Matteo Marziano Graziano – in interview with Diego Agullò, performing arts theorist and researcher
Q What is the temperature of dance in Berlin?
Well, if I were the body of Berlin and if I were to represent the dance in Berlin the first impression that I have is that of a transitory body, shifting through different circles, social circles, professional circles, also very different professional attitudes and ways of relating to dance making and dancing. So if I were to name the temperature, it would probably be shifting. At this moment lukewarm would be good, as something that is enjoyable.
Q Do you have memories of actually not being enjoyable at all, being here in Berlin and working with dance?
yeah, very much. there has been moments since my graduation from HZT in which I felt the need to renegotiate my relationship with the city and of course with the arts scene, not only contemporary performance but also state theatres, also opera houses, also clubbing. And there have been moments in which I felt included into a milieu and to a network of relationships. and there has been moments in which I felt that the journey was more solitary.
Q because of your own decision or because of exclusion?
I'm not sure if I can I can distinguish the two. I do feel that I needed some moments of solitude in order to look at what's happening in the city and also I grew fond of my transitory nature because it allows me to have a perspective that is a bit wider and to my eyes more objective. What I miss in one situation I might find it in the other one and then artistically there is a mutual inspiration that transpires.
Q when you compare Berlin with other cities that you have been working in, what do you think is a specific from this city in terms of professional dance?
One of the things that fascinates me the most about Berlin is its sheer curiosity for experimentation of any kind. There is an attitude of looking deeper into things. Not necessarily producing something finished (on the long-run it can become a necessity) but it has a vibe that opens new spaces and that allows fusion between threads, between realms of knowledge, and also between art forms. It seems that the underground of Berlin can move faster than whatever institution might capture and this is feeding a lot my artistic journey. Of course this type of undercurrents they're not always formalised in their own definition and they're also… I mean resources is always an issue. So in my experience I also tend to find working situations outside of Berlin and outside of Germany which lead to a very nomadic lifestyle. However, I do feel that when I exit Berlin to visit whatever other country I bring a certain collective identity [with me] which is forward-thinking and forward-moving in many ways. And I treasure that.
Q Do you mean “collective identity” of being based in Berlin?
Of being part of these Berlin circles. I extrapolate some somatic knowledge and also a conceptual attitude around dance-making, video-making, art-making and I bring it and facilitate it in places that maybe don't have that.
Q what does “political engagement” mean to you?
Through the years I've come to terms and I have accepted the required nomadic lifestyle of contemporary artists and it is no longer a problem at a personal level. I actually find it fun. This of course comes with implications, because, as nomads do, you come to a situation, you live there for a moment, you use the resources that you have and then when you feel it’s concluded you go, you move onto something else. you might return, but the cycles that I adopt are not calendar cycles, they're more linked to certain occasions that come to me, certain territories that I would like to explore, my constant wish for cultural exchange, and confrontation if you will. I've been recently traveling through Indonesia for work and years before I was in the States and all this is part of my way of making art.
This does affect the formats of your work. It is easier to tour a video than to tour a piece for the stage. This, we know. Nomadic life comes with restrictions especially when it comes down to material transportation. This is one, I would say, area of reflection.
How to engage politically? I tend to surrender to my nomadic flow and wherever I am I attempt to bring a contribution through what I consider are my own values personal values, ethical values, and artistic values. And in terms of the Volksbühne occupation I had the sheer need to go and experience that in first person rather than living through mediatic information. My intervention has also been an artistic one. I wasn't necessarily aligned politically with the occupying collective although I've been part of that event. In those days I have activated an artistic platform around the body and I looked at that situation as a place of encounters. This can be a way of political engagement through the presence of the body. My agency is where I am. If I am nomadic, also my agency will be nomadic. However I do think that, as situations are becoming more and more interconnected, maybe also the political engagement is less geographical and can also have other forms. I also look at Berlin as a city that is polycentric and that has some more levels happening at the same time. Some of them are interconnected and others are quite disconnected so in terms of creating situations of agency where artists can bring their political contribution through their work and presence, I do treasure the power of events and especially cultural events and festivals and gatherings in which bodies are magnetised together and they exchange.
It would be beautiful to say I am here and I commit to my city, Berlin, but it's also the city as well as the more globalised European situation that doesn't allow me to do that because I’m requested to be elsewhere, because of opportunities, because of resources, because of lack of resources and also because I am transiting between institutions, theatres, free projects, projects for the love of art. I again have to really come in touch with this nomadic life. it is not exactly a choice but it does come in sync with a certain vocation. it makes sense.
now I'm thinking again about the Volksbühne occupation. Despite of all positions and opinions, if it was a good thing or bad thing, legal or illegal… there's a part of me who thinks that the city has missed an opportunity and it's not so much of an opportunity of political protest but rather an experiment on how a initiative from the bottom, from the collective can meet a leadership that is vertical and from the top within a cultural setting. I wish I could have attended this dialogue and of course it's not a frictionless dialogue because it is about power and decision making and it comes with a lot of implications around fundings, distribution of resources, who gets played and and so on… but I found revealing that artists that I thought they’d show up, they didn’t. And I'm not talking only about established artists, who might be affected in their image by their presence there also early and mid career artists and choreographers. Without any judgment I’m just opening our reflection about how the system is swirling our energy and presence and behaviours and attitudes in specific places defining what's allowed and what’s not, and what is actually seen as good for our advancement and what’s seen as as bad in our professional career. Being desire and disobedience the two polarities that are very present present in my work right now and have always been it felt important to to be there and it felt important to witness almost as an outside eye what was happening. I do wish that Berlin can generate a similar situation i think it's one of the few cities in which something like this can actually exist. It would be a great model and experiment.
Q maybe it is not a choice if you want to maintain certain things. I mean, a choice can always be a choice. maybe you have something to lose or there's something to sacrifice. so I guess it's a matter of priority or what do you give more importance or more value to. You could always stay here.
yes, you can. however I am not sure if then you will be able to bring a contribution with a wide perspective. I could work in a state theatre however my life would become that. My contribution will be there. Not exactly to the city of Berlin and so if I choose to be more transient in my presence, then this comes with consequences. I mean, already the difficulty that artists, early career artists have e.g. to find a part-time job in the city and then do the rehearsals and their work in the evenings or when they’re free. This gives already an answer. It's not exactly a choice. I do agree with you that I had a very deep or high level one could say I invest here. This brings me to the question that I've been dealing with for the past few weeks which is how do we grow something from this place? a place that is transitory, a place that is fluctuating, a place that is globalised, a place that is anglicised, a place that doesn't feel like a stable ground? I am in a moment in which I'm breathing with a longer breath in my artistic journey and in my career. However I do wish to see something blossoming and this is where I’m working and what I'm working for.
Q what moves you when operating in the professional field? do you consider yourself an ambitious person?
When I think of ambition there is immediately another word that comes to me which is vocation. I like very much the root of the word vocation which is basically “to put the voice into action”. Ambition and vocation are complementary and they belong to different sources. I would say that I'm an ambitious person in the sense that I am attempting to acquire the resources that I wish for my work in order to work well. And I do feel a certain gratification when my work gets recognised and exposed. I guess this is true for many artists. Vocation is another force. It has accompanied me with open questions around what I do and why I do it, what moves me and what moves others, and how can I meet those two desires for movement my own and that of others. Vocation is also the force that asks me and requires me to redirect my own actions in order to create a certain continuity which is not exactly dictated by what the system wants from me. I graduated with a piece with 28 performers when I was expected to make a solo or a duet or maybe a trio, because that would be marketable. But that wasn't my vocation.
Q What happens when vocation and ambition… it’s beautiful we actually make a play… what happened when vocation and ambition don't synchronise or sometimes they're incompatible. Have you been in the situation in which you actually have to decide because the situation asks you that either you choose for vocation or for ambition?
There are two conflicts that come to my mind. One is that ambition is also often linked with haste. Haste, when you want to achieve things fast. Ambition is about also perhaps becoming successful in the next two years and not when you're 50. This is one thing. The other thing that I'm thinking about is when for example I find myself within projects, maybe structured projects, in which I'm asked to make a piece of work but I'm not given the freedom of making whatever work. I'm given for example a specific group of people, a specific location, a specific length of the work, a certain technical frame, and that's where I need to move. And maybe it's a good opportunity because it comes at a very good address or it has a very nice exposure or maybe it's with very nice colleagues. But maybe my vocation is elsewhere at the moment, maybe I don't want to produce or maybe I want to produce but something different. So this job of having to channel the vocation into the situation that it is there in order not to miss the opportunity which ambition wants to fulfil, is an act of temperance. Talking about temperature – it's about mixing cold water with warm water and let it flow.
Q How big is the contrast between working in a state theatre and being an independent artist?
Obviously I understand this possibility of living and working in different professional contexts as one journey. I do treasure a lot the work in the opera especially because it is rare that we get to work with live musicians, that we get to work with a full-functioning theatrical machinery and we are also confronted with a certain expectation of what the audience wants or does not want. To a certain extent it might seem as a limit in terms of progression of the artistic languages. On the other hand it puts me in a place in which I have to create a certain bridge between what's happening on stage and what’s happening in the seatings. Sometimes I found myself sceptical of certain proposals in which this channel between stage and spectator wasn’t solid. Maybe more obscure or foggy.
When you work within structures, visible structures you fit a role and you are confined to that, to those tasks, to that position and you play that role. it is very difficult in my experience within state theaters and opera houses to switch roles. For example choreographers are rarely considered directors, which for me is very strange, but this jump seems hard to do. However I do not think that in the contemporary performance scene, in the free scene structures are not in place. There might be a freer division of roles and one person, one artist could cover multiple roles but at the same times there are always politics at stake within decision-making processes, within funding politics, and maybe they're just less geographically located into one house. So yeah, the codes of communication and of behaviour are different, but ultimately not so much.
Q What is your understanding of “queer”?
When I think of “queer” within my artistic practice, queer is not something that is related so much about a certain aesthetic but it's more about the strategies that I apply in order to inquire into specific codes of behaviour of the body (individual body or collective body) within its own setting. This setting can be the stage, the frame of the camera, and of course also the social circles in which these bodies operate. It is a very delicate question because I have the feeling that the notion of queer has been appropriated and encapsulated within a certain recognisable form – but that in itself is no longer queer, is it? For example during my experience of danceWeb in Vienna this summer I realised that I have not taken part in any workshops that were considered queer or for queers or for queer artists because I am not looking at the queer safe spaces and as a space that I need for my work. My work and the work that I wish to do is in the normative space and this normative space is to be identified. It's not something that is happening elsewhere, out there where people have boring jobs and they dress in boring ways and this is what we have to explore or change or entertain. It is really about looking the ways in which we relate with each other. Especially when we're tackling topics of inclusion, institutionalised racism, artistic visibility and really digging into these matters and seeing where there are spaces that can be open, where can we crack the nervous system of a situation in order for a new territory to appear. So that's where I see “queer”. I also see “queer” as in relation to spirituality. how do you facilitate spirituality into the art world without having to categorise your work as esoteric or as spiritual or as “you name it”? How can we look at art in art making in a more holistic way without having the fear of introducing certain topics? Queer is also something that happens on the surface of the body for me. it does come in the form of a soft provocation at times but it's a constructive. I’d like it to be on the surface of my body because body is my medium so if I'm able to process it there and offer it there then this also draws back into my artistic process.