Interview by Gaia Clotilde Chernetich
There is no one occasion where Chiara Bersani does not show her pioneering attitude off. Her art can often be read as a form of authentic human bravery as well as an example of openness and sensitivity. This time, it was not about her performances, an entire festival that she envisaged. Having interviewed Chiara twice already about her co-curatorial engagement for MUSIC NON STOP festival, I gained a detailed idea of the steps of this journey from initial draft to final result, and I can empathise with those “post-show” feelings that emerge when something you have been waiting for is officially over.
Co-curated with Giulia Traversi, MUSIC NON STOP was a slow-paced programme of contemporary dance and music with a strong focus on accessibility. Aerowaves artist Courtney May Robertson offered a workshop accessible to people with physical disabilities before presenting her performance The pleasure of stepping off a horse when it’s moving at full speed, with poetic audio-description curated by Camilla Guarino; while another Aerowaves artist, Cassiel Gaube presented Soirée d’Études, with Italian sign language translation by Diana Anselmo.
It’s now a month since your three-day dance and music programme MUSIC NON STOP. How do you feel about it now?
It actually feels good! I think this is true for both Giulia and me. We share articulate, deep feelings, and good memories, too. The festival represented a fundamental opportunity to learn how to manage sudden issues happening on site, but we also had time and space to deepen our own artistic direction as well as our take on organisation. This was the first time we had curated an international series of events; furthermore, we also specifically aimed to push the limits of accessibility as a practice of care in the sphere of spectatorship. MUSIC NON STOP was a success in terms of research, and it boosted our skills in forward thinking. We also initiated closer dialogues with the local community, which is relevant to us because neither of us live in Asti.
All these aspects went very well, and we received positive feedback from the artists and from the local context. We took note of positive synergies between Al.Di.Qua artists and the artists we invited, Courtney and Cassiel, and also between them, Spazio Kor’s team and the community of Asti. We know that this was a first time and some things that happened will play an important role as teachings for the future. For example, we did not have an audience as big as we wished for. Therefore, we have to investigate this aspect and take care of it if we want to see our audience grow further. Of course, we were always aware of the peculiarities of the context (a provincial small town unacquainted with dance culture) but we somehow decided to challenge it with a contemporary performing arts programme especially addressed to those who usually are excluded from such events.
Startup Forum mentor Betsy Gregory joined you in Asti. How did she collaborate with you?
Betsy’s presence during the festival was truly important. She generously supported us and we knew that we were allowed to reach out to her any time, either to calm down, to clarify our minds or to receive her detailed feedback. She did not only mentor us, but she also witnessed the results of the entire process. She has the whole picture now. I like to remember that, at one point, Giulia and I went through a moment of crisis because we were worried about having such a small audience. Would the artist be dissatisfied, disappointed or even disturbed by this? How should we communicate this to the artists about to go onstage? Truth is that we did not have much audience in attendance, though luckily some people showed up at the very last minute. The situation frightened us at the beginning. We felt guilty, and a bit embarrassed. Betsy helped us to manage that uncomfortable moment, she supported us by showing us the good route. Eventually, the theatre did not feel empty because the public was attentive, supportive and concentrated. We received heartwarming feedback from some members of the deaf community who came to see the shows.
Did MUSIC NON STOP meet your expectations as a curatorial experience?
Yes, it did. And I think that we got more than we expected. At the end of the three days, we discovered we had been very happy about the festival as a whole. Our idea of a “slow festival” still feels proper and valid to us. At one point, we also realised that a fair was going on in Asti. There were different public events over the same days. MUSIC NON STOP then started to be felt as a sort of a calm and quiet counterpoint. Our work took all its meaning when we realised we were offering an oasis of art and cool rhythms, accessible to everybody. For the future, I would reflect upon this… in a moment where the city goes through its hectic times, would it be better to postpone such a calm event or would it be better to keep it as an alternative? I will think a lot about this with Giulia, if we organise a festival again.
Poetic audio-description existed at Spazio Kor before MUSIC NON STOP, but how did it work here?
I think this is one of our strongest achievements. We have offered audio-description since 2021. We don’t only propose it to our blind audience but also to those who might be attending contemporary dance for the first time. It can serve as a sort of guide. Dramaturg Camilla Guarino curated the audio-description with Giuseppe Comuniello, but as she could not be present, the text was read live during the performances by Simone Chiacchiarelli with the supervision of Elia Covolan. The spectators who wanted to enjoy the audio-description could use one headphone, where they could listen to the text, while the other ear would be free to listen to the sounds of the performance. And, as we also took care of neurodivergent audience members, we distributed ear plugs to soften the sounds for those who needed.
The programme also featured a DJ set curated by Ubi Broki (F. De Isabella). How did you make it accessible?
For us, it was interesting to notice that Spazio Kor did not need much arrangement to host an accessible DJ set. The result was a soft party. Ubi Broki, proposed a set that everyone could enjoy. The music in the space was not aggressive. The lights were set still, not intermittent. We kept the doors open, and this allowed a sort of osmosis between the DJ set indoors and the people, sitting mostly outdoors, enjoying drinks, chats and, of course, the music. Unexpectedly, most of the attendees decided to remain outdoors and this made us wonder if the idea had worked out or not. Our own “regular” expectations of “how a DJ set usually works” – people dancing indoors, staying close to the DJ, enjoying that part of the space where the music is felt strongest not just in the ears but in the whole body… This normalised picture struggled with what we had in front of our eyes –but we soon realised that the cool attitude of the audience was the exact result we had wished for in terms of accessibility. However, we did not succeed in taking those who attended the DJ set to see what was going on in the theatre. We will have to work further on this sort of local networking.
How was the relationship with the local community?
We were particularly happy with our encounter with the deaf community. We had three guests and this is a huge number if we think of where our festival happens and how it is positioned in its cultural frame. This small group decided to attend the festival but they did not get to MUSIC NON STOP via some sort of “group suggestions” through deaf community networks, as often happens.
How did this experience transform you and your curatorial approach?
I have been becoming calmer. I have to thank Betsy because she taught me how to shift from “numbers” to “quality”. Our audience revealed itself as affectionate and attentive. And also, it was very important for me to see artists leaving feeling happy about what they had experienced whilst working in a cultural environment which is felt as “new” and with a small audience. Giulia and I, we work in a complementary manner. We can really share the load and we know how and when we need to ask for help when we need it. We share our views, we work in parallel line but we can also protect each other – for example, by reciprocally allowing rest and some time off, and by being there, as a true curatorial duet.