Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Alice Gosti

The Italian-born choreographer discusses her epic and thematically dense five-hour How to Become a Partisan.

By Seth Sommerfeld April 22, 2015

Alice Gosti's How to Become a Partisan takes over St. Mark's Cathedral for a five-hour performance on Saturday. (Gosti not pictured.)

Alice Gosti

Alice Gosti isn’t interested in merely choreographing a new dance; she wants an event. The latest creation from the Italian UW grad, How to Become a Partisan, begins with a community procession on Capitol Hill that starts at Velocity Dance Center before ending up at St. Mark’s Cathedral for an immersive five-hour performance piece that explores what happens when apathy cedes to action in order to battle complacency. Commissioned as latest entry in Velocity's always interesting Made in Seattle program, the one-day performance takes place this Saturday, April 25.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Alice Gosti (pronounced ah-LEE-che, not AL-is) about the ideas that led to How to Become a Partisan, Italian politics, and artistic boundaries.

The concept and scale of How to Become a Partisan is quite intense and dense. When people ask what you’re currently working on, how do you respond in a way that encapsulates it?

I tell them that about a year ago I embarked on the biggest project that I've ever made. It's a creation of an immersive, durational performance and, within it, equal weight is given to all of the elements involved. So I end up being the director more than a choreographer figure, even if I’m also the choreographer for the movement. But there's also a composer. There're also two costume designers. There's also a technical director who's in charge of a transformation that is occurring during the five hours. So sometimes I've defined it as an opera, but it's really important to also say that it does not have those textures or the qualities of an opera. It's more the sense of the large-scale production.

What was the initial spark that drove you toward these ideas?

On one side, I've been working with duration performance and created my own festival of durational performance [Yellow Fish] here in town that has been going on now for two years. So I've been working with time—and natural time—as an element of my work for about three to four years now.

Then the grandiose scale was kind of inspired just by how the image of the piece started coming into places in my mind. It all started with an image of this woman who was going to be a soloist singer who was wearing this dress that, during the arch of the performance, would transform completely. I wanted to find ways to make this image that I had in my mind concrete.

That image is where these political ideas of history and memory came from. I had the strong images, and some of the elements had me thinking or connecting with the Italian partisan movement, because I was born and raised in Italy and moved here about 10 years ago. So my education or my knowledge of history has to do a lot with my Italian heritage. Basically, I became inspired by this specific period in time at the end of World War II in which people from the country side or intellectuals or basically people from all aspects and sides of society realized that they needed to do something to create change and they needed to self-organize to be able to push away the Fascist government and the Nazis that were also in the country at that point.

And then it took me a while to realize that my interest in that had to do with something that I also had always been interested in, which is just the question of “What do we need to take action?” Like what is it that becomes a catalyst for us to need to determine history or just our condition. And I think in the last couple years in Italy and here that I’ve talked to peers, and there's a lot of unhappiness, and it's related to what is possible for future generations. For example, in Italy right now there's a huge work crisis. And very few people from the generation that I grew up with are actually doing the jobs that they went to school for or the jobs that they planned to do. Because we were all raised to think that if you work hard, you're going to be able to do the job that you want to do. In the years that I've been here, the crisis has been so huge that people who have scholarships to go to universities all of a sudden had their scholarships dropped, so they had to quit the universities and had to figure out how to survive.

And then, at the same time, when we were in the midst of working on this project, we had the Black Lives Matter movement begin. And it made me think a lot about what do people need to change this? What is it that is going to be the catalyst to create a drastic change? And so then I started wondering and looking at history like the civil rights movement, or when did women get the right to vote, and how, and why. For example, in Italy women received the right to vote at the end of World War II because they were considered such a big asset in helping the partisan movement to liberate Italy from the Fascists. In a way, as a prize. That has become the major question around the whole project, this idea of how do we move away from apathy and indifference and how do we reach [the point of] apathy and indifference too.

This image I saw [was set] inside of a church, so the first thing I started doing was researching and looking for churches. At the time, I thought the only way to go was to look for abandoned churches. And then slowly I started realizing that St. Mark’s Cathedral has an extensive musical program that is not necessarily sacred, and it's renowned for the acoustics. And so I started talking to them, and they became interested in the project. So the pieces fell into place really quickly.

Before the performance begins at St. Mark’s, there’s a processional that starts at Velocity Dance Center. What does the processional entail, and where did that idea come from?

Within this project, I’ve become more and more interested that politics and religion tend to have a similar way that you approach the people. And I found it really interesting how there are a lot of structures and forms that exist in both. So when I started imagining this project, I wanted to create a procession from the very beginning. In my head it was this idea of a procession, a demonstration, or a parade. These three words became really intertwined, and I realized that one thing that is really interesting to me was a creation of a transition between the world that we exist in and the world that I'm creating inside of the cathedral. It seemed important and relevant to create this journey that audience members can be involved with together with some of the performers. An idea that may happen is creating signs that are referencing more the political sense of this procession; so demonstration signs that say “What do we resist?" or “What do we need to change?”

How do you feel Seattle has influenced your art?

Hugely. [Laughs] Immensely. I don't think I would be able to be the artist I am now—in Seattle—if I were, for example, in my hometown. When I graduated from college and I asked myself the question of "Where do I go? Do I go back home or do I want to stay here?" it seemed natural to decide to stay here, because I had built a lot and the possibility for artists in Seattle exists. Already, it was clear to me how when you have an idea for something here, you can actually come through with it and create it. That became really important because I realized, as I was watching the complete disbelief and loss of dreams for my peers that I grew up with in Italy, I understood that if I went back I'd have to figure out how to survive again. And I still have to figure out how to survive here; like I still have four jobs that I'm really thankful for because they also allow me to do what I need to do or want to do for my art.

With that also comes the community that it is engaged into a wide range of experimentation, and I am more and more interested in observing where the boundaries are of art fields and then putting them all together and deciding—based on what the project calls for—which boundaries I want there or not.

Alice Gosti: How to Become a Partisan
Apr 25 at 4, St. Mark's Cathedral, $18–$20

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