Speaking about life through dance: Choreographer Simona de Tullio

Breathing Art Company Dancers in Sud, photo Clarissa Lapollaph

Simona de Tullio, of Bari, Italy, is a dancer, choreographer, artistic director, and founder of the Breathing Art Company. The dance company, also based in Bari, has performed all over Europe and the United States. She works with adults and children.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, de Tullio will lead a Zoom masters series class for the National Dance Institute (NDI) of New Mexico that will take students inside the mind of a choreographer. The NDI master series (ndi-nm.org /master-classes/) continues weekly until Dec. 5 and features international instructors. Classes are designed for advanced dancers over the age of 12 and are free, with a suggested donation of $5.

Pasatiempo: How old were you when you started dancing?

Simona de Tullio: I started when I was nine years old, because I was a ‘bad boy.’ So my mother said that I had to go to the dance studio so that I would become more gentle, more humane.

Pasa: How do you go from dancer to choreographer?

de Tullio: I was 24. I was at a small place in Naples for young choreographers. I had this chance to create a solo for myself. I started thinking that I really loved creating, but I didn’t love the idea that it was just me in the performance. So, one night, I put aside all the lessons of choreography, to think more broadly. So, I started to create for students and others. Three years later, I had my own company [The Breathing Arts Company].

Pasa: Why that name?

de Tullio: It’s something deep. Sometimes, we are not always the ones who can explain why we do all these big works. Sometimes, I think we deserve something different, but then you do it. It’s something that’s in your body, in your chest, everywhere.

Pasa: What is a choreographer?

de Tullio: If I have to be very honest, a choreographer speaks about his life. We always say we want to communicate and send messages, but we are human beings. Everything comes from our life, even if we are not very detailed in speaking about ourselves. It’s something that we have experienced. Everyone has a particular piece that they love that comes from the most important moment of their lives, and they express it through dance. You can suffer, then you can express that through dance.

Pasa: Their personality shows through dance?

de Tullio: You have to understand that your message and your experience passes through a dancer, another human being. So, sometimes feelings and emotions can change. That’s like another tool you can use to express yourself. It’s not you that is dancing. Things can become strange and transform, but the big idea is the same.

Pasa: What are your influences?

de Tullio: I discovered, I think [at] 15 years ago, Alonzo King. I won a scholarship in Italy in a theater in the middle of the country. I stayed for one week with Alonzo King and his company. I didn’t know him before. I had the chance to meet him, and this meeting changed my life because I discovered a new way to look at the body and at choreography. Then, I discovered more when I went to the USA and stayed in San Francisco. It was very strange. Sometimes you meet people and they change your life, even if it’s just over the course of a few days.

Pasa: How do you work with children?

de Tullio: With children it’s easier, because they are more free. They’re not scared of being judged. If you ask something, they do it without fear. When you work with adults, you have to be sensitive because, if you talk about a topic, it could be something that touches them or stresses them and the body reacts to that. It’s easier with children because they don’t care if they make a mistake.

Pasa: How do you choreograph them?

de Tullio: Young people, young students can be very exciting for choreographers. It’s a new way to work. You can discover a new kind of creativity, and sometimes you discover more talent in people in the studio when they previously weren’t able to express themselves. I think that with workshops, it’s interesting for them to express something new because they are more sensitive during this period because everything is changing

Pasa: You can see this over Zoom?

de Tullio: Yes. Because they use the whole body — the face and the eyes, everything. They need to express themselves. After the lockdown, they started to be more expressive, I think. They wanted to express that they were happy to be out again and to share new things again. You see that they speak with their faces.

Pasa: What do you like about teaching over Zoom?

de Tullio: I don’t really like teaching on Zoom. The first month after the lockdown, I was the only one that said, ‘No, I don’t want to do this.’ Then, I said, ‘OK. It’s a new way.’ The only way we had to share something with students and dancers. The only way we had to be in touch. The reality changed and so, you have to take your time to understand what’s going on.

Now, we can smile about this. When everything changed, we were the first place in Europe to have these rules, and nobody had had a similar experience. One week, they told us not to go out and to stay at home, while we were at home talking with dancers and students. Outside, cars drove by warning us to stay inside and not to go out. It wasn’t a quiet situation.

Zoom was the only way to go on with the project and to push on the creative aspect of things. It’s harder to work on techniques without the floor space, the music, and the ability to touch dancers. But, you can work on creativity and see what they can do now. With my students, I also show them dance videos and tell them to follow shows online, things that they didn’t normally do because they didn’t have time. That was a part of training, to learn about [Rudolf] Nureyev and [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. Children could then watch everything and have that reference.

Pasa: How do they use space in their homes?

de Tullio: Now, every dancer, every student and choreographer has to move and to think about dance in a different way. The first problem that we have is the space, because we usually work in a big studio or theater. Now, in Italy, everything is different, but at the beginning, we were at home. So, if you wanted to teach or to share something with dancers, you had to move your body in the living room or even in the bathroom, because we did a small project in every room in the house. When I’m teaching online, I say, “OK, think about your house like a big stage and you have to put your body in a new space.”

In a theater, you have no objects around. A simple room can be a small stage and you can give your body that space without thinking, ‘Oh no! I have to put everything away.’ You work your body with a couch or the table, and you can move in that space.

In Italy, after the lockdown, we started working in the big parks. We started working outside. The flooring wasn’t the right one for dance, but it was the only way to push people to share something. Otherwise, they would have stayed in the living room. ◀

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