IN CONVERSATION with GIORGIO BARBARIO CORSETTI - AN AVANT GARDE MAESTRO
One would imagine Giorgio Barbario Corsetti to be a man of much airs given the amount of seminal work the man has to his name. Walking the halls of Attakkalari the pleasure has been to meet a very pleasant Romanian, who talks adoringly but unseriously about his very exhaustive list of work, and who cracks deadly jokes with a deadpan face. Between the rigorous practice sessions happening at the state-of-the-art studios at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts we were fortunate to have had a chance to catch a moment of conversation with this brilliant maestro.
1. Before we start a conversation on the project I would like to know a little bit more about you Giorgio. And then will you tell me a bit more about the project & the thought process behind Mahabharata?
Giorgio: I am Giorgio Barberi Corsetti, I am a Director. I have been directing for a long time now. I started in the late 70s with small independent theatre groups. And in the years I have been working with Improvisation. It’s so much, more than 40 years of work, so to reduce it to a few words is going to be tough.
I started with a group in the late 70s and I was always working within the intersections of theatre and the other Arts. Theatre & visual arts, theatre and dance, theatre and video installation, opera. Theatre and literature. I have been working at the beginning on the idea of theatre and revolution. And then different relationships with avant-garde of the 20th century and working with video installation, working with people in the circus, many operas, and working with video artists and painters. It was always about trying to find a language inclusive of all arts.
At a certain point, I also started working with a lot of literature, I made a few shows based on the works of Franz Kafka.
Recently I have been working on traditional theatre. The last big show I did was Hamlet by Shakespeare. I arrived at this project because it's the third time I worked on the music of Riccardo Nova. I made a project with him that was about the refugees that were dying in the Mediterranean. So we were composing something like the reality of the sinking of the ship with 283 young people. We went to see their parents in Pakistan, Punjab in Pakistan. We made the show with videos. And the music was by Riccardo Nova. The name of the musical was Portopalo, titled after the place in Sicily near where the shipwreck happened.
And then we did Nineteen Mantras, another opera which was composed by Riccardo Nova in collaboration with choreographer and dancer Shantala Shivalingappa.
And then Riccardo Asked me if I wanted to participate in this project. In the beginning, the idea was to work with two circus artists, women artists and the circus company was asking Lorenzo to participate cause he is a circus artist but is also a dancer, so he was also a very interesting person for the project.
2. Have you and Lorenzo worked with each other previously?
Giorgio : No, we just met in the workshop near Rome. And then always Riccardo was composing his music, in a place near to Bangalore.
It was in Mysore and working with musicians from Bangalore, you know Varija and Manjunath. And he was meeting Jay and asked Jay to participate. So we did a workshop near Rome in Zagarolo. Everyone met each other there for the first time. I did not know Lorenzo, did not know anyone. I just knew Riccardo. I met Jay there and we started to work there together like the way we are now. We tried to understand how everyone works and to understand how to put together our different ways of working.
At that time Jay was in Zagarolo with Hema. And then there is Marianna who is a Bharatnatyam dancer. There is Anil who is an actor and practises Kalari.
Lorenzo: Anil lives in between Italy & Bengal
Giorgio : And it was the first time and it wasn’t too balanced. But I thought it was interesting. And I had a very good feeling from Jay and from all the people in the project. So I said let’s go!
And it was very strange because we were supposed to come to do the show and tour in India but it was not possible because there are German musicians who cannot travel to India at the moment, so we are just doing a preview for now.
The point was to find a way to put all these different artists together. I say it’s like to maybe make a meal with too many tastes, too many flavours. And at the same time, it is kind of balanced. And it is what we are doing right now. To look for how to combine this kind of work.
Even in the show, there are no parts spoken, there is singing, just one singer. And the dancers act and dance.
And then what Riccardo did is to take some fragments from Mahabharata. So you can’t tell a distinct story. You can’t invent around the parts and the moments he has chosen. So also this is a challenge to work with many different artists put together, and find a way to go with the music but not telling a story that you don’t have the means to tell. But at the same time, it is very interesting because in SPARKS you can go deep in the meaning, deep in the symbolic side, deep in the metaphysics. So the spirit and the soul and that’s very good for me.
After which the point was how to get there. So the music is very complete, it is a music that lives by itself, and doesn’t need anything else. So if you do anything else you must go into the hidden part to reveal something that is hidden in the music. So let’s say that what we do is not in the order of representation but it is the order of revelation.
3. Please elaborate more on this piece. How much of the original epic are you retaining?
A: Giorgio: The title of the piece is Sparks. I did not want to say Mahabharata because when you say Mahabharata people are waiting to see Arjuna and Yudhisthira .
So first of all, there is something that has to do with daily life. I mean Mahabharata is an epic and is something that is mythological. But at the same time mythology has to do not with reality but with truth. And there is a philosopher who wrote a book against the arrival of the Christian religion to defend the Greek religion/mythology and said, “These things never happened but they ARE always'”. They never happened but they ARE, they exist. So, mythology exists in ourselves. It is the story of the deep in us. So the point is this story is telling us our nature, and is telling about karma and about dharma and the relationship between the self, the relationship between the ego, the self and the body.
And this is a time to do this. It has beautiful stories, beautiful verses, beautiful poetry but Riccardo has chosen to take some part. So in these parts I must get something that has to do with us now in this moment, not in the past, how this arrives to us and how it can be transformed into poetry, but poetry that has to do with our everyday life. And at the same time, there are revelations, there is a moment in which Rudra, Shiva sings his mantra - and the mantra is powerful. So we must deal with this power that comes from the words and the singing. And the point is not to tell the story of Mahabharata but to find the relationship with us, how the words, the situations, the music works inside us.
4. In that manner would you say that the story or the relationships that you as a playwright are exploring, does it emanate from the pieces of music that are composed by Riccardo?
A: Giorgio : Yes, the music is leading us. And for sure the choice that Riccardo made for instance the story about Abhimanyu, We tell this story, in a way we make this reference to the Abhimanyu story as it is and and at the same time it has something to do with war. And can you imagine in Italy, Israel is just there after the sea? And Gaza. And Ukraine just after the mountains. So we are in the middle of wars in Europe, it’s very near. And maybe we could feel the bombing on one side and the other side. So war is not abstract, nothing abstract. It’s there. Violence. And the Earth, he complained of the Earth because humans are treating her badly. She prays to Vishnu to do something. Can you imagine the way we are living now, the Earth complaining about how we treat it? So suddenly it is very concrete, very real, it’s there. So then of course we are not making a kind of documentary about the disease of the Earth or the war in Gaza, but about how this reflects on us.
Of course these are coming out in what we are working on now. Because my conscience is continually every morning hit by the news from Israel or from Ukraine. Every morning I read about what is happening there, it is terrible. One cannot do anything. But in my consciousness suddenly the Kurukshetra battle emerges. The association with Gaza and Ukraine is immediate. And just an example for the battle, the fight between Arjuna and Karna. There is Krishna who is manipulating. And it is interesting to see how Krishna protects Arjuna. It suddenly is a pas de deux but of three people, it is not just the fighters but a presence of the God there that is directing everything. So it is very interesting for a dancer, for someone that brings you and makes you move and the other also tries but God is always there. It all suddenly becomes Metaphysical but also very very physical.
5. The people who you are working with, all the dancers, the actors & the circus artists, have they also been able to bring their sense of aesthetics to the piece?
A: Giorgio : We are trying to do this. I think that this particular work needs a very personal participation of the actors and dancers because we need the engagement in the mind and soul. This means they must really put a part of themselves. They are not just executing a choreography, they are creating something that has to do with their own life, with their own existence, and as much as they can manage this the most it will be interesting for the viewers and the public.
6.Do talk a little bit about the creation process. There must be some exercises that you do with the actors. some text that you read, some references you engage with.
A: Giorgio : At this point we just go on with the matter. You know that the universe is made 70 % of dark matter, we are going right towards that (chuckles). Because it is something we must do quickly, must do. It is a gesture. The point is to find the right attitude to the gesture.