Gloria Dorliguzzo in conversation with Studio Rizoma

Gloria Dorliguzzo comes to choreography from the art of the Japanese sword. She has recently started, in residence in Palermo for Studio Rizoma, a research full of connections and short-circuits that proceeds along two paths: on the one hand a theoretical spark, to think of the origin of poetry as closely linked to that of slaughter in the archaic rituality of the Mediterranean – and in particular in ancient Greece – through the choreographic tradition of Asapikos.

On the other, Butchers starts from the everyday working life of butchers, through research on the Sicilian territory (also encountering communities such as the Arbëreshë community or those of North African origin who do Halal butchering), and their direct involvement on stage, trying to abstract their gestuality to a performative gesture, cutting through the void. Butchers’ movements are like the blade of Zhuang zi’s knife, “it is not a fullness passing through a fullness, it is itself an emptiness (“the knife’s edge has no thickness”) that articulates over a void (“in voids, there is more than enough space for the knife”). The knife, which thus operates at the level of the analytical spirit, does not work on the space that fills the ox, the space attested by the senses, by the eyes, but according to the internal logical organisation of rhythm and intervals’ (Baudrillard, The Symbolic Exchange and Death).

Studio Rizoma: In the text presenting your work, you write that “Butchers was born from the accidental discovery of an etymology, that of the Greek folk dance Hasapikos – still widespread and practised today – which literally means butchers’ dance.” What do you mean by ‘chance discovery’? Can you tell us something about the origin of this project?

Gloria Dorliguzzo: I say coincidental because some time ago I was commissioned by an opera house to choreograph an unpublished work by a contemporary musician for the corps de ballet.

The name of the work is ‘Orion’ and inside there are three Hasapikos of different speeds. Knowing nothing about this popular Greek dance, my approach was to go and find out some literary sources about what the dance represented and who it was practised by, and that is where I discovered that Hasapikos literally means ‘butchers’ dance’.

I believe that the world of butchery has always approached and rejected artists in a strange relationship, see Bacon for example, this is because the ritual and sacrificial value is still intrinsic and present today. Just because we relate to a life, to a body and perform actions on it could not exclude man from elaborating a thought about it.

ST: You also write that ‘this choreographic tradition started in Constantinople within the Avarnite butchers’ guild, an ethnic group of Albanian origin’. Why did you choose the city of Palermo to start your research? Did you find any affinities between the cultures in question?

GD: It was an instinctive thought I must admit! I know Palermo, for work and for other reasons I have often come here, and when Butchers took shape not only as an idea but as a desire to research, Palermo for its Greekness for its authenticity was the first place I thought would be perfect.

Given the history of Hasapikos and its practice among the Albanian population, I thought it important to make an inspection in Piana degli Albanesi where the Arbereshe community survives, unfortunately I found that there is no trace of the dance in question.

ST: During your residency period in Palermo, you had the opportunity to meet several butchers from the city. What was your approach in proposing them to participate in the project, and what was their reaction, considering the fact that it is a Greek choreographic tradition? Do you have any anecdotes to tell us?

GD: The approach with the community of butchers in Palermo, I must say, was not easy, especially at the beginning when the discourse did not articulate well and there was some awkwardness in the first approaches. Overcoming the fact that I was a woman, an artist and not from Palermo, the meetings slowly got better and better, refining the presentation of the work each time so that it was as clear as possible. Butchers feeds on stimuli and intellectual insights that are difficult to explain in a few words, but I am sure I managed to interest some of them with my stories.

ST: You organised two test days with the butchers who took part in the project. Were you able to bring them to a more advanced stage of research? What happened when you encouraged them to abstract the gesture?

GD: It was a beautiful meeting and moment! At first, it was difficult for them to conceive the concept of abstraction in their practice that was so real and material: they were looking for objects, surfaces to imitate the cutting of meat. They could not get away from the real! With insistence and aided by music that certainly helped to take them into another mental space, they opened up to the gesture and to my instructions on how to bring it into space.

ST: What do you have in mind for the future? How would you like the project to proceed?

GD: The work has only just begun and the research is still long… Butchers is a project that needs time and perseverance, time to devote to the butchers who have a very demanding job that takes so much of their energy.

This is why I am approaching foundations or realities that can host residencies of several weeks in order to build a solid relationship with them for an ongoing practice, so that they can enter into the study of the gesture with the aim of creating a performance together.

Another interest, in addition to prolonging the period so as to create more knowledge and depth of work, is to discover different cultures and different peoples, for example Greek, or Balkan and Turkish, so as to create a gestural ‘Diary’ or ‘Atlas’ of how slaughtering practices differ from different traditions and, perhaps, from rituals that are still present.