“ARA! ARA!”, Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi ©Ettore Spezza

Symbols of Power

Flags ripple, flap, and cut the air. Shrouds wrap motionless bodies. Exotic creatures slip from mediaeval banners. Military snare drums roar. Fierce battles morph into revelry, and sports events transform into funeral processions. Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi have always turned to historical events, art movements, and traditions for inspiration. In their new diptych, “AeReA” and “ARA! ARA!”, they explore the symbolism of flags and mediaeval heraldry, as well as their political connotations. The first part of the diptych, “AeReA”, will be shown during Tanznacht Berlin Vertigo (Part 2) on 23 and 24 July 2021, while a digital version of “ARA! ARA!” premiered during Tanzfabrik Berlin’s OPEN SPACES – Making It Happen #2 on 10 June 2021. “Silver Veiled” is a dance film born from the same research process. It was originally commissioned by Dublin Dance Festival in 2021.

Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi have been researching methods of political communication for years on end. For “Lend me your ears” and the dance film “Actio”, they delved into the ‘rhetorical gestures’ of public figures and orators, and drew inspiration from Quintilian’s treatise “Institute of Oratorio” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Last Dictator”. In “HARLEKING” they studied gargoyles and Harlequin, the beguiling buffoon of the commedia dell’arte. It was only a matter of time before they approached the symbolic dimension of flags, the ultimate symbols of power and domination. Flags are hoisted and worshipped, torn and burned. They cover coffins, and proclaim victories. Originally, they were banners that distinguished families and opposing factions on the battlefield, but have since become embodiments of the intersection of political ambition, nationalism, struggles against oppression, and the power dynamics of belonging and separation.

In “AeReA”, the first part of the diptych, and in the dance film “Silver Veiled”, the flags are devoid of colours and symbols, they become a tabula rasa upon which any symbol may emerge. An anthracite-grey fabric is, by turns, a flag, a shroud, a curtain, and a veil. Rather than bearing insignia, it becomes instead a blank screen allowing the ghosts of the past to seep through its fabric and inviting the audience to project their own collective memory onto its silken surface.

In “AeReA” and “Silver Veiled”, Panzetti and Ticconi explore the physical essence of flags: light and mobile when hoisted, they become heavy and thick when they cover inert bodies. The show’s dance vocabulary is imbued with references to military marches, sports events, and funeral rites. But, most importantly, it draws inspiration from traditions of flag-waving, which the choreographers learnt by taking classes with the Flag-Wavers’ Association of Arezzo. Panzetti admits that the approach taken by Arezzo’s flag-wavers was “rather an orthodox one. They seek out virtuosity, and their performances look more like sports or military events than dance.” Never losing grip of their flags in both works, Panzetti and Ticconi develop their own flag-waving style, in which flags and bodies become one. Slow-motion undulations morph into turbulent flag-flapping, accentuating the pulsating score of the piece, then freeze in dramatic and graphic tableaus of motionless bodies, graciously wrapped in funeral shrouds.

“AeReA”, Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi, photo by Gianluca Di Loia

Unlike “AeReA” and “Silver Veiled”, “ARA! ARA!” offers a more detailed excursion into the imagery of mediaeval flags and banners. The arrangement of shapes and colours on a traditional Western European coat of arms obeys strict rules and precise composition to create the coded language of heraldry in which shields are called ‘escutcheons’ and colours ‘tinctures’. In “ARA! ARA!”, however, Panzetti and Ticconi refrain from too literal interpretations of this codified imagery. Dramaturgically more complex, “ARA! ARA!” is devised instead as a medley of overlapping mimetic episodes: violent battlefield scenes, rituals of victory and defeat, political ceremonies, and joyful revelry. Panzetti and Ticconi’s vibrant yellow-and-blue banners gently carry the viewer from one symbol to another, weaving a patchwork of intricate dance patterns inspired by heraldic bestiaries and mediaeval imagery. 

Just as Panzetti and Ticconi’s choreography is attentive to the tiniest movements of the hands and feet, so the titles of both works also carry hidden meanings. While “AeReA” refers to the ‘aerial’ nature of a flag — a quality central to the piece — the word ‘ara’, found in both titles, stands for the Latin āra,meaning ‘altar’ — a place of sacrifice and giving to the gods. Altars are not only places of ritual, like flags, they are also symbols of power: grandiose monuments, erected to honour the memory of emperors and military commanders. Finally, ara in “ARA! ARA!” is a Tupi word for ‘macaw’. Panzetti and Ticconi say that they have chosen this colourful bird as a counterpoint to the powerful lions and eagles (kings of the earth and of the skies, respectively) populating the majority of medieval flags. Macaws, whose shrieks and chattering were delicately embedded into Demetrio Castellucci’s rhythmic score for “ARA! ARA!”, are symbolically closer to the Harlequins in “HARLEKING”. These exotic and funny birds repeat sounds and words absolutely unaware of their meaning, just as harlequins, entertainers and devilish tricksters, perform all kinds of jokes and gags to please the highest bidder. And ultimately, both parrots and Harlequins refer to modern politics, in which mimicry, jokes, and giggles have overshadowed the pursuit of a common good.

Panzetti and Ticconi consciously mimic and embody oneiric mediaeval images in “ARA! ARA!” — even their positions on stage are carefully chosen. At times, Annegret Shalke’s light design cuts the shield-shaped stage into four squares, and the dancers become charges on a stage-wide coat of arms. Similarly, the show is stamped with motionless tableaus, where the dancers, standing in profile, limbs intertwined, freeze in graphic silhouettes, reminiscent of mediaeval heraldry. All of them are patchworks, explains Panzetti: “We gathered all the images and patterns and mixed them together to create our own. Maybe only the three-legged creature clearly refers to the Sicilian flag.” Indeed, many images in both pieces are two-dimensional. In “A Devil’s Cloth: The History of Stripes” Michel Pastoureau, a French historian and one of the key inspirations for Panzetti and Ticconi in the conception of “ARA! ARA!”, explains that the rules of perspective are of little relevance to mediaeval aesthetics, in which all symbolic elements are two-dimensional and have equal importance. This analysis is even more true in relation to flags and coats of arms, on which geometric shapes, drawings, and colours are arranged with no obvious hierarchy or perspective. Ticconi adds: “In a work referring to traditional mediaeval imagery, we decided to stress the two-dimensional style of representing things, as if we were writing a book. It creates graphic plasticity, capable of evoking many things.” It is precisely Panzetti and Ticconi’s mimetic and graphic approach to dance composition that enables them to get their message across without losing the emotional tension between the signifier and the signified, a process central to the symbolic world of flags and heraldry.

Panzetti and Ticconi’s genuine interest in symbolism and mediaeval imagery makes them stand out in a contemporary dance landscape in which most dance makers are engaged in imagining the future. While the allegorical world of “AeReA” and “ARA! ARA!” is complex and full of riveting images and hidden meanings, Panzetti and Ticconi also play skilfully with our collective memory. By shining a light on the past, both works also question our present, in which power dynamics and systems of social dominance are steadily gaining momentum.

The first part of the diptych, “AeReA”, is shown during Tanznacht Berlin Vertigo (Part 2), 23 and 24 July 2021. Purchase tickets at the Festival website.

“AeReA” by and with Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi. Sound – Demetrio Castellucci. Light – Annegret Schalke. Costumes – Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi. Flag-Waving Coach – Carlo Lobina / Flag-Wavers’ Association of Arezzo. Technical Management – Paolo Tizianel. Touring, Promotion – Aurélie Martin. Production Management – VAN. Video Documentation – Ettore Spezza. Realised through the support of Premio Hermès Danza Triennale Milano. “AeReA” – trailer is available here.

“ARA! ARA!” – Choreography, Performance, Visual Conception – Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi. Sound Design, Composition – Demetrio Castellucci. Snare, Percussion, Recording – Michele Scotti. Light Design – Annegret Schalke. Set Design – Laila Rosato. Flag Design – Ginevra Panzetti. Costume Realisation – Julia Didier. Flag-Waving Coach – Carlo Lobina / Flag-Wavers’ Association of Arezzo. Technical Management – Paolo Tizianel. Touring / Distribution – Aurélie Martin. Italian Production Management – VAN (Federica Giuliano, Eleonora Cavallo). German Production Management – Monica Ferrari. Production – Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi; Associazione Culturale VAN. “ARA! ARA!” – trailer is available here.

Further information and touring dates of both works are available on the company’s website http://www.panzettiticconi.com.

“Silver Veiled” (Dance Film) – Direction, Performance – Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi. Direction – Ilaria di Carlo. Sound Design – Sergio Salomone. Cinematography, Video Editing – Ettore Spezza. Objects Conception, Costumes – Sergio Salomone, Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi. Distribution – Aurélie Martin. Production – Ginevra Panzetti / Enrico Ticconi, Associazione Culturale VAN.