Family, Memory, and the making of a new work
I'm in the preliminary stages of creating a new dance theatre production called Roma. Its a semi-biographical tale, with a skeleton structure that is based upon the story of my English Mum and Sicilian Dad. It is an ode to family, memory, the conflicts of tradition, breakups and my lifelong love and jostle between the two cultures I have grown up in.
Roma, as I envisage it, will encapsulate a recollection of memories and personal reflections on how family, heritage, love and nationhood have woven themselves into the person that I am today. These musings, although personal, also form the basis of a wider study of how contemporary society tackles and understands these themes.
I also want to make this work, because I want to attempt to understand my parents at a deeper level, whilst they are still here.
As always, it's hard to articulate exactly what a work will be when it is still ephemeral. What I do know, is that my work in some way always manifests itself out of a myriad of underlying anxieties that stem from a combination of intimate fears, and the pains of insurmountable memories that I find hard to articulate into words. I’ve always held onto the notion that some things, are better best kept within the veil of silence. These words therefore, unable to be audible, have instead manifested themselves as a language of the body and a cacophony of choreography, music and song. I know ROMA is some attempt of creating a vessel in which I want to bury them. Hence, I’m finding this rather tricky. In order to navigate how this will be made, I will start with what I can remember (and what I have tried to forget) in relation to my cross-cultural upbringing...
I am someone who has always struggled to define who they are and where they come from. I am British and Sicilian. I am working class. I am Queer. I'm kind of a Catholic Atheist. Im uncomfortable with compartmentalising my identity yet feel intrinsically compelled to find some kind of anchoring and place within the world. I was born and raised for some part of my life in Palermo, then spent the rest of my youth in growing up in Teesside. Both are home, yet neither have completely felt it.
Music, Dance and Theatre became a conduit for escapism at some stage within my early life and in doing so, have become my home, refuge and raison detre. They have been a way to navigate my way through life and how I make sense of the world (which I think is the case for most people, really). This was the essence of how I wanted to tell the story of ROMA, distilled through a team of exquisite performance artists.
During the first stages of this project, we were supported by Arts Council England in 2020/2021 to research and develop the initial concept of the work. One of the first things I did, was to attempt to begin to understand the subtext of my mum and dads' relationship and the impact that it inevitably had upon the person I am today. In doing so, I asked my mum and dad a set of questions about their marriage (and its failings), their jostle between cultures and what they would say to each other now if they could. What they wrote can be found on the following link:
Upon reading, it's clear there are discrepancies in their recollections and a willingness to discuss the pain one felt at the actions of another. I came from a broken home that was filled with the inexplicable odor of failed love. It was pungent with the smell of it. A smell, you will always struggle to completely wash off. This formed the foundations of much of my early, formative years and subsequently left my constantly confused, resentful and estranged from my family.
It is worth briefly noting that upon further interrogation with my dad, I was pointed to Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 Documentary Comizi D'amaore, (which you can view here: /www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6foBjG-vXM). Jealously, conservatism, Catholic guilt sexism, the sacred and the dammed, as well as southern customs clearly mirrored the experiences my mother spoke so openly about.
I certainly cannot talk about who I am without acknowledging the impact that my parent's cultures, failings and heartbreak had upon my upbringing and identity. Their lack of concealing any pain acquired from their breakup and its inevitable messy aftermath has subsequently provided some long-term benefits. I’ve learnt sometimes vocalizing emotion is tacky and crass and selfish, and sometimes it is absolutely the essential of navigating one’s way through life. I have my parents to thank for that and in some strange way, I am glad they are not together. Their failings created a tough outer shell that I can armour myself with in times of need.
The making of ROMA comes at a crossroads in my life. I need to move forward; I need to forgive, and I need to open up. I’m older than what they are when they broke up. My Parents story ends with me, but I carry its scars and I hold its memories. I’m a proud carrier, I think. I love and honour them. I am proud to be a blend of Northern England and Southern Italy.
At this moment in time, ROMA feels like a cacophony of messy family feuds, deep rooted feelings and a cathartic awakening of honest recollections, that I'm struggling to articulate until I get into the studio and put pen to paper, so to speak. It's a blend of homesickness, nostalgia and pulling on the heart that conveys a feeling of missing something irretrievably lost. But with happy moments, laughter and the redemptive power of community.
I guess this has all just been a romantic way of saying its about what family means to me...