Luca Silvestrini is the artistic force behind renowned dance company Protein Dance, who are bringing their latest show ‘LOL’ to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Known for producing shows which are witty and humorous, while dealing with pertinent modern themes, Silvestrini’s work is a far cry from what many probably envisage from a dance show. ThreeWeeks spoke to him about his career so far, and about how dance isn’t the dry, highbrow artform some believe it to be.
CM: What made you want to work in dance? When did you begin studying it, and how did your career begin?
LS: Dance is something I’ve liked doing since I was very young, and at home, I would copy dancers on the TV! But I didn’t attend my first dance class until I was about 15, and it was only them that I learned to express myself through movement. Since then, I’ve never really stopped practising dance.
CM: You dabbled with various art forms at university yes?
LS: That’s right, at university in Bologna back in Italy I studied both theatre and dance, and in my 20s me and some friends started a physical theatre company. Life then took me to London, and it was there that I decided to concentrate on dance and choreography. I attended Laban – now Trinity Laban Conservatoire Of Music And Dance – for a one-year course, and then joined Transitions, the UK’s leading student dance company, where I had yet more training as a dancer, and where I also developed my choreographic skills. While at Laban I met Bettina Strickler, and we then started making work together as Protein Dance.
CM: What made you set up your own company?
LS: Bettina and I shared a fascination for the everyday, for the life that was going on all around us, and we felt we could portray that on-stage, and comment on it. Also, at the time we felt there was a lot of heavy, serious work around and we wanted to make something that was a bit lighter; work that still had something to say and that people could feel and connect with, but which also had a touch of lightness. Our first piece was a duet called ‘Duel’ for the Resolution season at The Place/Robin Howard Theatre in London in 1998. The collaboration created both interest in and attention for our approach to portraying human connections and human nature on-stage. I think this is still part of my mission – but it was there from the beginning!
CM: Why Protein Dance?
LS: We needed to call ourselves something, and even here we were keen to reject the usual way of doing things! We didn’t want to use our own names, because we wanted it to be about the work not the people making it, and we were interested in the idea of turning every day things into the surreal. We found this word ‘protean’, which means changeable, but then we thought it was a bit too arty, so we settled on Protein instead; there’s movement, energy and speed in protein and we thought that also reflected the work.
CM: Your work is renowned for dealing with contemporary issues in a humorous and accessible way. Is this deliberate?
LS: I’ve been asked this a lot. I don’t think it’s something you decide… you have a way of seeing things, and a way of interpreting things, which is part of your nature. I do believe that through satire and humorous dance you can make strong statements while still occasionally laughing at things, but it’s not like I do it on purpose, it just comes naturally.
CM: How do you decide what issues to explore?
I tend to start making shows from questions or issues that bother me; I’m a human being before I’m a choreographer, and just like everyone else I get upset, or concerned, or interested in certain aspects of the way we live, connect and feel. So if there’s an issue I’m interested in, I do some research, and work with other dancers to discover if and how this issue can become a show. I am interested in real life experiences. Ultimately I’m trying to tell stories; but fiction can only go so far, and life is often more surreal than theatre can ever be. I was inspired to make ‘LOL Lots Of Love’ – our show in Edinburgh this year – during that period in my life when everyone started saying “oh are you on Facebook?” and I didn’t even know what it was! I felt left out! I wasn’t part of it and I sensed a shift in the way people started to use social networking; it really had an impact on me personally. ‘LOL’ isn’t exactly autobiographical but it’s difficult to separate yourself from what you do.
CM: How do you go about creating a show? Are you completely in charge, or is it a collaborative process?
LS: As I say, it starts with an issue that affects my life personally, but then it is collaborations that turn that into a piece. I create a team around me of dancers and collaborators and talk about investigating the subject, so it’s the shared process that creates the work.
CM: Have you brought shows to Edinburgh before?
LS: We came to Edinburgh in 2004 with our show ‘Publife’ which ran for two weeks in the bar at Club Ego. We were the only Fringe show there, so we had to work hard to get an audience – and you need an audience! We did well though and it was interesting… and tiring, day after day promoting your show, doing stunts, giving out leaflets, then doing the show at night. But the Fringe is a great platform. And this year we’re part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase who are presenting dance for the first time this festival.
CM: What is ‘LOL’ about?
LS: ‘LOL’ delves into the world of electronic communication, to comment on how we connect with each other, and how social networking has radically changed the way we conduct our relationships. We have a cast of six dancers and, at the back of the stage, huge videos of people’s changing expressions, which have been filmed by Rachel Davies. The action is fast, the text is amusing, poignant, telling… and I think Edinburgh audiences will really go for it.
CM: Dance is probably considered one of the more ‘highbrow’ elements of the festival, and as such, is probably not as mainstream as it could be. How do you think people with no interest in dance can be attracted to come and see dance pieces?
LS: Well ‘LOL’ is hardly highbrow! It’s a show that will talk to the general public and, whatever you think dance is, it’s accessible and they should connect to it. Dance doesn’t have to be a faraway, sophisticated or distant artform; and to be honest, what I do is the opposite of all that. Though you’re right, some people do think of it as being difficult, which invariably it is not – far from it – but it is a problem companies like mine have to work hard to overcome. To be honest, I wish we stopped using labels – comedy, dance, theatre, etc – and just focused on what makes any one show special or different.
CM: Will you see some other shows while you are in Edinburgh?
LS: I don’t know, I hope so, if I’m not too tired! I remember last time I didn’t see much because I found it all a bit overwhelming. But hopefully this time I’ll see more, I’m here to work but will make the effort to enjoy others’ work too.
Luca Silvestrini’s show ‘LOL’ was performed at Zoo Southside during Fringe 2011.