Alice Gosti requests the honour of your presence for an evening of dining. Dress comfortably, things might get messy.
My first encounter with Gosti involved spaghetti-slinging and the slurping of wine. No, we weren’t out to dinner together. Well, I guess we were. She sat on stage (with two other dancers nestled at a table inside four clear, plastic walls within which they flung spaghetti, wine, and tomatoes among their dancing) and I sat in the third row for the final performances at the Joyce SoHo with the winners and finalists of the 2012 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Dance. Filled with tension, Gosti’s work rippled like a pot boiling over on the stove, erupting and then abating, tableaus punctuated with athletic bursts.
I could see this kind of dinner party trending. Cathartic, to say the least. We’ve all probably suffered from an agonizing dinner or party, or two.
Recently, I spoke with Gosti about the latest developments of the Spaghetti Co., and she pulled me deeper into her artistic vision. Gosti shared that the project is paused for the moment, “at one point we had dreams for the final chapter to happen in a house, a real empty house. Full of only the things we needed to perform. The idea was that we were going to spend one or two months treating the house as a residency space. Then, we would welcome small crowds in the house with us, as part of an itinerant performance that would have included not only movement but also live music, video and visual art.
Unfortunately, we received no funding for it and needed to move on. But I still dream of it and know that the right house will pop-up at some point in my life. I just need to keep talking about it and spreading the word.”
So, hold onto those dinner invitations. Think of it as a “save the date” for a “save the date.”
However, from the creative spaghetti process, Gosti began building a new work: I always wanted to give you a pink elephant. With this new work, she says “the themes of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ are central. What appears before your eyes is a dusty tri-dimensional family portrait. Time is passing, dust accumulating, tumbleweeds are rolling by. Ashes to ashes. The three characters happen to be in the same room. There is no intrinsic relationship between them, but they are each telling you their family stories.”
Gosti’s work is of the jump-in-and-get-caught-up-as-you-go nature. Gosti creates experiences, driven by her highly reflective nature, and invites her audience to be immersed in her world. The allure of modern and contemporary dance (for me) are markers of identity (in the increasingly jumbled negotiation of gender roles, evolving sexuality, structure of the family unit, and devolving of the American Dream) and the socio-cultural conflicts that often emerge in our highly diverse society. Choreographers like Gosti are the brave ones in our society – they choose to define themselves, and in their creative process, create new worlds rather than be defined/confined by others.
Gosti’s dual heritage and her navigation of that factors significantly into her identity as both an individual and an artist, through which she filters her work. Born to artist parents, an American mother and Italian father, Gosti spent her early years in Italy returning to the U.S. for college. This international life drives her fascination with planes:
“I have loved planes and airports since I can remember. As a child I liked them because they would bring me where my mom wanted to be. My mother is American so airplanes would bring me here, to visit my grandmother and uncles. Which made my mom really happy. But leaving was always sad. Still the joy of seeing people at the airport is what I remember the most, compared to the goodbyes. That feeling of anticipation and excitement, when your heart skips beats, perhaps similar to the feeling you have on first dates. I used to say I wanted to work as a custodian in an airport so I could get to see all those raw emotions – the endless goodbyes, the kisses, the eyes watering, the funny signs, the balloons, the luggage, the tired waiting eyes. In airports there is no time and no space, just those that want to get somewhere as fast as possible and those that do not want to leave. In college I moved to Seattle, I was looking to understand where I wanted to live, if I wanted to be American or Italian. In that research I understood, how I was both and neither. I was traveling back and forth once a year, hosting visitors once or twice a year. The feeling of abandoning and being abandoned were the norm, together with a general sense of non-belonging anywhere I went. Airports and airplanes stayed magical places – portals. I guess what I come to realize while I am writing this, is that at this point airport, airplanes and my art have become my home, more than any “real” place or location.”
See her ideas on making work about planes here.
This is what is powerful about Gosti’s work; her exploration of her own tumultuous identity allows her to construct her theory of identity. She resides in no-man’s land, which she chooses to embrace. Remember Tom Hanks’ desperate lot in The Terminal? His lack of identity (due to passport issues) held him hostage. Gosti liberated herself by resituating the idea of “home.”
There are no simple answers with Gosti – although she herself is frank, open, and passionate. In her bio, for instance, she described herself as a space transformer and lover of planes. Gosti isn’t afraid to tackle gigantic interests which include the process of manipulating perception of space and time, the concept of home and belonging, and among others, sustaining a career. Regarding issues and ideas central to her work, Gosti stated: “the idea of architecting experiences has been central to my work in the past four years. It is necessary for me to see dance, movement and performance with the same eyes that I use when I experience all the other forms of art. Expecting from my art form the same levels of criticism, questioning and depth of when I read a new book, watch a movie or go to a gallery opening.”
Perhaps this is how the inherent tension in Gosti’s work rides the spectrum of extremities. Her focus is on experience rather than solely on choreography and she builds a roller coaster narrative that pulls the viewer through the movement. Another work, I always wanted to give you a pink elephant exudes such tension.
And what is a space transformer?? Or as I asked her, “about your position as a space transformer, what does that mean to you, how do you see that role evolving, what does it mean for the world?”
“Originally it is a phrase that I have borrowed from Yoko Ono, she used to have business cards that said that and when a friend give one to me, a couple years back, I realised that that was what I was and am and that I had finally found how to call myself.
I am a space transformer because when I create I consider and transform all space. Not only the stage or the space where the performance is taking place, but also the space in which the audience/viewers are located. Their space, their conditions, how they move is really important to how they perceive what is happening. I am a space transformer because I mold an experience, considering all the possible elements that shape it – temperature, taste, sources and direction of sound in space, smell, textures and I don’t limit myself to the stage or the performance space. For most of my artistic career, dance has been my main medium of expression. However, it was when I discovered film that I recognized the power art has over an experience. Directors and actors shape a viewer’s experience, dig deep in the subconscious, and raise questions. I want my work to do the same. I want to engage the audience in the experiences created, by evoking their senses, memories, and emotions. This is an idea central to my daily practice and process.
The space transformer or the architect of space are questioning roles, not fixed characters, they see all space in its multidimensional sense, they ask questions by doing, by experimenting. They do not look for definite answers, rather they look for more questions.”
This idea of architecting a space challenges (or raises questions) about the concept of site-specific work. This is how Gosti’s architecting and transforming space translates as this approach allows Gosti’s work to remain dynamic even if the location changes – unlike most site-specific works. The Spaghetti Co. did not begin as a site-specific work but she began envisioning it in that way. The focus remains on the dance and experience, not the place. The place is simple – an old house. The house wouldn’t restrict the experience to that site, rather it would liberate it for a different kind of encounter with the Spaghetti Co. In fact, there are old houses and apartments in every city and town, wherever you wander in America or Italy. Perhaps the Spaghetti Co. would reside somewhere between a food truck and traveling circus. Gosti will have to tell us where.
She and Tom Hanks should have a conversation about airports. Over dinner.