I have been sat looking at a blank screen for the past hour. Procrastinating over the dauntless task of putting disparate and unassembled memories into words, and have instead opted to busy myself around the house. I’ve made endless coffees and have begun diverting my attention to sorting through a pile of books by the side of my bed. I’m finding it frustratingly hard to concentrate on the job in hand...
I need to write a blog about my newest project ROMA, an autobiographical story centred on my anglo-sicilian heritage and the story of my parents. I don’t know why I said I would do this. There is something so distressingly narcissistic in writing about one's own life, especially through choice and at a time it seems as though no one is particularly interested. Perhaps it’s an inferiority complex, the feeling of complete inadequacy or some woeful self-saboteurs' existential drama that I can’t quite seem to shake off. Perhaps, I’ve just found it difficult to articulate exactly who it is that I am. Or maybe, I just find more pleasure in arranging my books nicely…
What I do know, and can open by saying, 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.
OK. First attempt. If we start at the beginning of an autobiographical memoir and with the discussion of ‘your first memory’, one would hope the opening of the tale provides some tangible access into the psychological make-up of the protagonist in reference. I have two and alas, neither one is particularly pleasant. My first is repeatedly banging my head against a wall whilst my parents were fighting and my dad was hanging my mum out of a window. My second is the flight we took to the UK, which was the day that my mum left my dad. Not even 30 years old. 3 children and a failed dream, returning to the place she had left to start a better life. I remember her looking exhausted, 3 children in tow and the feeling that ‘something’ was changing. If I think really hard, I do also remember our first pet, a goat on our farm named Kikina, and that’s nice I suppose…
I close the computer and carry on with my procrastinations. Too many memories. I'm holding onto things I don't want to talk about. Some time later, by revelation of divine intervention, a calling from an old relative presents itself me. An old photograph falls out from one of the books that I’m organizing (The book is ‘All Good Things, by Stephen Ellcock, which for the phenomenological dreamer looking for nice images, is a book that I highly recommend). It is a photo of my great granddad Leonard Armstrong and his friend entertaining the troops during WWII.
Ive always loved this photo. For me, I've always found it to give some kind of comforting gravity. A sense of family and a grounding that comes from the past. The reason we are who we are and the crescendo of events from him that will have undoubtedly reverberated through my family history (I'd love to think this is where I got the pleasure of dance from, but its more likely the art of escapism through entertaining and performing which sticks best) OK Leonard, I’ve got the message…Coffee made and books placed beautifully, it is now time to write…
Dearest reader. Hello. I am Anthony Lo-Giudice (pronounced Lo Judy Chay). I am an anglo-sicilian dance artist. For those of you from the dance world who have continued thus far with this memoir, I trained regionally, cancelling my place at the Conservatoire of my choice, for an ex-boyfriend and dream…both failed endeavors (though I pat myself on the shoulder for the underdog credentials). I am 34 years old and like most people that I know, during this current climate, I am currently having an existential crisis. At present, I’m making a dance theatre work about family, with whom I carry inexplicable levels of both love and disdain.
I am Sicilian born and was raised in Italy until the age of four, when my parents separated and my mum brought me and my siblings back to live in the UK where I have remained ever since. We left one of the most beautiful parts of Italy to start a new life in one of the most socially deprived communities in the country, a town that once won the coveted title of ‘The worst place to live in Britain’. The Victorians affectionately named it ‘The Infant Hercules’, but this grandiose title refers to a place that is better known today to most folk as Middleborough. Surely, there's a story in that alone?
If we continue to maintain our focus on upbringing and the formative years of youth, I will start by saying that people found me very odd as a child. I was a prima donna in hand-me-down Kappa’s. I was extravagant, melodramatic, deep, mildly snobbish and desperately lonely. I also loved to laugh, dance and put on shows like most young kids of the 90’s did, but bitterness and despair are a tastier blend of tonic for the dark romantic making theatre work I find.
I never recall feeling like I belonged anywhere in my younger years and I remember that a predominant bulk of my time spent trying relentlessly in vain to ground myself within some kind of group or hobby, or a calling that would provide some tangible sense of purpose and community, yet never feeling like anything was the right fit. I do recall a phase of brief satanic worship at one point, believing fully that a fallen angel was a much more palatable Saviour for my forsaken soul and that some mystical ability astral-project and escape the horrors of my situation was a far more alluring prospect than the blessing of a god who hates gays. Note, I was praying to the devil whilst also learning spice girls routines and alas found no one to join me in my dark crusade (or my girl band tribute act for that matter), so gave it all up as quickly as I did my Thursday night gymnastics classes. I must say however, that demonic worship aside, I don’t feel I was particularly profound for a little queer kid in the working class 90’s of Northern England. I probably just needed a bit more love than what those around me were able to give. They were battling their own monsters.
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. I do have some wonderful memories too, but the why pepper the melodrama with niceties?
My first language was Italian, until at the age of 4 it was pried out of my siblings and me and was essentially banned from being spoken. The formative years following that were spent communicatively expressing myself through broken words and body language, until we were fluent in English. Which perhaps explains some early fascination into the human body as a conduit for story tellings…that then naturally lends itself to the medium of dance. Imagine trying to say ‘I want to go back to my real home. I do not belong here.’ at the age of 4/5 years to someone who neither speaks your language who particularly cares how you are feeling.
The notion of what it means to belong and feel a sense of belonging has always lurked within the shadows of my work as an artist. Overtime, I have come to accept the beauty and benevolence of the strange circumstances that my upbringing had thrust upon me. On reflection, I don’t feel I live within some darkened veil of the past, but I certainly cannot talk about who I am without acknowledging the impact my parent's lives had upon my youth. 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 ones 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. Though I do question what my life would be if they had worked things out between them…
For starters, I would likely be still living in Italy, speaking Italian, and not dancing.
When I fast forward from my youth to recent memory (do not pass go and do not collect £200 through the horror of early teen years) and look back on the past 10 years of my career working as a dance artist, I’m often perplexed and filled with questions that are as hard to ask, as they are to answer. Primarily, how on earth (and why on earth) did this happen? I don’t know if what I have achieved artistically over the past decade has amounted to anything worthy of notable accolade or prestige, but what I can say however, is that I have fallen in love with the miracle, mystery and complexity of the human condition again and again, and I have found the moving body an immeasurably superior vehicle in which I attempt explain my understanding of what it means to exist more than any other method of choice.
Whatever direction my relationship with dance has taken and will continue to shift in the future, I am forever grateful that I found it.
Heading back to the vortex of time. My chance discovery of dance came about from the invitation from a friend at the tender age of 16. One Friday evening, I accompanied her to her weekly ballet class purely out of having nothing to do that evening except to get out of the house and away from my family.
Her ballet mistress was called Janice Wilson. She taught the whole class with a cigarette in her mouth and a glass of sherry in her hand. I remember she had a blind poodle named Linford who urinated everywhere. She was cut from a very formidable cloth. The dancers would sooner jete into a puddle of dog piss or swerve their petite allegro exercises in order to avoid the dog and the wrath of a sherry filled mad woman than ask for Linford to be taken out of the room. I was completely entranced! This was going to be my new home. I had found my clan…
I was able to dance about my dreams, my desires, my pains and my sorrows in that little living room studio of Miss Janice’s. I was (and remain) a connoisseur-in -training of the art of Escapism. Even the odd slip in dog piss did not deter my mesmeric musings in that studio. Miss Janice never charged me for a single class as I was simply too skint to pay. Its only now I realize how special this was. She taught me the essential language I had so desperately craved, the language of movement to tell stories and exorcise my demons. She did it, because she knew I had something to say and there was no other way I could get it out. She taught me the mystical art of escapism, with the body and soul combined as a conduit to fly and flee ‘The Infant Hercules’ (albeit, only 40 minutes up the A19). Escapism, over reality, when placed in the hands of one who respects it, can be the most beautiful thing. It saved my life. But in order to have fantasy, reality must exist.
So, 17 years later, here I am. Things achieved. Mistakes made. Some comfortable momentum in my work, yet aware that time is slipping away. I have fewer and fewer friends that are still dancing. I haven’t spoken to Miss Janice in years. Linford is most certainly dead. But in everything I have made (or may continue to make), I always see that lost little boy stepping onto Miss Janice’s dance floor for the first time. 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 need realize that I will likely never have children and that I can’t blame my parent's failings on my youth forever. 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.
When making ROMA, I start with their story and see where it takes me…undoubtedly mine will mirror it.
History always has a way of repeating itself. I wonder how long this story goes back?
Thanks for inspo Leonard x