes through someone's mind at the end of your performances?
I hope I make people think at the end of my performance. I hope I can manage to change/share something within them, even if it is only a little. Encourage a change of perspective towards something.
What metaphor would best describe how you feel when you dance?
A soap bubble. Because of its fluidity and dynamics, but also for its transparency. I feel really open and generous when I dance, letting people see through me.
What would your advice be for someone wishing to pursue a career in dance?
DON’T DO IT!!!!!!!! Joking! I would just say to trust your instincts in the choices you make. Dance is such a broad word and subject, there are so many routes you can go down. As the dancer’s career doesn’t last not forever, it is important to make choices that feel right for you and persist with them, be stubborn!
If your life would be a dance performance, what would you name it and why?
Unexpected Change. My life has been full of constant changes. Changed three countries. Changed dance companies. Changed artistic ethos. Looking back when I first moved away from Italy I would never ever thought I will be where I am today, doing what I am doing, and thinking how I am thinking. Many unexpected changes.
What are three questions you don't have an answer for?
When will I die?
Will I live in another country at some point ever again?
Will I always keep creating?
What have you always wanted to be asked and never were?
Oh god! I actually get asked a lot of questions recently about my work, and sometimes I wish I were asked less and let the work speak for itself. But when I was a full time dancer I wished someone asked me: “Why are you dancing this piece of work?”
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I really enjoy travelling. I like to discover new places. One of my favourite unwinding techniques is to walk, walk and walk, in a new city, on a new island, in nature, and allow myself to get lost on my walks.
What is inspiring you right now, and how do you emulate it through your current work?
I am currently exploring ways to bring more contemporary dance out of theatres, creating more site-specific work which relate to that particular site, its history and its communities. I have recently been given a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales which will enable me to do an in-depth research into those subjects by spending time with artists who are already using similar approaches and allow some development and reflective time for me as an artist.
What about the future? How do you see yourself evolving as a dance artist?
Future?! Apart from focusing on my Creative Wales I will keep showing my works internationally, we will be in Italy for three dates (Milan, Pesaro and Turin) and in Malta as part of the programme of the European City of Culture Valletta 2018 in May, as well as working as a movement consultant on Highway One, a show part of Festival of Voice this summer in Cardiff . I see myself evolving, I don’t know how and for how long, but I am sure I will. I always liked to push myself into new things and I am sure I will keep doing that along my way.
And now a question from Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire: What goes on in tunnels?
I have found myself in tunnels many times and never knew what was going on! Loads of questions and not many answers, and when you can’t see the light you are lost in darkness. Try to turn it into positivity, and actually no one will get you out of the tunnel apart from yourself, and it is up to you which direction you choose in that darkness, look for instinctiveness.
Can you recommend us:
A book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A song: Carefree by Grand Pianoramax
A film: Youth by Paolo Sorrentino
A dance performance: Sleep No More by Punchdrunk (New York City)
Thank you, Matteo for the wonderful insight into your personal and creative realms.