There are shows where walking into the theatre without any context is no impediment to enjoying the experience. For Gioia Live, seen on 4 July at Theater Bellevue during Julidans Festival, at least some prior knowledge is indispensable.
Gioia Live is actually a continuation of a journey that started in 2018 with the creation of the short dance documentary Gioia by director Laura Stek. The film (which can be streamed for free online – with Dutch subtitles) offered a short but insightful peek inside the mind of vibrant Gioia Norina Melody Fiorito, who only a few years ago was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In a voice-over Fiorito offers humorous but also brutally honest observations about the continuing push and pull of the disorder. It is something that endangers her life, but also enriches it. ‘Why would you ever want to be normal and healthy, if you can be surrounded by love and madness?’
In the film, scenes of Fiorito at home are interspersed with dreamlike dance sequences, choreographed by Liat Waysbort and performed by Mara Hulspas. One really strong solo lingers on long after the documentary is over: Hulspas locked up in a white tiled room, where the viewer doesn’t know which way is up. It’s a reference to the time Fiorito spent in a clinic.
Gioia Live is a sequel of sorts. Choreographer Waysbort and her company Bitter Sweet Dance show the next chapter in Fiorito’s life. Her daily routine has become more regulated with the help of medication, but her imagination, the leaflet informs us, remains as rich as ever.
One of the ways Waysbort and dramaturge Annette van Zwoll try to transport us into Fiorito’s imaginary world is through a stream-of-consciousness monologue – English translations are handed out at the beginning. The monologues (coaching and text advice by Grainne Delaney) offer some nice poetic visuals, as in the way Fiorito envisions herself as two gigantic red lips, tasting the world. Still, I would have loved to have seen a return of the striking observations and trivial, yet highly personal, touches that left such a lasting impression in the film, like Fiorito’s obsession with Dutch TV presenter Henny Huisman.
Hulspas – who also featured in the documentary short – plays a more central part in the dance performance, although her exact role remains a little unclear. Sometimes she and Fiorito are interacting, with one straddling the other, or when Hulspas drapes Fiorito in a white cloth. Other times Hulspas seems to be simply embodying Fiorito’s words, holding strong poses while Fiorito proudly proclaims her womanhood. Are Fiorito and Hulspas two sides of the same coin? Or is Hulspas the Gioia from the opening sentence of the documentary: ‘Dancing is essential to me, I become Gioia when I dance.’
Gioia Live works best when you have also seen the documentary, when you know where Fiorito is coming from. Perhaps a double bill is in the cards? There is a resonance between some of the scenes in the performance and the film: how her new daily routine echoes the one she followed while in the clinic, for instance. It adds even more significance to the scene at the end, when Fiorito herself starts to dance. Yes, for Fiorito, dancing is essential, but it is also a double-edged sword. Before her diagnosis, she used to love to dance with abandon, to lose herself in dance. But now, to lose herself in anything is something to avoid and to fear. With these dance steps, however tentative, Fiorito is further reclaiming her life.
Photo: Bart Grietens