The white clown, sitting on the edge of the stage, rests his face now in one hand, then in the other. He wipes his forefinger beneath his eye, to wipe away an imaginary tear. As his head tilts from left to right, his expression alternates between melancholy smile and woeful resignation. A sigh punctuates the movement every now and then. In a rare moment of quietude, Pippo Delbono allows performer Gianluca to express a subtle range of moods in La Gioia, presented on 7 February at ITA as part of Brandhaarden festival.
Delbono’s colourful and inclusive company is a rag-tag band of dropouts, drag queens, circus performers, tango dancers, and disabled performers. Together they have been touring the European stages for some three decades with emotive works that incorporate elements from commedia dell’arte, storytelling, tango, horror films and Italian cinema, circus and more. Its visual component often associative and close to home, the work possesses an immediately recognisable poetry.
It is enhanced by the purity of the performers. More often than not, they have been taken in off the streets, with little or no formal education in the performing arts. When Nelson waters his flower bed in the opening scene, his lanky body and broad mouth express a joy that is not performed. It is his, in the moment. He delights in the incline of his body as he tilts the watering pot with elbows akimbo. He attentively watches the sprinkle of water that isn’t really there. He is looking forward to every next step in his scene, thinking: in a moment, I am disappearing into the wings, and it goes dark, and then I’m stepping out again and the flowers will have multiplied.
One of the purest performers in the company was Bobò. He was mute and deaf and had lived in a mental home for most of his life when he joined the group. He quickly became the life blood of many of the shows, commanding attention with his urgent need to be present and communicate without speech. He was 82 when he died last year. La Gioia, created when he was still alive, now moves on without him.
A scruffy looking Delbono himself now takes centre stage. With a dreamlike drone he delivers page after page of lines, text and microphone in hand. The texts themselves are poetic and engaging enough in their evocations of priests dozing off on a village green bench, a love affair between a tango dancer and a wild musician, and Bobò in the asylum, cruelly and incomprehensibly held in limbo by a legal guardian for nearly a lifetime.
Photos: Luca Del Pia
But the show is surtitled in Dutch and English, and the sheer volume of text pulls the eye away from the stage too often and for too long. Which doesn’t really help the viewing experience. And after a while, I began to long for some thread to tie all the separate elements together. A reason why the anecdotes were juxtaposed with grotesque dancing against strobe lighting, or a floor strewn with tiny paper boats.
The eclecticism wouldn’t be problematic if the build-up towards the visually and aurally loud and prolonged closing scene had been clear. As it was, the string of impressions plucked randomly from life, literature and folklore failed to draw the audience on board. If people were moved it was largely due to the forcefulness with which the emotion was delivered, the muchness of words and Delbono’s tone that turned from dreamlike to sappy and soporific and then all the music and flowers and the pageantry. It draws the eye away from Gianluca without Bobò on the park bench onstage, which is a true tragedy and would have been deserving of a better-paced memorial.
Seen: February 7, 2020. Brandhaarden, International Theatre Amsterdam. Tour La Gioia
Conceived and directed by: Pippo Delbono |with: Dolly Albertin, Gianluca Ballarè, Margherita Clemente, Pippo Delbono, Ilaria Distante, Simone Goggiano, Mario Intruglio, Gianni Parenti, Pepe Robledo, Grazia Spinella and Bobò’s voice | floreal composition: Thierry Boutemy | music: Pippo Delbono, Antoine Bataille, Nicola Toscano and various artists | lighting designer: Orlando Bolognesi | costumes: Elena Dal Pozzo | sound: Pietro Tirella | set and props: Gianluca Bolla.