We knew that the start of the project in St Petersburg would be a logistic challenge. We knew that if we make it here we can make it anywhere. We knew that Russian authorities can be a bit unpredictable. We knew that we needed an ATA carne to pass the border, which means we had to list every single object in the van, including the origin, weight and value of it (and when I say every object I mean every object, also the different needles and threads for the sowing machine). We knew that we needed a Russian speaking person to pass the border. We needed an agent to pass the border. We needed patience. We needed to understand. That we are used to something different. We are used to a system where you can claim your rights, where you can trust the official prices and proceedings, where things are settled and agreed on by a mutual agreement which can not be changed or claimed invalid without a justified reason. We are used to a system where common sense (most of the times) can be a point of departure for how things work. In Russian authorities and official structures, that seems not to be the case.
But we adapt and we smile, because we are guests in a very special city, and we are taken care of by the most generous, professional, flexible and warm people at the Skorohod platform. It is truly like an oasis, up here on th 4th floor of an industrial brick building in Moskovskiy Prospekt, 15 minutes by metro from the city centre. In this theatre, which is the only independent theatre in St Petersburg, everything seems to be like in any theatre in the world. And that is a comforting thought – to realize that even though the countries are different, and the system and the conditions are different, even though the political situation is more than tense at the moment – we continue to see similarities more than differences in the artists’ ways of working. Like Giancarlo Biffi says: “We feel at home in every theatre in the world!”
On Thursday there was a press conference for the whole project here at Skorohod. Before the conference we gave a media performance, a general rehearsal, of Memories for Life only for press and media. It went well, although a bit strange with all the cameras. I was so proud of the team, of what they had done in such a short time (actually only 4 weeks of rehearsal when normal would be 8 weeks). They are great. Each and every one of them!
It was indeed the best and most well organized press conference I have attended. Simultaneous interpretation English-Russian and Italian-Russian. A LOT of cameras and journalists. There was Slava Polunin, the legendary Russian clown who we knew nothing about, and he was actually the one attracting all the press. But it didn’t matter. We were just so honored to get this kind of beginning to the project. It was the best start we could get. Really.
This is my speech from the conference:
In the very beginning of planning the project (autumn 2011), we proposed a tour with a sailing ship that would go from St Petersburg to Odessa, AROUND all of Europe. This was the original idea, and I directly contacted our friends at the Skorohod Platform and they directly answered YES, we want to do this.
The symbolism of starting this project outside the EU is for us very important, as the whole project emphasizes the common roots of all of us, the connection between North and South, East and West. Basically the message is very simple: we are all Odysseus. Or we could all have been Odysseus. WE are all in the same boat, and we need each other. We want to make genuine collaboration and common artistic, historic, geographic and linguistic factors more visible, as a contrast to all the differences that are underlined in the political and nationalist discourse of many countries.
Many things have happened since the autumn 2011 when we decided to begin the tour in St Petersburg. The tour is not going around Europe, but through it, in a way, and we are sailing during three summers, not in one row.
But more than anything it is the political climate that has changed, forcing us to test the true core of the project. It would have been easy to say “We won’t come to Russia because of what is happening in Russia and at its borders”. We have been considering this option very seriously. However we have come to the conclusion that our collaboration with Skorohod Platform stays firm. We do not see how our absence in St Petersburg could be of any good for Skorohod or for its audience. On the contrary, we are convinced that in times of crisis and strained political climate, cultural collaboration on a grass root level gain even more importance. If we, the artists, stop to communicate over national borders because of the political discourse or actions of our countries, then we are slowly erasing all possible ways of getting back to a good and reliable contact in the future. We believe that we have a responsibility to get to St Petersburg and make our Odyssey start here as a message of Hope and Peace. We are honored to be the guests of Skorohod, an independent and contemporary oasis for performing arts in St Petersburg.