Throughout the years, FITS has presented several of Pippo Delbono’s landmark performances, which had been performed all over the world at the major theatre festivals: Urlo (2008), Contes de Juin (2010), Orchidee (2014), Vangelo (2017). Based on his performances, Pippo Delbono seems to be the ultimate theatre creator, who brought down genre barriers by incorporating dance, music, the pathos of the spoken word and film on stage. His performances are neither political theatre, nor social theatre, nor theatre for the underprivileged, but all of these at once and something else on top of that. Something that comes from acknowledging the unaltered pieces of humanity that lie within the fragility of the human condition. In Pippo Delbono’s performances, ordinary people go on stage with the actors, those Barboni that have become the effigies of his theatre. Once every three or four years, Pippo Delbono returns to Sibiu with a new performance and his devoted audience makes every effort to see it. This year, Delbono presents La Gioia/Joy, his latest production (2018), which highlights the cry of rebellion that echoes throughout his entire work. On the theatre company’s website, the performance is described as “a ritual, an apparition, a singular gesture that unites actors and spectators in a common breath on stage”. La Gioia/Joy is a performance in which the living and the dead meet. While waiting for Pippo Delbono’s theatre to return to Sibiu, we asked him five questions.
It almost comes as a surprise that you have chosen joy as a theme for your latest performance. In the interviews you gave, you often talk about “the cry” against wars, dehumanization and the evil that lurks in the world we live in. When your mother asked you why there were no light themes in your theatre performances, you answered that theatre should present human pain and suffering. This year you are returning to Sibiu International Theatre Festival with La Gioia/Joy; what type of joy is the title of the play referring to?
Pippo Delbono: “Joy” is a work which was born from a pain. At the beginning of the performance I say the title could also be “A path towards joy”. It’s not about a “joy” – as an Italian folk song sounded: “Let’s pretend that everything is ok” – it’s about searching for a possible joy, again, in the whirls of live. Theatre is – I guess – the only one left place where you (the actors and the audience) can discuss about the main topics of live. That means: being born, getting old, dying, losing the people we love. Getting lost. These are topics which concerns us beyond any culture, beyond the concept of modern and ancient times. These are the deepest topics of human beings. “Joy” wants to get out of the pain of earth, get out of the flesh and it wants to fly in the air.
Since the performance had its premiere in 2018, you lost Bobò in February 2019, who was more than a mere actor working for the company, he truly embodied the distinctive character of your theatre. How did the death of this long-time company member affect the course of the performance and how will it go on without Bobò?
Pippo Delbono: Bobò’s death means a basic cut to me. From an emotional, human and artistic point of view. Bobò was a father, a brother and and son to me. What Bobò brought into my theatre works, my movies, my opera productions is irreplaceable. This assumption didn’t even let me think about a possible replacement of Bobò, of course. It was for me inconceivable. At the same time, I didn’t want to cut the scenes of the performance where he was there. So, through his voice which is sound more like a little bird’s chirping, right in those moments, I decided to keep a memory of him; with sweetness, with lightness, just like he was: a little man who lived almost 50 years in an asylum and later 23 years with me, with my company; a little man who used to know the deep and mysterious meaning of theatre. “Joy” has become a homage to Bobò; “Joy” it’s dedicated to him and I believe that Bobo is there, in fact, even if he is not there. “Joy” is a performance where the living and the dead meet together, they dance and they sing together. Bobò is there with his voice and with all he left us during all these years.
Autobiography is an essential ingredient in all your performances. After all, a gesture of extreme courage and sincerity which instills the performances with greater substance. I would use “Le poète en colère” (the title of a documentary film dedicated to you) as a faithful metaphor to characterize your presence as an actor on stage. The scripts of your performances appear to be improvised when delivered only at the microphone. Where does their anger and poetry come from?
Pippo Delbono: There are things we do not know where they come from. We can feel them engraved in our flesh. Maybe since when we were born. Or maybe also since an earlier time. As an artist you cannot avoid opening yourself toward the others, towards the world. The world is fuller and fuller of anger. I think about what is happening in my Country against the people who leave their countries and risk they live by boat through the sea. Not only a few people want to reject them and let them drown in the sea. A new form of racism, of fascism is emerging now. A new racism toward the weakest ones and it reminds us of our past history. In my Country, some days ago, our Ministry for Internal Affairs – Matteo Salvini – made a legislative proposal: a fine of 5.000 Euro for the ones who host a refugee. But, such a proposal reminds us of the persecution of Jews, further persecutions’ times. And it’s something scaring. It lets anger grow. It is obvious that, making theatre, I cannot pretend that “everything is ok”. I have to be responsible for this madness which is invading the contemporary world. I need to shout with anger against all this but, at the same time, and I shout for a renewed need for love.
I would say that anger and love are two primary elements – like water and fire – that go together in all my theatre works.
Free dancing, detached from any choreographic rules, is a leitmotif in your performances associated with the appearance of the characters, complementing the words which you have frequently declared you are tired of. What role does free dancing play within the structure of your performances?
Pippo Delbono: In fact, it is like a dance, free from classic/contemporary aesthetic forms. A dance which looks anarchistic, without rules but, in fact, it is not. I had my first theatre education in oriental theatre where you have both strict principles concerning the dancing actor and a tough work on rhythm. Later on, I transformed these principles. The dancing actor is very attentive to all single details, to the whole body movements: the body itself, the legs, the arms, the eyes. Attentive to the rhythm of falling, of getting back up, to losing balance and further more. Then I tried to hide more and more these principles, I concentrated on hiding the technics and to let a dance grow which almost looks like a casual dance. I do not like the idea of a “good” dancer, of a “beautiful” choreography. But, in fact, all of my work are very precise choreographies; the body is essential. Through the body you create a theatre performance to share. I think of Bobò, of the several characters and stories he has been telling about in all these years, just through his body. Bobò hadn’t learned oriental theatre theory but just because of this deaf-mute physical condition he had an urge to communicate through very essential, unique and unrepeatable gestures. He embodied all dramatic principals of the great oriental theatre tradition. He was permanently dancing, through all little gestures he did. Through his dance he was telling us something about his soul. Through his dance the was telling us about drama, happiness, joy, irony. So, dance is to me the basis to communicate with an audience that might come from another culture or religion, both if they are educated or not… Dance can reach many different levels of a wider audience. “To make theatre for the illiterates” said Antonin Artaud. So, this is what dance – I think – helps me to approach.
You have directed several experimental films and you have been increasingly incorporating film projections into your theatre plays. Why is film necessary and what space does it occupy in the economy of the stage?
Pippo Delbono: Shooting films allows me to go towards people, to go searching for people, venues, spaces, atmospheres. Shooting allows me to get into tiny items, into the eyes, into small specific details of the human being. Shooting a close-up of a face I can grab so many contradictions that I couldn’t pick up in a theatre performance. Inserting cinema into theatre I had the opportunity to discover that some things, some landscapes, some places, some images in a theatre work could stay for a much longer time than in a film itself. If I think about the long flower sequence or of the falling snow sequence in “Orchids”, or at the image of the refugees in the corn field in “Gospel”. I know that I could keep the sequence on for such a long time because of the fact that they were accompanied by the presence, the word, the voice, the music on stage. These are theatre elements that – according to me – give life to the movie, they make it livelier than in a movie theatre.