Interview with Gaia Giani
by Laura Luppi
Solo, the last work of the artist Gaia Giani, has been recently presented in the Filmmaker Festival Competition 2015 in Milan, in the “Perspectives” section. It is not easy, however, to place it into a specific category, because Solo is not exactly a documentary dedicated to the dancer FranÃ§oise and to the choreographer Dominique Dupuy during the play preparation for the ThÃ©atre de Chaillot in Paris. Solo is something more, or something else; it is a journey through movement, listening, searching for the gesture that becomes dance in the experience and dedication of two artists sharing life and carrier, like a constant flow or a performance without boundaries between reality and its representation on stage.
In order to better understand and further explore Gaia’s artistic career and, in particular, how she worked in the implementation of this project, I’ve decided to organize a meeting with her in Milan in front of a cup of hot tea.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get from philosophical studies to artistic research specifically focusing on video art?
Probably it’s because I have been in / disciplined or inter / disciplined throughout my academic career. Before the university reform, with the old system, you could create a study programme in line with your own interests and that a student could approach.
My interests have always focused on research and have combined with each other. The three main focuses have been cinema, theater and dance, but I couldn’t give up philosophy as vision of the world.
The formation years are awesome because you can explore and stay up to date with events. In the early 90’s, for a couple of years or more, in the municipality of Milan took place a show of dance videos in the Palazzo dell’Arengario. For a week you could devour documentaries of dance shows and dance videos … we didn’t have internet access yet.
Moreover, in that period, I used to go often to Berlin and it was there, during an event, that, in 1991, I saw Die Klage der Kaiserin by Pina Bausch, lifeblood of my research. So I decided to present a thesis on Pina Bausch, creating an ideal and philosophical itinerary on the influence of Nietzschean thought in the birth of modern dance and the impossibility of representation from Isadora Duncan to the dance theater of Pina Bausch. Let’s say that I landed on video art, passing through dance.
From your dissertation dedicated to Pina Bausch and to the Tanz-Theater and arriving to Solo, dance seems to have been a sort of leitmotif, or new meeting point between the past and the present. What exactly is your relationship with dance and how did this influence, possibly, your artistic career?
Among the various documentaries about Pina Bausch I happened to see one of Chantal Ackerman Un jour Pina a demandÃ©. That work is something more than a documentary about Pina Bausch; it is a film that follows discreetly the work of the choreographer, as it was actually impossible to be able to really tell something about the creative process, ending with a question of Pina Bausch to the director.
Chantal Akerman’s work was another seminal moment towards a research that does not enclose, but that is nourished with fragments and questions. Video art has the ability to open, to induce the audience to ask themselves questions. It’s in its non-narrative construction that it opens to the unspeakable. My research aims at investigating the unrepresentable of daily life. Pina Bausch with its pieces (StÃ¼cke) told and made her dancers dance moments of a life lived in which the audience could recognize themselves, but it was right in the interruption,Â in its fragmentary nature that a link between one moment and the other was created, because the audience was asked to create a connection. This is to me the strength of video art. An image gets fixed and slow inner activity begins. At the same time, I am particularly close to reality; therefore, each of my work starts from a meeting.
After graduating, and considering dance situation in Italy, I decided to pursue independent study on documentary through a learning-by-doing approach. Initially I went to London for a couple of years and then, for nearly 10 years, I worked as a researcher, assistant director and creative producer.
After following in all its stages a 2007 film about Women’s liberation movement in Italy, that gave me the opportunity to read very interesting books, I decided to take the step towards independence and break away from the working group I was collaborating with and started my own artistic path. In 2009 I organized my first video installation Cesura and in 2010 I met Dominique Dupuy and FranÃ§oise Dupuy. Especially when I met FranÃ§oise I felt I had to do absolutely something with her. The chance to work with this pair of dancers and choreographers reconnected myself to my studies because both Dominique and Francoise had studied in the 50s and one of the teacher of Dominique was John Weidt, linked to the Ausdrucktanz movement. It seemed to me I could touch the past and my training experience. Moreover, even though they are now known by a niche, Dominique and FranÃ§oise have been very important in the 60s/70s in France; They have also created projects for the Ministry of Education, focusing on dance pedagogy in schools and calling into question the ballet’s codes and modern dance in search of an authentic movement.
I read that few years ago, Solo was actually born in another form and then was left as it were “hidden” until its presentation at the Filmmaker Festival 2015. Would you tell me what happened?
The first time I met Dominique and Francoise was for a simple interview that I had been commissioned and that was used for a DVD to be attached to a publication of Dominique titled Danzare Oltre, published by Ephimera. As I was saying, after I met FranÃ§oise I felt I had absolutely to work together with her. Since they were rehearsing for a show at the Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris, I suggested making a documentary about them also using the previous interviews. Eventually, though, we have not found an agreement to add it in the extras of the DVD; they believed that that version didn’t fully explain their work, but it concerned more specifically the show they were currently working on.
What then exactly the first version differs from the last, the one precisely proposed in the competition?
Over the years, I used sometimes to look over the documentary also together with other artists and they all were impressed. It was a pity the documentary ended up in a drawer, every day even more. So I decided to resume mounted that I had initially created with Ilaria Fraioli (ex-dancer, who has chosen then to work in the film industry), and to put it back on a new timeline. I started to cut, delete the entry off, move sounds, to enter an initial letter in which I explained what happened in those five years and how in fact I was confronted with life through the birth of my son and the old age of my parents. It was so exciting to me observing once again Dominique and FranÃ§oise while working and I better realized how important a constant research was in order to live the best way possible.
Last, but necessary question: how was working with two artists, choreographers and performers like FranÃ§oise and Dominique Dupuy? What kind of difficulties and what your personal way to interact with them and explain dance through them?
It was important working with them. It wasn’t that easy carrying out such project on living artists: since they have full consciousness of their art, it may be hard to accept an external look. In fact, they wanted the final cut. Dominique Dupuy is a very rigorous and precise choreographer and intellectual to the maniacal edge, to the point that he suggested that I should follow some guidelines. I categorically refused them though, preferring to leave the documentary in the drawer. I had seen many other classic and descriptive documentaries designed on them. Mine, on the other hand, followed other directions, beyond pure description, and I really did not understand why they didn’t’ find it suitable or even unique.
I had the presumption that they should recognize the value of a work that has been carried out by someone who had studied and loved dance, a film editor who could be considered “the dancer” of the editing. But over time I realized that, actually, the first form of the documentary was neither fish nor fowl, because I had tried through the interviews and the voice off to provide a description of their thinking about dance,Â following them during their rehearsals and their shows so that I could tell their story. The absence of an agreement allowed me to be more radical and to peruse abstraction. The intent was to create a bubble and to see them only in action, during their meticulous work and to be always busy and aware of themselves. So I deleted the interviews in their offices, them transferring in the city, voice off, archive photos, the presence of another dancer, focusing instead only on the method, the gesture, the dance and their relationship, trying to create a metaphor for life.
Credits: “Still Frame from Solo” by Gaia Giani