Open this poem/love letter from our Editor in Chief Tommaso Cartia sent to all the lovers out there celebrating this St. Valentine’s Day 2021 in all of its love’s forms.
Me & You, A Sunday Morning of February 2021
It is not a Holiday Until Billie caresses this Sunday With the sweet roughness Of her “Body & Soul” Outside the window Winter solmizates A snow’s symphony A concert of ice and lights Embracing and salvific. The world is violently shaking Sneezing blood, death, and confusion We are prisoners of our hugging desire But today you are with me “Body & Soul” Suspended In this house of red brick walls Warming and fragrant Like freshly baked bread A house full of music and future Of candles lit up to our dreams. We are a reassuring parcel To be opened next Christmas A lovers’ music box That plays this fragmented present With new harmonies Audacious, adventurous, experimental. Visions of us getting out of the house Unmasked Hand in hand To go embrace of little wriggles of happiness Our friends tonight at dinner. A connection of loving sense Some wine, some laughs Some singing, some foolishness A melting of bodies, voices, sensations A glimpse into eternity And then the present, the ordinary The dreams of the trip we plan for next summer More dreams … “I can’t wait to go to her concert…” “…she is great, though she’ll never be like Billie…” “promise we’ll see each other next week, good night!” … Later the love, me and you at home The love Unmasked And the tomorrow gets trepidant with trivialities Once again The necessity of living as much as possible Before nothing will be, again, impossible. Me and you, Billie Holiday, and a Sunday morning of February 2021 Outside the window The pandemic is sour Flaking down Even more violently than this snow’s tempest But it will subside, will melt, and settle Flash up once again and for all And be swollen by the darkness of time. It will leave us dry, rested, rejuvenated Full of love for the days ahead.
Me, you, Billie Holiday, and a Sunday morning of February 2022.
Herman Cornejo, Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, partners up with the visionary genius of photo-artist, director, and documentarian Steven Sebring, to launch his newly created dance company, D A N C E L I V E, featuring some of NYC’s most talented performers. An innovative and epiphanic concept that transfers and transforms the ballet art form into a digital, live and hyper-realistic immersive experience.
We sat down with Herman Cornejo for an exclusive interview on the eve of D A N C E L I V E first show: “New York Alive”. The Virtual World Premiere will be up this Saturday, January 30, 2021, 3:00 pm EST. Streaming on @veeps. By Tommaso Cartia
N E W Y O R K C I T Y I S D E A D But is it really?
This is an example, of one of the many, scary headlines we have been bombarded with since the beginning of the pandemic, slowly pulverizing our hopes and dreams to go back to the so-called “normal”. N O R M A L again, a kind of ordinary word, suddenly turned into a headline. The COVID-19’s narrative is a sort of “normalized” “all is lost”narrative, which is the stage, in the traditional hero’s journey – from Homer to Star Wars – where the protagonist shifts their pursuit of what they want to the realization of what they need. It can stop them dead in their tracks, but it’s also the point of the story which is instrumental to the triumphant return, the victory, and the final apotheosis of the hero. The artists have always been, throughout history, our heroes, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, envisioning our next steps into the future of our evolution. So yes, in this “all is lost” phase that we are living, we want to go back to New York’s theaters, but what we need is to never stop dreaming, while we get back there.
Herman Cornejoand the Sebring Revolutionmulti-dimensional media company of Steven Sebringare going beyond “normal”, into the territory of the extraordinary. With the D A N C E L I V E company they are already making brand-new headlines and building brand-new narratives promising to nurture that need to attune ourselves to those dreamlike frequencies of the soul, only transcendental forms of art can activate. Their first installment,“New York Alive”, is indeed that headline we all needed to read. The immersive dancing experience features, alongside Herman Cornejo, ballet sensation Skylar Brandt in new works by choreographer Josh Beamish, and will be streamed this Saturday, January 30th, 2021 at 3:00 pm EST on the @veeps platform. Tickets available here https://sebringrevolution.veeps.com
Dive into the D A N C E L I V E company with our exclusive conversation with Herman Cornejo, and “welcome to the future of ballet”.
When and how did you come up with the Dance Live concept?
I started writing about this project in 2018. I wanted to create a live reality show about the dance world. I have been thinking for a long time that many people may be interested in the real-life and the work process of dancers: from class to rehearsal, to actual creation, that would be streamed live, meaning with no cuts, recording everything that is happening with no additional editing. I thought it was possible to do something artful and entertaining at the same time. Now, with the pandemic and all performing activity stopping, it was the perfect momentum to pursue it. I contacted Steven Sebring and shared my idea with him, since he is a genius of the visual arts, and I was thinking of something very innovative. His perspective gave me a whole new scope in terms of the technology we could have used to channel it.
This project promises to be visually groundbreaking, something totally new for ballet. What can you tell us about its uniqueness?
The visual uniqueness of this project resides in the system Steven Sebring created to record movement in 360, which allows us to capture and transmit any dance through virtual and augmented reality. In that sense, we will not only have a video as we all know it, we will also have many other interesting media products coming out of the production, which take advantage of the latest visual technologies through which we can show the dancers’ work.
Tell us about your artistic collaboration with visual artist and director Steven Sebring?
Just to clarify, I am the director and creator of the project D A N C E L I V E project. I contacted Steven to present this idea to him to see if he wanted to collaborate with me on this project. Steven leads Sebring Revolution, and he is directing all of the films and how the visual material should be presented. I am in charge of organizing the part related to dance: from dancers and choreographers to the music, costumes, and the whole dance show. Steven brings the technology and the visuals into play to interact with my ballet and dance art form.
What about the other members of the company? Tell us about the extraordinary ballet talents involved in the project.
The talent will always be different as this company, for now, will work “project to project”. For “New York Alive”, I invited Skylar Brandt to be my partner and Joshua Beamish to be the choreographer. I am beyond happy I chose them. They deployed not only their amazing talent as artists, but they also showed amazing support towards this project. They are amazing people.
How will the world be able to enjoy Dance Live? On which platforms will it be available?
We are working to have our own platform at the Sebring House, which is a totally virtual gallery/theater where the user will navigate as if you were in a video game. Right now, we organized one first show to be broadcasted on the platform VEEPS. It will take place on January 30, 3 pm ET. Tickets are available at this link https://sebringrevolution.veeps.com. More info about the project and this show is available at this link https://sebringrevolution.com/dancelive
For Herman Cornejo, what will be the future of ballet after the containment of the COVID-19?
I believe the arts will go back to theatres and museums, but there are going to be so many new tools. My company will be another option to enjoy dance in a virtual way. Also, the choreographies created for D A N C E L I V E will be able to be performed in a theater, live, in front of an audience as well as they have been set into a virtual environment. There is that sort of versatility attached to the project. Also, everything recorded for D A N C E L I V E will be an educational asset. The 360 images can be very helpful for students and teachers to analyze dance steps in an interactive 360 imagery.
To know more about Herman Cornejo and his 20th anniversary with The American Ballet Theatre, listen to our podcast interview here:
Watch Herman Cornejo’s contribution to our #CreativityWillSaveUs Series:
ON-Editorial New Year’s 2020. A letter and a poem from our Editor in Chief Tommaso Cartia
I am the empire at the end of the decadence. Prophet of a world that has stopped being prophetical. Milan. Italy. Someday, some night, in 2002. I woke up in the middle of that night, with a virulent urgency, with a trepidatious feeling. With those words on my mind. I wrote them down, quickly, and they suddenly opened a breach into my consciousness. An engulfing stream derailed my perception of space and time and I traveled.
I traveled through a feeling, I traveled across the sentiment of a world in turmoil, of an entire collectivity languishing. Those sudden travels are little miracles; on rare occasions, benevolent muses grant writers access to extraordinary emotional vehicles. At that time, I was “growing pains” because I was an adolescent and there was plenty to be mad at in the world in my “roaring twenties”. But that night, those excruciating roars were not shouting out my insecurities in front of the mirror or the feeling of being perceived as an ambiguous character always somewhat on the outside, out of place everywhere. That night was the face of the world and its distortions, grotesquely staring at me from the pieces of a fragmented mirror.
Since September 2001, the world itself was feeling ambiguous, precarious, on the outside, out of place everywhere. The world was turning into a fearful adolescent, certain only of its paradoxical uncertainty. We are all familiar with that feeling because it happened to us. We are all familiar with that feeling because it is happening to us. It began when the first minuscule ember of those crumbling towers started filling the air and our consciousness with a vicious nebula of unclarity. And by the time those towers reached ground zero, we all reached ground zero. Our end, or our beginning? The people of my generation who didn’t experience apocalyptic disruptive events like wars, pestilences, or natural calamities, suddenly knew what it felt like to be a fragile ember in the vastity of an unknown universe.
So that night, something that was dormant, something that I was blocking from my mind in my naive attempt to believe that “everything will be alright,” erupted with the force of a world quivering to come to life. A new cycle was beginning, but we were stuck at our ground zero, a step behind the past, not yet a step ahead into the future. And yet a 0 looks like a circle, and the circle is an infinite perfect shape. Our end, or our beginning? And in between, what’s in between? It is maybe what the astrophysics tend to call liminal times, and the people of faith purgatory times? It is definitely a time of purges when all of the infections need to be spurted out of our systems, all of the wounds stitched and disinfected, all of our mental and spiritual clutter, dismantled.
If that was the beginning of a new cycle and that new cycle started with purgatory mode, are we at the end of this purgatory?. 2002/2020, looks like some sort of cryptic symbolism that could satisfy the many conspiracy theorists out there. This pandemic, the fragility of our ecosystems, the autarchic leaderships, the rampant inequities and iniquities all around the globe, the corruption, the violence, the constant danger, this indefatigable feeling of fatigue and tremendous uncertainty… and so on and so inescapably forth… is this the acme, the tip of the iceberg, the final act, the extreme ablution of all of the viral infections we need to free ourselves from?
I would hope a benevolent muse comes back to grant me access to a piece of prophetic truth. The French poet Paul Verlaine was definitely granted a grand truth when he wrote in his poem”Langueur” (Languishing) of 1883, “I am the Empire at the end of the Decadence,” a lyric that was inspired by the collapse of the Roman Empire addressing the collapse of his own era, and that later inspired my feeling of collapsing of our era in 2002. Three eras, the same languishing, decadent feeling; is this enough to satisfy the category of “prophetic truth”? If we dive into the recurrent liminal cycles of human history, do we find there an answer to our dangling present? Because after a liminal cycle, a golden era always arises and did arise. And maybe that benevolent muse came to me one time and for all during this 10 years of purgatory time in which we are living. And so envisioning the prescient beginning of our golden era, I let that adolescent of 2002 in his “roaring twenties” respond to my anxiety of this current 2020 and give me hope, and possibly give it to the reader, that purgatory mode is about to collapse. If this is ground zero all over again, let’s turn it into an infinite circle of enlightenment.
by Tommaso Cartia
KNOWLEDGE LEADS TO FREEDOM FREEDOM LEADS TO SOLITUDE.
There is just freedom of reprinted thoughts, of partisan words of non-debatable debates. There is a vile terrorism bombarding the unknown a wall of obscurantism feverishly patched up every day not to let a drop of truth shine through. It is there where from a crack on the wall a glimpse of light filters that I dive inebriated by the quench of Truth soaked up in a rainstorm of Mystery a sweet prisoner of Knowledge of Reason, of Love. I’m a researcher of liquefying principles archeologist and funambulist over the cut of this wall conceptual space I travel, I abandon. I try to escape this towering inferno this cold war’s flying arsenals these weapons of mass distractions this incessant restoration of walls of dogmatism.
I am the empire at the end of the decadence prophet of a world that has stopped being prophetical I know I can still burn my body can still be put at stake my words can be put at stake at the ground zero of our involution on disheartening altars where the web-masters preach the way and humiliate differences and sacrifice intellects. Can the freedom in my words sound like pain and punishment? Can I be extinguished Can I be banished and vanished inside of this mass that needs to be leaven bulked and fed and poisoned with apathetic resignation?
From the inside of this mass’ wall Let’s continue to conduct heat Let’s continue to conduct Knowledge Let’s continue to conduct Love Let’s push for a change of status Let us be
Free to say that we can’t change, choose, control, or recolor the skin we are born in, and the sexuality we are born with. That we can’t believe in imposed absolute dogmas that are in fact nothing but relative. Let us have the freedom to discover our own sense of the Absolute, instead of that being cut, edit, banalized, and repackaged for us on plastic bibles. And let us have access to all the books and grant back to the messiahs their historical sense. Let us overturn the hegemony of autarchic patriarchs and let’s land powers also in women’s and in multicolored hands. Let us rephrase this inaccurate paradox:
… we are all equals …
… let the different be equals to the equals and the equals to the different …
I pray, that the act of Love would be granted and permitted to everybody. I pray, for the end of racial and sexual crusades and of cultural exterminations. I pray, for the Truth, not to be hidden behind beautiful lies. I pray to Know, I pray to Love, I pray to Breathe, I pray to Live.
About the Author
THE STORYTELLER WHO CONNECTS THE DOTS OF ARTS & CULTURE
Tommaso Cartiais a NYC-based writer, journalist, published author, media specialist, and publicist with a decade of experience in media communications, publishing, and the entertainment business, in the US as well as in Italy. Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Creative Pois-On, Tommaso is the mind and the pen behind Storytelier,the editorial project by Creative Pois-On. He has a successful track record in designing brilliant interviews that narrate beautiful stories. Among the celebrities, he had the chance to interview, Writer Erica Jong, Writer Michael Cunningham, Actress Gina Lollobrigida, and Valeria Golino, Director Michael Apted, to name a few. He is also the founder of the editorial project The Digital Poet – To Live Dreams, To Dream Of Lives and author of the lyrical memoirReincarnazione Sentimentale, Italy, 2014.
New York, May 20th, 2020, how long have you been locked down? A couple of months? Is it really just a couple of months, or have we been living in stages of lockdown, on and off, since our life’s journeys began? Have we escaped? Have we tried to escape? With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls? Have we experienced freedom or are we still excruciatingly mingling with self-imposed or super-imposed imprisonments? Do we know that is our Self who is Super and has Super-powers? Are we aware of the superpower of our creative minds? Do we know that the Creation is never completed until we co-create it and expand its marvels with the pyrotechnical visions of the worlds we wish to live?
How Long Have IBeen Locked Down?
That was one of my first thoughts when the surreal and yet super-real atmosphere of this global pandemic started clouding our vision and super-impose itself on our daily lives. Why was this atmosphere so familiar to me, where and when did I experience it? If I detected the origin of this feeling, could I have recollected how I dealt with it before, and what helped me to escape? The brutal desolation and isolation, the sorrow and the despair, with which this sneaky and virulent virus is paralyzing and polluting both our bodies and consciences, brought back virulent paralyzing and polluting memories.
Masking – An Old Habit This is certainly not the first mask I’m wearing, and masking is a fashion that really never went out of style. How many times was I forced to wear a mask; a mask on my eyes for the worlds I wasn’t allowed to see or reach, a mask on my mouth for the words I wasn’t allowed to say, a mask on my heart for the feelings I was not allowed to express. How many days and nights, locked-down in a room wishing on lives, wishing on far-away lands and emotional landscapes I so wanted to walk in, fear-free, mask-free.
Art & Creativity – Compass of Our Lives What helped me survive that isolation? What helped me expand my vision, my senses, and bring reality closer, shaped exactly how I envisioned it? It was Art, always, there were the artists, the mentors, the writers, the muses, injecting my mind with their purposeful creations. Art and Creativity are the compass of our lives, the sails unfurled navigating towards the ends of any horizon, transporting us through dimensions, unlocking all locks, unmasking all masks.
With the same instinct that brought me to cling on to the artists to survive my many lockdowns and experiencing the life I’m leading today, we at Creative Pois-Onfelt that we needed to cling on to the artists to understand this very challenging time that we are facing, find in them guidance and find with them the time to rediscover how our own creativity can lead us to phase 2, 3, 4… of our future. As we are finding new measures to contain the spreading of this virus, and we are looking for effective treatments, the testimony of the artists of our times living through this pandemic, can give us creative measures to contain the spreading of our fears and treat our minds and souls to re-design the more sustainable world of tomorrow, humanly, ethically, economically.
A video/podcast series and social media campaign – nominated for the prestigious United Nations SDG Impact Awards – where prominent figures from the international world of art, culture,and entertainment come together to reflect on the central value that art brings to all humanity during these challenging quarantine times of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is also designed to support the global community of artists who are seeing all of their venues temporarily shut down to safely prevent the spreading of the Corona Virus.
Listen to the Podcast Series Here below:
Creative Pois-On thinks that this is the time to go back to basics, to the essential DNA of its mission: “More than 7 billion people are living on Planet Earth. Every single one of us is like an isolated island, a polka-dot (Pois, in French), seemingly disconnected from one another. Laptops, smartphones, and social media provide technological bridges, but the storylines we channel are the real threads for all of the living polka-dots around the world to truly connect in this infinite maze.”
These words sound so incredibly current and important in this climate of fear and transformation. So Creative Pois-On thought to channel the extraordinary, talented voices of some of the artists whose stories and creations have been enriching the pages of the platform, both on the Creative Pois-On Podcast show, the editorial project – Storytelier – and the Creative Pois-On Official Youtube Channel. The reach extends beyond these outlets, enlarging CP’s tentacular maze to embrace a constellation of a different variety of artistic expressions and artists. All together they raise a voice that can break through these walls of isolation sending everybody a positive message that #CreativityWillSaveUs and that we can spend this time making the most out of our creative powers.
Follow us on this journey with the goal to find ourselves renewed and ready to soon unlock not only the doors of our houses but also the ones of our intuition, when this virus will dissipate and we will be asked to co-create the world of tomorrow, mask-free, fear-free.
An American Exclusive for Creative Pois-On. International Singer-Songwriter Alessandra Salerno and her ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ performed (You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, on the occasion of #internationalwomensday. The Sicilian music sensation tells us how the idea of the performance came about, and reflects on what it means to be a woman ‘on stage’ in the music industry of today, and on her relationship with the female icons of the blues American tradition. These days, Alessandra is on the front line producing musical acts remotely to stand up for Italy during the tough times of the quarantine imposed on the country to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We were expecting her to come back on New York’s stages this spring, and although the wait could be longer, she is positive that: “when this panicking climate ends, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian.”
Let’s meet Alessandra Salerno backstage and dream away with her music while waiting to see her back on stage soon.
It’s a sudden epiphany. Like opening your eyes and your ears on a new energetical vibration, when you experience Alessandra Salerno performing for the first time. Like the sudden eruption of a volcano. And it’s the volcanic land of Sicily, both bitterly harsh and exotically sweet like an African breeze, that forged and painted the alchemic colors of her voice. Her voice and her image are an instrument of Beauty, an enchantment that finds in its apparent contradictions, its subliminal harmony. Framed in what seems a regal Flemish painting, her porcelain skin and the long red hair echo those northern lands that had once conquered the Sicilian island. But the texture of her voice and the autoharp that she embraces takes us on a journey, far away in another country, in the American country and folk tradition that Alessandra embodies with the grace of a fairy of the woods and the soul of a resilient blueswoman.
Alessandra is the definition of ‘force of nature’, explosive, creative, unpredictable and so exuberantly generous on stage. I’ve witnessed her performing several times, and each time I saw her abandoning herself completely to gifting her audience with raw, unbridled emotions. She sparks on stage with her histrionic humor and her absolutely delightful personality. Every stage is The Stage for her. From an impromptu concerto in a remote location to the much-viewed one of The Voice of Italy talent show that saw her rise to fame; from the maxi concerts that she often organizes as Artistic Director in her city Palermo alongside big names of the Italian and international musical scene, to prestigious American venues. She had the chance to perform in Washington at the NIAF Gala, The Bitter End in New York, at theNYUat the popular Sofar Sounds circuit, and also, at a Baptist church in Harlem where she magically was asked to perform with a chorus of all-black singers. She just stepped in, asked to sing… and the miracle happened.
Extraordinary things seem to happen when Alessandra is around, her spirit is contagious, and her strong sense of community and aggregation produces entrepreneurial acts that would take a nation of music producers to put together. And she does them overnight. Like the homage for the International Women’s Day and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ that did not exist before March 8th 2020; or the streaming concert that she performed last week from her terrace to give a moment of solace to all the Italians living the nightmare of the quarantine.
“Carole King is an icon, for any woman musician. In paying homage to her I wanted to speak to the future generations that maybe know her less. The business world of today is still very chauvinistic, and the music industry is no exception; on the contrary, it is one of the toughest fields for women. She has been writing music for 50 years, collaborating with the biggest artists, winning the most prestigious awards and she gifted the world with this powerful hymn. It is a ‘necessary’ song, for humankind and for us women, we savor a taste of freedom when we listen to it and when we sing it. But it speaks to men also, to make them understand our strength, our sensitivity, our freedom, and the beauty to be women that they should respect. That’s why I decided to honor all women with this song on the occasion of #internationalwomensday and the #womenshistorymonth.
It seems that the idea of the performance was born from an instinctual artistic act, a sudden eruption, strong with creativity, sound, and feminity. You created the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ basically overnight right?
Exactly! I was watching a documentary on Carole King that night and the inspiration came immediately, like a burning fire. I thought that to send a strong message to women I should have done something big. So, I called 18 female musicians, and I invited them to be part of the project. We risked being almost 40 because the enthusiasm with which my idea was welcomed has been extremely powerful. Each one of them wanted to invite a fellow female colleague. I needed to contain the project, because of the timing and the capacity of the stage hosting us. But this project is destined to grow. The night before releasing the video I was looking for a name for the ensemble, for something that could have all represented us and mean something also for all the women listening. ‘No Quiet’. That was it, the exact meaning I had in mind. Because we women should not stay silent, as artists that struggle to succeed, and as friends, daughters, mothers, lovers, human beings. It’s an invitation to raise our voices to the world, in unison. This is the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’.
March is #womenhistorymonth and also in February, the U.S. celebrates the #blackhistorymonth. These are two worlds that are very dear to your heart. Tell us about your love for the black female voices of singers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Billie Holiday and your relationship with the blues, folk, and gospel American tradition.
I followed the #blackhistorymonth a lot over social media, and you are right, I’m in love with the African American culture. I’ve always felt a sort of a very distinctive form of spirituality within myself since I was a kid. My women, my Muses, were Aretha, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone. I dreamt to be like them, and in their voices and skin color, I’ve always identified myself, in those shades so significantly rich. I still cry over the same songs, like “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. I found the gospel, the one I was looking for. I’ve been part of a choir for a very long time, and my last time in New York gifted me with an unforgettable experience. I sang in a Harlem’s cathedral accompanied by a wonderful choir. My African American colleagues tell me that I have a black soul. I wish I could find out who I was in another life…
Some time ago I had the chance to interview another great Sicilian Singer-Songwriter, Carmen Consoli. She was telling me about her love for the ladies of the American blues music, and she compared them to Rosa Balistreri, the myth of the Sicilian, female songwriting tradition. Because in her opinion, Blues as a genre and an attitude, comes from the same suffering, the same cry of pain that turns into ransom, and from a similar sense of belonging to one’s roots. Do you agree with this definition and what is blues for you?
I totally agree! And I always made this parallel. The music from the South of the world has blues in its veins. The ‘blue notes’ are by definition dark, and the color blue connects with some nostalgic, suffered feelings. Modern music comes from the slaves’ working the camps, from those prayers that would mark the days passing by and the job’s rhythms. The south of the world is united by this hardness of life, this sense of ransom and this strong spirituality. You can find all of this in Rosa Balistreri’s voice. I started singing Rosa when I was 8 years old. These are natural inclinations, everything would lead me to those singers. They are all women, singers, souls made of the same matter. Among them, I would also mention two other icons of the Black Music from the South: Chavela Vargas and Cesària Évora.
Recently, you’ve been the recipient of an award dedicated to Rosa Balistreri; and you are the first performer ever to translate her in English. How important it is for you Rosa’s exemplary as an artist and a woman, and what do you feel when you embody and present her to the foreigner’s stages.
The award has been a great honor for me. As I said, I started to pay homage to her since the very first time I went on stage as a kid. Rosa would tell me of a Palermo I didn’t know. Some would argue that I was too young at that time to understand her, but I’ve always been a very empathetic person, and I would say that she helped me develop my sensitivity, as an artist and a human being. She was one of the first-ever female songwriters in Italy, and her life has been very troubled and, as it happens to many artists, she ended up dying poor and misunderstood. To me, to bring her with me today and putting her on the setlist of my shows alongside my own songs and the tributes to the women that we talked about before, is a moral duty as well as an artistic pleasure. The idea of translating her popular song ‘Cu ti lu dissi’ in “Who Told You”, came because I thought that I needed to gift the world with a version that everybody can understand. Towards the end of the song, I sing in the Sicilian dialect as well, to honor my roots. Every time I sing it in front of an American audience, I witness many different emotional reactions, that move me and for which I’m so so grateful.
Alessandra is a woman…?
She is a woman with her feet on the ground but with her head chasing dreams. I don’t fear death, but I can be afraid of the future. I wish I will have all the time to make all of my dreams as an artist and a woman come true. I’m very determined but I always try to act out of respect for the others, generosity and giving space to my inner child, who keeps on giving me the enthusiasm needed to keep on going and appreciate life’s little pleasures.
The World Stage is shutting down at the moment, but the show must go on and will go on. We were expecting you on the New York stages this spring, but I’m sure that the waiting will just make the comeback even more explosive. After all, even a volcano stays quiet before the eruption. What can we expect from your next artistic eruptions?
When this panicking climate will end, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian. I wish to establish myself, even more, for who I am – an exotic artist always looking for something special and unique to communicate. My Autoharp will always be here with me of course, but I plan to play also other instruments on stage and also to dress up my songs with my own style. Remember, I’m also a fashion designer!
The American novelist, satirist, poetess, and quintessential feminist icon Erica Jong opens the doors of her New York apartment to the Artistic Directors of Creative Pois-On, Daniela Pavan and Tommaso Cartia, for an intimate conversation. The author reflects on her life’s journey, on being a woman in the #metoo times of today, on her creative process and the remarkable impact that her revolutionary masterpiece ‘Fear of Flying’ had and still has on women all over the world. Plus she opens up about her loving relationship with Italy and her latest poetry book: ‘The World Began with Yes.”
Stepping into somebody’s else home can be a surreal experience. Like discovering a virgin territory, entering a new dimension. A home is somehow a sanctuary of our own life, of our own inner being, filled with memorabilia tracking down our personal history, the blueprint of our existential journey. Can we recall what were the very first impressions of a place the very first time we stepped foot into it? I can certainly recall what I felt when I entered Mrs. Jong’s apartment in New York. Overwhelming is the geometry of this sensation; vivid vivaciousness is the colorful pattern of this sensation.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE
As we stepped into the living room, you could immediately sense the density of a life intensely lived, of a writer who is a life’s traveler. A space exuberant with art and exquisite interior design taste – Jong’s mother, Eda Mirsky Mann, was a painter and a designer – artifacts from all over the world, and of course books, a bibliothèque of books, and a writing station that you would guess must be the altar where the ritual of storytelling is performed.
The colors all over the room are bright, luminous and welcoming, and they match the richness of the red floral pattern that blooms on the blouse Mrs. Jong wears, and they match the warm embrace with which she invites us into her world. A poetical world of creativity, intellect, inquisitiveness, empowerment, wittiness, good humor and open-hearted humanity. The world of a dreamer who keeps on writing poetry because: “it keeps me in touch with the unconscious”. Let’s step into Erica Jong’s world together. Ready, set, imagine…
TOMMASO – Today we are going to explore with you what role Love & Erotism play in your narratives, poetical aesthetic, and emotional and intellectual journey as a writer who so fearlessly broke so many taboos that were imprisoning the expression of women, from the 70’s to our ‘times up’ times. Starting from the groundbreaking masterpiece “Fear of Flying”. How did the idea of the book come about?
ERICA JONG — People ask me that question all the time and I don’t really know. I know that I was keeping notebooks throughout my twenties, but I had no idea they would turn into a novel. Then, I went to this conference of psychoanalysts (because at that time I was married to one), and it was so funny and crazy that I thought: “this is the frame for the book; but the book has to go back and forward in time, it can’t just be in one time.” It’s a book about my whole life up to the age of 28 and looking at it, I never thought I would have found a way to tell the story.
T — So the book is a reflection of yourself as a woman at that moment in time. But was it also inspired by different traits of an ideal woman?
E — Both I would say. I was noticing that books were missing the interior life of a woman. That was the period where all the novels where about mad housewives. In the 60s/70s, women were just satisfied with their lives, but not knowing where to go. I came to hate these mad housewives’ novels because the end of every novel seemed all so similar to me. I wanted to talk about the interior life of a woman in a different way.
DANIELA PAVAN — Have you always considered yourself a feminist or was that a label that has been attached to you? And how different it is to be a feminist in the #metoo era?
E — I have been a feminist my whole life. My mother was a feminist, my grandmother was a feminist… I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I thought that women were completely free to be themselves. It was always a motivation for me to write books about women in which they were both sexual and intellectual. Because in most books about women, either the woman is completely consumed with sexuality or she has no sexuality and she’s just an intellectual and I thought, “it isn’t true. We are both.”
T — Did you have a perception of the impact that the book would have on women at the time you published it?
E — I think that you can never imagine that the lightning will strike. Sometimes a book intersects with the time and it suddenly becomes a phenomenon. You can’t control that, and you’d be a terrible egotist to imagine it would happen to your book because it happens very rarely. I remember my American publisher saying: “we’ll publish 5000 copies and we’ll probably have to eat them.” Then, my paperback publisher which at that time had a woman in charge said: “I will not buy the book unless you agree to print 35000 copies, because this book is the story of my life and the story of every woman’s life.” She really enforced it. If the book had not come out in a time when there were women in charge of publishing houses, the whole thing would’ve been different.
The Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy wrote a very influential book where she says, “the Middle East needs a sexual revolution.” Who knows how soon it will come, but allowing women to have sexual desire has been a problem throughout history. I think that it has been because it’s much stronger than masculine sexuality, and people want to control and contain it. There have always been periods where women’s sexuality is alive and then inevitably goes backward.
D — In your opinion, how much is a woman really free to express her sexuality? And how much is she allowed to express her romantic side? Also, do you think that a woman can be driven by a strong male energy and vice versa?
E — I certainly think a woman can be attracted to that kind of energy, but I wouldn’t call it male. I would call it energy. It takes different forms. There’s no doubt in my mind that sexual energy is related to creativity. As long as women were held down sexually, they’re also not allowed to express their creativity. The two are connected.
T — Allowing your body and feelings to be naked, exposed and unleashed, can be paralyzing. In March, with Creative Pois-On we are also covering the storytelling of the stage, and we are thinking about this concept that ‘stage fright’ is actually something that we experience on and off a stage when we have to be under the spotlight of our own both professional and personal life. How did you explore the themes of fear and change in your writing?
E — When I’m writing I always tell myself that no one is going to read it and that it’s just for me. When I have to send the book out to my agent and to my publisher, I feel terrified. Always. There’s a moment where I just don’t want to do it. I experience that with every book. I force myself and I’m always sure that nobody will like it.
D — In the book, Fear of Dying your character experiences the death of her parents and she’s losing her husband too. What advice would you give to women who, in situations of change and dramatic events, think that they are not strong enough to face it?
E — Life is change. As all the Buddhists say we try to keep life still, but we can’t. Nothing is permanent. We have to accept that and it’s really hard. I’ve just been reading this book by Pema Chödrön “The Buddhist’s Nun”, where she reflects on how to deal with the uncomfortable of life. She says that we fight against change, but change is the nature of life. We are never going to be able to stop change. If we think we can, we’re deluding ourselves. Even when you think things are settled, they’re never settled. I would hope that my books give women (and men) courage. That’s my deepest wish.
T — Talking about women’s portrayal in contemporary fiction, movies , and TV. Where do you think that the imagery of the woman is going, and what is your take on a phenomenon like The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel?
E — Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale 40 years ago. I remember going to the first movie that was made of it because she was somebody I knew, we were poets together and we wrote first novels around the same time. The book starts with the fear that human beings will not be able to reproduce because the planet is dying, which we’re very aware of now. That was really the starting point for the book. We’re still dealing with that — people are afraid of having children in a world where the planet, the animals and the plants are dying. She saw very early what was going on. But it was only the tv-series that made the book so known worldwide.
D — To stay in the lines of pop culture and current social phenomenon, I’m curious to ask you, what do you think about dating nowadays and the use of the dating apps?
E — I can’t imagine going to Tinder and swiping through faces and profiles. People lie about their age, their pictures. It doesn’t seem like a great idea to me, but I know about a lot of people that have met that way. Every time I’ve been single, dating had changed.
T — As you may know, we are both Italians, so we can’t miss the chance to ask you about your relationship with Italy and Italian literature. What did it mean to you to win the Fernanda Pivano award and how was it meeting the great Umberto Eco?
E — Nanda was lovely to me she took care of me like a mommy almost. One time, when I was going to the Maurizio Costanzo Show, (a popular Italian talk show Ed.) at that time she thought that Maurizio was a bit of a sexist and so she said: “I’m not letting Erica go without me on the show ”. She came to defend me. She was very tender and sweet and every time I was in Italy, I would visit her. I met Umberto Eco here at the Italian Cultural Institute. I was asked to introduce him when his The Name of the Rose came out. We were supposed to have a dialogue, but Umberto, practically, would not let me talk. He just talked over me. I’ve met him a few times, including Stefano his son ( I find him so nice). Umberto was an old-fashioned Italian, with a patriarchal mentality.
Why do I love Italy? Italy is the one country in the world where you have permission to be human. You have permission to make mistakes, to laugh at yourself, to fail and recover. What I like about the Italian character is that you’re allowed to be a human being. Americans are so obsessed with success — we’re so afraid of failure and in Italy there’s some kind of humor about people. Not that Italian people aren’t neurotic, but the idea that you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not going to perfect all the time, that’s very deep and in the Italian character. I love that!
In my Italian language course, we had to read Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. It’s really a book about failure and success, it is so profound. And really, what is Pinocchio’s problem? I want to be a human being. I don’t want to be a puppet. And be able to laugh at yourself. That’s deep in the Italian character. How can you go through life if you can’t laugh at yourself?
D — What relationship do you have with your imagination?
E — I’m a big dreamer. I continue to write poetry because it keeps me in touch with the unconscious. I’m very proud that my latest book The World Began with Yes, is published in Italian as well with the title “Il Mondo è Cominciato Con Un Si”, by the Publisher Bompiani, translated by Giovanna Granato with a foreword by Bianca Pitzorno.
In this book a wrote a poem that reads (she recites):
The World Began With Yes One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born – Clarice Lispector
It was always yes, sì, da, yah The sibilant sound of assent, The slippery tongue in the mouth Of the lover, the da dawning. The yah yelling, The sì, sì, sì, sugary & sweet…
It is so nice that I got them to do a two languages edition. If you read poems aloud to yourself, it’s so much easier to understand. I’ve always felt that the voice gives life to the poetry.
T — Talking about reading poems aloud, you do a lot of public speaking, so how do you use your voice and how does your communication change when you are on stage?
E — I’ve become very comfortable speaking in public. Sometimes I get up on stage with no notes at all and just talk, but it took a long time to get there. Occasionally, I would do that in Italy, but I feel that my Italian is not literary enough. I love the Italian language. First of all, it’s a language for poetry and opera because there are so many rhymes. My very favorite is Don Giovanni. Some of my books I put Don Giovanni and listen to it while writing.
D — I’d like to know what you think about podcasting?
E — People go around with their headsets and experience you through your voice. I think it’s a very interesting medium.
T — Coming towards the end of our conversation, I really want to thank you for the kind generosity with which you shared your story. So now what’s next for you after the publishing of ‘The World Began with Yes?
E — I’ve just written an autobiography called “Selfie”. It’s like a self-portrait.
About ‘The World Began with Yes’ – Il mondo è cominciato con un sì
Erica Jong has never stopped writing poetry. It was her first love and it has provided inspiration for all her other books. In a dark time, she celebrates life. Her title comes from the Brazilian genius Clarice Lispector who was deeply in love with life despite many tragedies. Life challenges us to celebrate even when our very existence is threatened. Never have we needed poetry more. Jong believes that the poet sees the world in a grain of sand and eternity in a wildflower—as Blake wrote. Her work has always stressed the importance of the lives of women, women’s creativity, and self-confidence. She sees her role as a writer as inspiring future poets to come.
Like stepping into a light and kind field of energy, that was the instant sensation I felt when I met Wendy Makkena at the Sony Square Headquarters in N.Y.C. for a conversation that revealed surprising epiphanies: “Quantum Physics has proved that even the smallest particle has their fielded energy and they react to the field of energy of the person observing them,” the actress told me when asked about the impact of feel-good movies like Sister Act or A Beautiful Day where she has been cast. “If you take that and you apply it to what are we attracted to, is going to come back to us. The universe mirrors.” And you immediately realize that there is definitely much more in her to explore than the lovely screen presence with which Makkena graced us since her debut with the shy, good-hearted Sister Mary Robert in the Sister Act’s extravaganza.
Our ‘Creative Being Interview’with Wendy Makkena
She is an interpreter – as she likes to define herself – and it is so refreshing to hear that in an entertainment world filled today with influencers-wannabe divas. “My first intuition is that I really think that there is a common thread in any creative endeavor. When I play the harp, I interpret someone’s else music, when I’m acting, I’m interpreting someone’s else words. Even as an entrepreneur creating a recipe, I feel like I’m interpreting something, putting my acting skills into practice for marketing purposes.” And that’s probably the secret of her long-lasting career in the ever-changing entertainment industry. Makkena’s versatile talent brought her to perform in successful Tony Award-Winning Broadway shows; she is also a classically trained Juilliard harpist performing at Carnegie Hall; and a dancer who spent six years with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. After a hiatus, her “long, dark winter,” the performer is back in full shape with the daring role of Dorothy in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, as well as many interesting upcoming projects, and as an entrepreneur – she is the founder and the creator of the successful start-up “Ruby’s Rockets” frozen fruit and veggie pops.
Listen to the podcast above and read the interview below to explore more about Wendy Makkena’s creative endeavors.
I want to start by asking you: how did you feel to be a part of A Beautiful Day, acting alongside a master like Tom Hanks, an all-round incredibly talented cast, and directed by the exquisitely talented Marielle Heller?
“I’m so glad you said exquisite director Marielle Heller, because I can’t say enough about working with her and about her movies that I watched preparing for this role. She was an actress and a writer before becoming a director, I didn’t know that before, which makes her even better qualified. I think she definitely deserves an Oscar. The greatest accomplishment for me in this movie was basically not fainting when I walked in the room on my first day on set! It was with Marielle Heller, Chris Cooper, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson. Tom Hanks was not there that first day, but still, I was petrified! It was the family scene when the character played by Rhys meets my character, Dorothy, someone who he hates because she is the new woman in his father’s life. I felt nervous, but I also thought, well this must be how the character feels in this scene, so I stepped into the role.”
The movie is based on the beloved TV personality Mr. Rogers, where you familiar with him and his show?
I was familiar with Mr. Rogers growing up, but I didn’t watch it when I was a kid. But when my daughter was little, I wanted her to watch things that were fast cutting, so she watched the Teletubbies and she watched Mr. Rogers. And I started getting sucked in when I was doing house works and I would think ‘oh here is Mr. Rogers, he is kind of a character’. And I realized, as I’m into the mindfulness philosophy, that he was really present for these kids, he was holding a presence, it wasn’t just about entertaining the kids. Little that I know, cut to 20 year later I’m in a film about him.
This movie kind of reminded me of Sister Act, and of those feel-good movies that specifically in the ’90s were proposingthese very good role models for a new generation. I believe that there is a tendency with the movie industry today to equate box-office success with very dark, violent, superhero subjects. How do you think that those light-hearted movies, like the Mr. Rogers’s showwas for kids, are still important for us to experience and to reach that sort of cathartic release of our own day-to-day struggles?
Well, I think that we have noise pollution, air pollution, but we also have mind pollution. I feel like our souls are wilting a little bit anytime we see another night of CNN, another night of FOX, it’s the 24 hours news cycle. How dark can we get, how sexual? It feels like everybody in entertainment is competing against each other to be as extreme as possible. I feel like I’m polluting my mind. There is such a thing as vibrations and a law of attraction; quantum physics proved it. Through an electro-magnetic microscope, scientists videotaped the tiniest particles to see how they change depending on who is viewing them. They do change, drastically, and they can even completely disappear. They have a fielded energy, they react to the field of energy of the person observing them. If you take that and apply it to what we are attracted to, it is going to come back to us. If we are attracted to negativity, it will come back to us. It is the time for us to sit back as a group, as humans. If you smile and laugh it changes your brain chemistry, let’s just look at science!
Based on this, what are you taking away from the feel-good vibrational experience of working in A Beautiful Day?
Before I did the film, I had what my agent calls a long dark winter. There were some personal things that were troubling in my family, my mom passed away, so I took a step back for a couple of years. When I came back, I was a different age, I was in a different city and I was feeling just, exhausted. But God BlessAvy Kaufman, who is the casting agent of this movie, who loves my work and she brought me in for a part I’m not usually cast for. So, what I feel is gratitude, gratitude. I mean, I’m in a room with Tom Hanks, all I can think is, gratitude.
How does it feel to be a part of the American cinema history with Sister Act, and how was working with Whoopi Goldberg?
It is such an iconic film, internationally, and again this speaks of how good people can feel when they watch a movie like that. Also, it speaks to 5 years old to 90 years old, like Mr. Rogers does. When you start a project you never know how it will go. It is a movie about singing nuns, so we were worried if we were going to be made fun of, or would the material be disrespectful? But no, when we first saw the first screening, we had chills, we were crying, and we knew this was something great. First of all, it was super fun, but it was really Whoopi who made it special, because of course it all comes from the head, and she has a such a generosity of spirit. I knew I would have learnt so much from her. She was protective to all of us, it didn’t matter who you are, everybody was important for her, across the board, and I thought, that’s who I would like to be if I were her, that was my big first role. I was a theater actress at that time, and I was scared of being maybe too big, theatrically, on screen, or I thought, “Am I going to be able to lip-sync?”
There were parts that I would sing on my own and actually I auditioned for the part with my own voice. And this is the first time that I’m sharing this. When I got the job, they wished I could sing but I couldn’t, but they still wanted me, and they were busy trying to find someone who could sing my voice. I was feeling so comfortable in the room doing rehearsal, that Marc Shaiman’s (the musical director Ed.), assistant said, “Wait a minute, everybody stop! Wendy why didn’t you sing like that when you auditioned! We could have gotten you ready to sing for the role in three months.” So a matter a fact, they got me into a limo, into Hollywood, and into a sound studio and asked me, “What do you need to sing the way you just sang in that room?” I said, “Give me a bottle of red wine and I don’t want anybody to see me while I’m singing!’ So that’s how they decided to mix me with the singer–they still needed a singer because my high notes were still a little tight, but they got me to sing live during the takes. So, the amazingAndrea Robinson sings the parts of Sister Mary Robert, but she is overlapped with my own voice.”
Being that you are an actress, and also a musician, dancer and entrepreneur, how it is for you to navigate through these different mediums and art expressions?
My first intuition is that I really think that there is a common thread in any creative endeavor. I’m an interpreter, when I play the harp, I interpret someone’s else music, when I’m acting, I’m interpreting someone’s else words. Even as an entrepreneur creating a recipe. I thought to take a very cool smoothie and turn it into a vegetables and fruits’ popsicle mood so that kids can have a popsicle breakfast, they don’t know what’s inside, there is no sugar in it, just fruits and vegetables and it is probiotic. To me, there is a creative engine somewhere, and I used my acting skills in a huge way to put these popsicles on to the shelves. You have to be convincing, like when I’m on the phone, I know how to pitch my voice up to sound a little younger which makes people more willing to help you more, it’s a marketing strategy. Everything is interrelated.
What are some of your next new projects that you can share with us?
I just wrapped a wonderful movie called Spiked, a true story about a group of Mexican miners in Arizona who are being racially profiled. It was a big news story in 2005. Juan Martinez Vera, the director, got a hold of the story. The movie stars Aidan Quinn, who plays a journalist, a newspaper owner, and I play his challenging wife, a very different role from the ones we just talked about. She is bipolar, hypersexual and an alcoholic.
Read our review of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood HERE
The story opens with the description of the Ordinary World of the family of our Heroine Gelsomina. The psychological hierarchies existing between the main protagonists are immediately introduced. In particular, the strong bond between Gelsomina and her father, underlined by the fact that Wolfang (the father) trusts only his eldest daughter to carry out the most onerous tasks of the honey processing. The strong character of the second-born daughter, Marinella, a Trickster, is Gelsomina’s comic relief who often loosens tensions and lives everything with a sense of disenchantment. The mother remains a solid figure, sometimes in contrast with her husband, but she does not seem to have a relevant voice in the difficult balance between Wolfang and Gelsomina, who at the beginning of the story is an Animus, projecting herself first with the father figure and his male energy. Cocò is another central character who is presented right away. She initially appears as Gelsomina’s natural Ally, sharing the need of the young girl to emancipate herself from the imposing patriarch.
More or less a quarter of an hour from the beginning of the film, once the work is finished, the family enjoys a moment of leisure by the sea close to an island not far away from the mainland, occupied by the ruins of an ancient Etruscan necropolis. In this enchanting scenario, we see the epiphanic appearance of the character of Milly, the TV host of the program “Il paesedellemeraviglie” (The Wonderland). Dressed all in white, diaphanous, ethereal, Milly introduces the main topic of the show with these cryptic words: “What am I doing here? It was a secret but now I can reveal it, this is our great comeback, The Wonderland, among the riches of the Etruscan region. It will be here among those families who still live like it was once upon a time that we’ll talk… about sausages!” Milly’s fabulous introduction immediately reveals the real content of the TV show, not fabulous at all, but kind of tacky, generic and focused just on the promotion of the local products. But behind the fiction and the artifice of the television production, the figure of Milly stands out as a supernatural element, the Mentor figure, that attracts Gelsomina in an Extraordinary World, stranger from her own.
Despite her appearance as a series B presenter, in the eyes of Gelsomina and her sisters, Milly is a blue fairy. Gelsomina looks at Milly in awe as the Fairylike woman hands to the girl a flock of her wig’s hair and also a poster of the show with the instructions to participate. With this double gesture, Milly will initiate Gelsomina’s shifting journey. Cutting one’s hair is archetypically a sign of transition, from childhood to the adult age, and the poster represents the New Direction that the whole Gelsomina’s family is invited to take to change their economic status and welcome the advent of the new corporate era for the farming businesses. This is the triggering Inciting Incident of the story and the Call to Adventure.
The meeting with Milly will subsequently lead to the beginning of the ideological clash between father and daughter. After work they pay visit to one of the families from the area, with whom they share the same plots of land. They have decided to participate in the television program. Wolfang is opposed to that sort of frivolous charade and instead emphasizes the concept that they must stick together; they must join and not allow strangers to come and exhort their work and exploit their world. On the other hand, the other patriarch thinks that advertising on television will help their economy. The gentleman also asks Wolfang when he is going to have a son dealing with the family business, alluding to Gelsomina playing that role in the family. In the meantime, Gelsomina is struck by a commercial she is watching on the TV, of Milly publicizing the show. She asks the father to agree to participate in the competition, which he of course refuses. Is the father the true Antagonist of the story, and the Refusal of the Call to Adventure falls in between this father-daughter conflict. To distract Gelsomina, Wolfang promises her to buy her a camel instead, a gift that Gelsomina has been wishing for since she was a child. But the girl underlines the fact that it was indeed a desirable gift, but when she was little. The father is preventing his daughter to step into adulthood, wrapped in the fear of losing her and therefore a role that gives stability and significance to his existence.
Gelsomina’s mother seems instead favorable to the opportunity the TV show presents, as is Cocò who fully supports Gelsomina’s idea thinking not only that that money is indispensable, but also that the girl’s destiny should not be playing the peasant woman role that Wolfang is envisioning for her. Cocò represents a parallel subplot to Gelsomina’s story, reinforcing the central theme of the Heroine’s journey. Cocò is, in fact, as dissatisfied as the young girl; she wishes a change will occur to her life; she is young and charged with a strong sensual drive. “Am I real?” is the question that she often asks out loud. She is like Gelsomina, a character in search of her true self. Later on, Wolfang decides to adopt a new kid, Martin, a German boy who will come to work with the family for a few months. The arrival of the boy is groundbreaking for the economy of the story, and it alters the family’s equilibrium. Like Milly’s character, Martin is a sort of mystical presence, an exotic and mysterious one. He never speaks, but he has a special power, he can whistle very well. The kid represents Gelsomina first encounter with sexuality and with a male sensual interest that is separate from her father figure. The romantic theme is introduced also by a love song from Italian TV personality Ambra Angiolini; it is again in the world of TV that Gelsomina as well as her sister Marinella, find an extraordinary world to escape and dream away.
One day at a village’s fair where Gelsomina’s family go to sell their honey products, the girl finds a banquet with people advertising Milly’s TV show, and this time, she sneaks away from her father and she signs the family. This is the New Opportunity given to our Heroine to fulfill her destiny. It is now that Gelsomina also proves to be not a common human being, but a hero with extraordinary abilities. She demonstrates to her love interest Martin, that she is able to put bees in her mouth and pass it over her face without being bitten by them. The scene is full of magical and sensual realism and grants Gelsomina a special status; she is not just a worker with the bees, she can command them.
As we progress in the journey, an old friend of Wolfang, Adrian, comes to visit the family. His appearance is absolutely disruptive and accelerates the departure of Gelsomina from the father figure. Adrian tells Wolfang that it would be about time for him to make a son and free Gelsomina who he invites to come and visit the city of Milan, to get away from there. Gelsomina says that she would love to, she finally declares her subconscious intent, to emancipate herself, but again Wolgang addresses her as “just a kid”.
Later, left alone to process the honey, Gelsomina, Marinella and Martin, got distracted, listening to the song by Ambra Angiolini, and Marinella accidentally injures her hand with one of the machines engines. Gelsomina immediately rushes her to the emergency room and because of that they forget to change the bucket that should contain the honey. At their return they will find out that all of the honey from the production had irremediably spilled, and they are of course terrified by their father’s possible reaction. Meanwhile a representative from the TV show, comes to the farm to inspect the family and check their eligibility for the program. This is a Luciferian character, with crossed eyes, who brings temptation in; he appreciates the honey the family produces, and he tells them that they have been selected for the show. When Wolfang and Angelica return they are shocked to see what happened to Marinella, but the father is more concerned with the man from the TV show, and realizes his daughter tricked him. Wolfang showed up with what he still thinks is Gelsomina’s object of desire, the camel she wanted since she was a little girl, and he is so sorrowful to witness that he tried to make his daughter happy and she did nothing but disobey to him. Wolfgang leaves, chased by Gelsomina who is vividly sorry and asks her father if she can still help him with anything, but Wolfang rejects her. This is a high turning point, marking Gelsomina’s first real conscious stance towards her father. This is the apex of the story’s Climax that stands there with no effective resolution as the narration jumps directly to the family participating into the TV show.
Here we get closer to the Innermost Cave and the central Ordeal, and also metaphorically this moment represents a Descent into Hell. In fact, the boat that transports the family into the necropolis where the TV show is set is called Lucifer, and indeed the archeological site of the set is a necropolis, a real innermost cave. It is in a deep cavity in the rock where the parade of the harnessed families dressed up in their traditional costumes selling their products take place. They also need to perform. Godmother of the evening is obviously Milly. Gelsomina’s family introduces itself to the cameras. Wolfang timidly tries to explain the beauty of his art as a beekeeper, but the camera’s mechanical and cold gaze blocks him, making him appear uncomfortable, fragile; it intimidates him and resizes his role and his male power that was the main force at the beginning of the story. Unable to verbalize, he can only declare that his honey is natural, genuine, a product of a world that is about to vanish. The fragile lyricism with which the conflicting antagonist of the story reveals his ardor, humanizes him. It is certainly not only the advent of the modern era that will scratch the ancestral secrets of his bucolic art, it is the decadent sensation of an ineluctable change: his children will grow, they will go away, he will not be able to tie them forever to a world that is crumbling down. Gelsomina and Martin take the scene, performing with their super-powers. Gelsomina plays her bee trick, putting one in her mouth. Martin charms the bees with his whistle; similar to Orpheus that charms Hades with his harp. The contest is lost by the way, Gelsomina’s family doesn’t win the challenge. But another challenge awaits our Heroine: she needs to pass the Rite of Initiation of her sexuality. Cocò is moved by the kids and embraces them after their performance, but her grip is too strong, almost sexual, very carnal. Martin is stunned by that physical vicinity, he suddenly escapes, vividly scared, and he gets lost in the woods, nowhere to be found. The family is then forced to go back without him for the moment and to look for help.
On the way back, Gelsomina bumps into her her Mentor, Milly, who kindly invites her to sit next to her. She takes off her fairy wig, as if to go back to a state of humanity, as if her supernatural aid is about to be over. Milly is now, for real, the woman that Gelsomina would love to be one day. That mirroring allows the girl to perform her heroine’s act. She finally escapes her family and goes back by herself, swimming back to the island to look for Martin into the forest. The drowning in waters signs her cathartic shift, and when she emerges, she is now ready to touch fire. She finds Martin, and it is in fact by the heat of the fire that the two kids have their first, still innocent, physical vicinity. It’s a goodbye to childhood and a welcoming to the adult age.
The next scenes of the movie follow a surreal crescendo. Gelsomina comes back to her family who had settled a bed in the middle of the field in front of their house, a bed that represents their true union and closeness. They all lie in bed together. The father reconciles with Gelsomina, telling her there is room for her in the bed, and the girl, now a woman, can reconcile with the fact that she can be a daughter and still be a woman, and that she still has a role in the wonderful world of her family, but now she has conquered another wonderful one: herself. A metaphysical time passes over them, and they vanish from the bed; they vanish from their house as well as all of their belongings. The last shot presents that wonderful world like a skeleton of what it once was. Time is inexorable; Wolfang was right, their world was coming to an end, but his family’s embrace in an imaginative bed will probably hold them close forever. Probably, as the movie leaves us suspended in the certainty of the uncertainty of life.
What is a movie, if not a continuum of frames, images in movement? Our Artistic Director Tommaso Cartia discusses the Dance & Movement theme in our DANCEmber series, bringing it to the world of movies, with Actress, Writer, Producer and Activist Pooya Mohseni – our host of the month.
Among the topics, a case-study of the images of sound and the sounds of images in the film medium, with an analysis of Lars Von Trier’s atypical musical, Dancer in the Dark, starring Björk; and a review of one of the movies of this Holidays season – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood directed by Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper and Wendy Makkena. Stay creatively tune for our exclusive interview with Makkena coming up next this Friday. Ready, set, imagine!
The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher – is the title of the retrospective running from the 4th to the 23rd of December at The Museum of Modern Art, giving the American audience the chance to discover or rediscover the enchanting aesthetic world of writer-director Alice Rohrwacher and actress Alba Rohrwacher. Two brilliant talents, two powerful female figures, one spectacular body of work that is weaving back together the tradition of the golden era of Italian cinema with a modern sensibility, inquisitive and nurturing at the same time. On the occasion of MoMA’s homage to the sisters, I publish here Part 1 of a case-study on Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), one of my favorite movies by Alice Rohrwacher, starring her sister Alba. My analysis explores the complex beauty of the symbolistic construction of the narration through the model of Vogler’s Hero’s Journey and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, which lay underneath the magical neo-realism of the cinematography.
By Tommaso Cartia
The retrospective was brought to MoMA by Istituto Luce Cinecittà, and curated by Josh Siegel of MoMA’s Film Department and Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero of Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. It showcases both Alice and Alba’s collaboration on movies like Happy as Lazzaroand The Wonders; and their personal efforts. Among them some movies that I consider the undeniable proof of the striking aliveness of Italian Cinema: Corpo Celeste (Heavenly Body) by Alice Rohrwacher; Maestro Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty) and Sangue del miosangue (Blood of My Blood) and Laura Bispuri’s Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin) and Figlia mia (Daughter of Mine), all starring one of the strongest Italian interpreters of our time: Alba Rohrwacher. For more info on the retrospective please clickHERE.
Enjoy here below Part 1 of The Wonders case-study. Part 2 available at the link at the bottom of the article.
Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, is the coming of age story of an adolescent, Gelsomina, and of her conflicted relationship with a father figure who wants to force the inexorable pressing of her adulthood into a muffled, bucolic world out of time. Gelsomina’s family lives in the Umbrian-Tuscan countryside, leading the rural life of the beekeepers, an old-fashioned world where the development of the modern means of production, the advent of capitalism and industrialization, seem never to have passed and never having affected its virginal genuineness.
The family is constituted by the authoritarian father-master from German origins, Wolfang; the young Italian mother, Angelica (played by Alba Rohrwacher); the younger sister, Marinella; two younger sisters; and Cocò, a young German girl, a handyman and aide of the family. A microcosm of all women to whom the patriarch Wolfang tries to infuse his archaic ideals, with authority but also with a sort of rough sweetness and profound respect. Is Gelsomina, however, the one with whom he has the strongest, visceral relationship. She is the eldest, the one whom everybody address as the head of the family, the one that probably, in her father’s vision, incorporates those male psycho-physical traits that he failed to pass to a son who unfortunately did not arrive. Gelsomina is the foreman of all the honey production jobs, the one who knows its rules and rituality, the only one who Wolfang trusts to coordinate the operations. The other sisters are too little, and the second daughter, Marinella, is a happy slacker. The mother is instead a very practical, straightforward figure. Theirs is a life lived according to the values of pauperism, a protected, existential condition that it is about to suffer the advent of the large-scale industrial productions, that will soon eat alive the family-run businesses. In the immobility of their picture-perfect life is Gelsomina, who starts a first movement, who starts contemplating the possibility of change. The switch in her perspective is triggered by the fairy-tale encounter with Milly Catena (played by Monica Bellucci), a beautiful but over the top host of a TV show – Il Paese delle Meraviglie (The Wonderland).
The program is a contest, a sort of reality show, where different family-run businesses from the area can participate by showcasing their local products. The win is a significant amount of money. Gelsomina is charmed by the Fairy Godmother fascination of Milly, who becomes for the girl an icon, a figure of the woman that she would like to be one day. Gelsomina has been persuaded that winning that contest would be crucial for the future of her family’s business. This idea is of course, strongly opposed by the father Wolfang.
Another disturbing element for the quiet life of the family will be the arrival of Martin, a young German orphan, who will spend a few months with them to help Wolfang with the heaviest jobs. Martin is another reason for restless upheavals for Gelsomina, the gradual transition from the age of puberty to adulthood; the first innocent, erotic impulses towards the other sex. Gelsomina, the heroine of this story, is therefore animated by two complementary desires, albeit apparently different: the conscious desire to make her family win the television program, and the unconscious one that moves her deep wills – to emancipate herself from the paternal figure and run towards her adult age symbolized by the marvelous mirror of the woman who she would like on day to be, Milly, and by the sentimental object of her desire, Martin. This seems to be the controlling idea of the film, which strongly archetypal, symbolic, but also psychological nature suggests a structural analysis that could, therefore, be based on the model ofVogler’s Hero’s Journeyand the analysis of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth: it is in effect a story of separation – initiation – return. But Alice Rohrwacher’s aesthetic undeniably refers also to minimalist narrative styles, a magical neo-realism, where often the photogenic beauty of the frame slows down the narrative rhythms to contemplate the wonders of nature that are the other big protagonists of the film.
The neorealist quotations are therefore well articulated both photographically and on the contents level, starting from the choice of the name Gelsomina, which immediately reminds us of Fellini’s Giulietta Masina in La Strada, who in fact, plays a character named Gelsomina.
At the link below please find Part 2 of the study analyzing the movie in the three acts in which the narration is divided, highlighting the various rites of passage of the heroine and the function of the different archetypal figures she encounters in her journey, read through Vogler’s Hero’s Journey and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth.
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