DDF News — 20 May 2023
Festival Blog – Q&A with Marco D’Agostin
Next up in our series of Artist Q&As is a conversation between DDF Blog curator, Saoirse Anton, and Marco D’Agostin, creator of Best Regards. A touching tribute to the radical, irrepressible artist, Nigel Charnock, Best Regards is an exercise in memory. It’s an invitation to the audience to consider: what would you write to someone who will never read your words?
Can you tell us a little about Best Regards?
Best Regards is a show in the form of a letter. A letter sent to someone who cannot reply. It is a desperate cry of nostalgia, disguised as an entertainment show. It is a lay, pop tribute that tries to remember someone and in doing so reckons with the space left empty by those who have gone. It is a show that dances a duet with the audience, with their expectations, with their questions, with their energy.
Can you tell us a little about you and your practice?
I started dancing very late, at the age of 21. Until then, the only training I had subjected my body to was cross-country skiing, a sport that I practiced for ten years at a competitive level and which left important traces in my way of approaching the scene.
As far as my practice is concerned, I believe I always consider the body as a spool, an attitudinal pivot that constantly asks us to look toward the past or towards the future. For me, the body is a means of transport, a travel agency that continually invites us to plunge into the folds of the past: the most recent one, dating back to a few seconds ago, as well as that of our lives and again that of our ancestors, of those who before us moved, ran, fell, died, laughed, danced, and whose mobility has left traces in our atoms. Each gesture, I believe, is a duet with a ghost, it is inscribed in a map of other gestures and other vectors and other intentions that was inaugurated many years ago. My dance seeks to train the gaze and the imagination to awaken this crowd of shadows, this invisible forest.
Nigel Charnock was a vibrant character and artist – how have you found the experience of blending the voices of the documentary elements of the work, Nigel’s voice, and your own within this work?
I didn't really work with a documentary approach. Everything I knew about Nigel and what I discovered while preparing the show remained in the background. And yet Nigel is intensely present when I dance this show. He is a shadow, an echo. There is an interview he gave in the late 00s in which Nigel said: “I would like to die on stage, in an explosion of energy.” It's as if that explosion, like the big bang, left a background radiation that continues to vibrate in space. I feel that I am invested by that energy, when I summon it.
Has the experience of looking at your own practice through the lens of Charnock’s influence changed your approach or practice at all in this creation process?
I met and worked with Nigel in 2010. This encounter marked a clear line in my way of thinking about performance. After him, the possibility of dance is for me the horizon within which everything on stage can happen. Nigel was an incredible entertainer. With his shows, hyperkinetic explosions in which singing, dancing, shouting, improvisation, fiction and the palpable reality of performance were stitched around an abysmal void, he widened the scope of the 'contemporary dance' genre and seemed to embody to perfection that possibility of art that David Foster Wallace would have called 'failed entertainment'. Everything in him was energy, desire, and will. Yet, as he desperately repeats in his solo One Dixon Road, 'there's nothing else, it's nothing, nothing makes sense'.
Nigel proved that it makes no sense to talk in terms of theatrical 'genre', or even 'contamination'. Nigel used all the tools at his disposal very naturally; his dancing was also his voice, as were his saxophone playing, his shouting, and his ability to improvise with the audience. Over the years, I have tried to incorporate the lesson. All the tools I use have nothing to do with a dimension linked to the medium, there is no reflection on language. The language is always somehow one and only one, and that is that of live performance, which is built around a specific call to action by the spectator. The media I use are like toys, they all have the same value. Some are more sophisticated, others less so, but at the core is the desperate joy of a child who uses them all to create his own world.
There is an ephemerality to a live dance performance, particularly contemporary dance – what perspective does this bring to the concept of memory?
I like to counter the cliché that dance and theatre are the most ephemeral art forms that it is actually not true: the memory of the performance remains, what changes is the medium on which the memory is held. It is not books, videos, or recordings, but the neural maps of the spectators, in which more or less indelible, more or less reliable traces of the performances seen are inscribed. I like to think that the memory of dance spreads in the brains of the homo sapiens who have seen it, that the archive is a constellation of memories scattered all over the world. Dance lives and will survive in the stories of those who have seen it. The proof of this was given to me by the experience of the Best Regards tour: I was overwhelmed by dozens of memories of spectators who had seen Nigel live; moving and moving tales, much closer to the reality of Nigel's work than the videos or writings about it.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the work?
Doing a performance for me means sharing a question, and making sure that what I care about is what everyone else cares about. In this case, the question is: how do you live in a space left empty by someone?
My hope is that the audience will be faced with this question, and that they will keep it with them.
If you had one sentence to encourage audiences to come and experience the work, what would you say?
I believe that in Best Regards there is room for everything: the joy and the sorrow, the energy that explodes and then rests, the roaring laughter and the tears that fall silently, the loneliness and the sense of community.
What are you most looking forward to seeing in your downtime at the Festival?
This is my first time in Ireland! I have a lot of admiration for the history of this festival and I hope to meet the work of other artists and meet the audience after the performance.