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Menhir Company: Nina E Le Nuvole (Nina and the Clouds)

by Rosella Simonari

May 21 , 2011 -- Teatro Kismet, Bari, Italy

“Rain is the kisses that clouds give us”
Valeria Simone

Can a modern fable be told through a dance theatre performance? The Italian Menhir Company has the answer to this question and it is a remarkable yes. Since its inception in 2007, the Company has created dance theatre performances directed to young audiences and their last production, “Nina e le nuvole” [Nina and the clouds], is another successful kinetic storytelling which premiered in Bari at the “Maggio all’infanzia” [May to infancy], the 14th Festival of Theatre for Children and Young People.

Poetically conceived and written by Valeria Simone, the performance is about the swan Nina’s journey in search for sun and joy in the Paese senza lacrime [Tearless Country]. Nina lives in a pond in a Northern country and is tired of its cloudy and cold weather. Interpreted by a convincing Ilaria Davvanzo, she leaves her best friend Rui only to meet numerous other characters, like another swan called Annika, performed by Palmiriana Sibilia, with whom she continues her journey, a Frontier Officer, a bizarre Crow figure, dj Lallo and the King of the Desert. This journey soon becomes an inner journey of self-discovery through which Nina learns to look at things with new eyes. In the end she returns to the North because she realises that things are not always the way they look. Simone renders this transformation through the rain image, associating it first to the act of crying, “it is as if with the rain all the swans wanted to cry”, and in the end to that of kissing, “rain is the kisses that clouds give us”.

The movement quality of the swans is smooth and low paced. When they dance together they dance in unison, with straight arms and legs in fourth position or in parallel. In addition to that, they often perform turns and show their back to the audience as if to recall the idea of flying and travelling. Giulio De Leo’s work, in this sense, is quite interesting because, as is well known, the imagery of the swan has a bulky tradition in dance history, with Petipa and Ivanov’ “Swan Lake” and its contemporary revisions by Mats Ek, Matthew Bourne and Ros Warby, to name a few. He does not engage with these influences, if not in minimal parts. He elaborates the four cygnets’ pas de quatre from the second act of Petipa and Ivanov’ “Swan Lake” in a short sequence, when Nina and Annika are asked, and almost obliged, to dance in the Tearless Country. This famous phrase gains a new flavour in this context and is enriched by a metal hair band adorned with feathers that they are asked to wear. Furthermore, De Leo does not use the double imagery of the swan, as Nina and Annika are not one the opposite of the other, but, as Simone highlights, two sides of the same coin which is female psyche. If Annika is daring, Nina is careful and their friendship helps them to overcome obstacles.

Another element coming from other versions is the white swimming cap each of the three swans wears, as it recalls a similar one used by Ek in his revision of “Swan Lake”. It distinguishes the swans from the other characters and gives them a certain elegance. A cap like this one was also used by futurist dancer Giannina Censi in her 1930s experimental performances inspired by the act of flying.

De Leo marvellously interprets all the male characters in the performance, each of which has a speaking and moving peculiarity. For example, the Crow figure gesticulates as a character of the Commedia dell’Arte and speaks with a Neapolitan accent, while the King of the Desert moves in a fluid manner and speaks a language characterised by the repetitive use of the consonant ‘c’.

The music composed by Livio Minafra is evocative of the different phases of Nina’s journey, the lights by Annalisa Pellegrini are significant, at times sophisticated components of the atmosphere and the costumes by Porziana Catalano and Iole Cilento are beautifully conceived, even though they do not always perfectly interact with movement, especially with regards to the swans.

“Nina and the Clouds” is a poetic work that children and young people have already appreciated in pre-premiere performances. It stirs your imagination, strikes your heart and makes you think of the importance of looking beyond the surface of things. It was designed for young people but it is definitely beautiful and touching for adults too!

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