The second from the left among the actors holding the flag is Mattia Cason.
He is the author and starring character of Le Etiopiche: a show that has thrilled, moved and inspired me like never before. I don’t even remember when the last time.
This screenwriter, director and dancer in his early thirties – who choreographed it for the Slovenian company ENKNAP, with which he works – won the latest Scenario Award, one of the most important under 35 European awards.
We had a long and very pleasant telephone conversation while Mattia was on his way to Novi-Sad.
We chatted a bit Eeven immediately after the show, in the wave of the emotions. Mattia came out sweaty and barefoot from the dressing rooms in the street to talk to his audience crowded in the narrow alleys of the Spanish Quarters (I attended the piece at the Nuovo Teatro Nuovo in Naples).
He listened to the countless questions, he told how this 80-minute work in Greek, Persian, German, Yiddish, Arabic and Italian that alone explains the current situation better than an international politics course, was born.
He was also amazed that it was received in such different ways depending on the country where it was performed and the dates on which the piece took place: before the winds of war in the middle of Europea and then during the war in Ukraine. Finally, references to rampant political fascisms in the text were perceived very differently by both the public and critics.
It must be said: Mattia sweaty and barefoot also collected numerous other applauses in the street, en plein air. Le Etiopiche thrilled an entire theater.
This show is so cultured that it mixes the history of Eurasia (which it should be and is not) with today’s tragedies. It does so – you will find out everything by reading the transcript of our conversation – with different languages (speech, video, images, dance) as well as the different languages it is fed from.
#slowwords is not new to the wordsmiths for the stage and has often hosted the ideas of many playwrights and of their recipes on today’s theater (the younger generations in particular).
Among the longest-lived and most famous theater makers, our literary pages hosted (at the beginning of our publication, in 2014) the conversation with a winner of the Scenario Award of several editions ago (Sara Sole Notarbartolo), the strength of Mark Ravenhill also pedagogue, which means musical theater according to Amir Vahidi, which means barricade theater according to Susie Dee / Patricia Cornelius, and the history of Avogaria from Stefano Poli‘s words, the incredible Bustheater with the fantastic Ilaria Cecere and many others which often show us the way. Follow the tags #theater, #theatermakers, #creatorsofworlds to read them.
Theater is life, theater is a storm and a safe landing place at once, theater is writing by every possible means and beyond.
Your life in a few lines
I was born in Belluno (Italy) on 11 March 1989, I just turned 33 years old. I lived in Belluno until the end of high school and then I enrolled in the European voluntary civil service in Ghana for three months: I was serving in a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities where I taught English and mathematics.
There I realized that I would like to do exactly what I was doing but by using the theater. I then studied theater at Nico Pepe in Udine from 2009 to 2012 and at the theater school I discovered that I did not like the ‘theater-theater’ with the table and the psychological study of the characters.
I discovered the body, I had the opportunity to go to study dance in Israel where I stayed, after my studies, until 2019 – even if I should have stayed there only one year.
Two and a half years ago I returned to Europe and, for just over one year, I have been working as a dancer at En Knap, a company in Ljubljana.
Parallel to theater and then to dance, after high school I studied Anthropology with a three-year degree in Siena and a master’s degree in Bologna: now I am enrolled in a second master’s degree at the Università Orientale (Naples) where I also learn Arabic and Aramaic (as a non-attending student).
The desire has always been the same and with Le Etiopiche I feel I have finally taken the first step in this direction: to be a de facto anthropologist and to deliver the research work not in the form of a written text but of a theatrical show, with all the possibilities it embodies. Means and languages that the stage allows. The dance, the acting but also the video design.
It is a form that we have also found in other arts, for example contemporary visual art where many artists work in the same way as you, on a corpus that includes doctoral creation to explain great phenomena, to deepen some situations (also geopolitical) in the form of lectures that seem a little show, a little information. In my opinion it is a suitable key to intercept new audiences who otherwise would not know these dynamics, these stories and in some cases enormous tragedies for the mankind. In your case, Le Etiopiche is almost explosive when viewed in this historical moment.
The Scenario Award has catapulted you into an even more political position with the war within the Europe 27, which in theory should have expressed the climax of representative democracy but not. What effect does this sinister and cumbersome viaticum have on you, have you thought about it or have you just concentrated on the cultural and terpsichorean grain of the show?
When we did a preview in Italy in Vicenza on March 5th, it was the first time we had a replica after the outbreak of the war and the theater where we were staging the piece joined a symbolic protest conceived by all Italian theaters to turn on a siren before of the start of the show.
Personally, as you have seen, at the beginning of the show I am behind the curtain dressed as Wittgenstein who (on a narrative level) returns from the Eastern Front of the First World War located in Lviv. It made quite an impression on me to go on stage to tell this story from 100 years ago and hear this war siren in the same places.
The show was conceived and ‘worked’ before this war, in the intentions it does not have any relationship but you can certainly find the relationship in proposing a different Europe, which should not need an external threat (in this case an aggression from Russia) to suddenly feel united and ‘a community of purpose’.
The challenge that seems to be very difficult – not for Europeans but for mankind in general – is to be able to become enthusiastic about the possibility of a larger community than a nation not in times of crisis but in the European pride of almost seventy years of peace. Except for the war in Yugoslavia.
And with the exception of some other locations where Russia has waged war in the last 20 years: Georgia, Moldova, as well as Ukraine …
Let’s go back to Le Etiopiche: the screenplay is truly rich and denotes an out-of-the-ordinary compositional maturity, as well as a marked multilingualism that is obviously inherent in the examination of this piece of history. How was it born, what are the inspirations? How long did it take for you to create the show?
One year of stage and choreographic work. Before that there were five years of studies, without which I would not have had the idea.
This show is part of a larger project: the research and analysis of the traditional cradles of European civilization (Israel and Palestine, Greece). It was born when I was in Israel, the first result was a master’s thesis. To focus on Greece right from the start I had imagined a different outcome (a show), unfortunately to be an anthropologist you have to be in the field and it was not possible for me to go to Greece: it is difficult to find work there as a dancer and I did not want to being forced to quit my job.
I managed to settle in Istanbul and find a job there but Covid made me lose it. I had to return to Italy where the project you saw in the first chapter was born, with a readjustment.
My investigation on the cradles of civilization has its own thesis: it wants to demonstrate the presence and strong influence of Afro-Asian cultural elements (and people in flesh and blood) in these ‘cradles’ of European civilization and therefore in the same civilization. European.
As for Greece, it occurred to me to use the adventures of Alexander the Great as a dramaturgical vein, he is a strong symbol of a European contradiction: on the one hand he embodied a genuine curiosity for the other and for the another he is the epitome of 19th century European colonialism (and of the new western colonialism on an economic level and beyond).
From here we began to think about what form to give to the show, realizing that we are dealing with a colossal material given the epic deeds and all the Alexandrian background. The places where he was were ideas for the relationship between Europe / Africa also in the contemporary world. Regarding the writing of the text, I must say that the word is not really the first input, but the images and visual ideas. The word is almost a narrative glue that presents these visions which are mainly coming from images and videos.
The dancing body: how did you invent the the choreography to adhere to the flow of the words and how did you decide on its ‘crescendo’?
It is the show itself that would like to explain what you are asking: the prologue located at the beginning that talks about Wittgestein is almost a declaration of methodology.
At a little less than 30 years old, the philosopher writes the Tractatus and thinks he has found a logical language that acts as a perfect mirror of reality but he realizes – in the Tractatus itself – that something remains that cannot be explained. What escapes logic is the mystic.
In the show we try to convey the mystic with images and with the body. The attempt to make the body tell what it cannot say is still in progress. I am happy with the point we have reached but we can still move forward. The goal is to keep the dance within the narrative. In the first phalanx (a choreography in which the actors use shields and spears ed), in the second trio with the simultaneous presence of video and dance (in the bodies and in the shadows) we have succeeded, but we can still work on and improve it. We aim at a narrative rather than a didactic dance: a body that does not dance but that narrates, a narrating body. I am happy with the solo / duet between the Sufi and the Greek border guard, I realize when I see the film of the show that we are in the right direction there. There the body has a theatrical and a life (not a dance) intention.
The solo duo you mention hit me and other viewers, it works a lot, Like the moment with the Greek border guard! How will you carry out the trilogy project with the devastating topicality of the war? Will it change the creation? Will it include this war or not?
I can say yes – it will change creation – but like everyone I am waiting to understand where this crisis will go.
To include this war or not? I’m still trying to understand the intentions behind it and the effects it will have on Europe first (in terms of entertainment) and then on a global level. I’m still not getting it right now.
From a structural point of view, the trilogy follows a historical path.
The first part adheres to the Alexandrian carried at the beginning of the landing in Asia and the African adventures up to Halicarnassus.
The second would like to focus on the period from the battle of Issus (current area of Alexandretta and the gulf that links today’s Turkey and Syria) to Gaugamela, present-day Kurdistan, passing through Egypt. This will require an analysis of the relationship that today’s Near East has had and still has with the West. A very dense chapter that will hold within the division of the Levant by the European powers up to the Palestinian and Kurdish question.
And the Arab Springs, the Egyptian repression?
Also, absolutely! Muhammad Abd alMunem, the poet who intervened at the end by reading one of his poems, will be a central character. He is a poet and was a publisher from Aleppo who is in contact with the major contemporary Syrian writers (unfortunately he no longer has the possibility of being one); the desire is to work even more with him and get in touch with these people… I would like to create a very shared work, which lives on this continuous dialogue with people in flesh and blood in the places where Alessandro passed. To give voice to otherness.
The ending of the first chapter of Le Etiopiche s is a bit of a prologue for the next chapters: my writing is a door to let the voices of others be heard.
The third chapter will cover Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. But it is still far away, much research is needed as happened for the first chapter of the trilogy.
I really hope to be able to have it ready by the end of 2023 but I’m not sure, we’ll see.
Ljubljana is the city where you now live and work: what are your favorite places as a reader to gain a space of intimacy with the word written by others?
I am lucky enough to work in the Španski Borci cultural center (which means ‘the Spanish warriors’) founded in the 1980s and dedicated to the Yugoslav volunteers of the Spanish war. In addition to the theater where the company resides, there is also a library. There is a truly familiar atmosphere among all those who work there. The library is very nice, I usually read and study a lot there or in my room which is in a basement in the Kodeljevo neighborhood, very close to the theater.
For better or for worse, I spent a whole year dedicated only to the project. It was extremely interesting to reach a result that I had never achieved before. On the other hand, it strikes me a little: I am alienated because the work also lives on my Israeli and Palestinian memories.
Despite one year spent physically in this city, I have never really lived it, having almost never abandoned the theater and I have not yet explored the cultural scene much.
I can only tell you that I was very interested in performing Le Etiopiche first here in Ljubljana (two performances) and then in Italy (four performances) because we had diametrically opposite reactions from both the audience and the critics..
You are full of talents; multilingualism and a knowledge that extends from acting to dance. Who were your masters (real or figurative) and what talent – that you don’t think you have – would you like?
No masters with a capital M but I have had many. My parents right from the start, already when I was 3 or 4 years old, I am grateful for our travels throughout Europe: they transmitted to me a passion for elsewhere that with maturity has also become a passion for others, the people who live in different landscapes.
Then Innocenzo Grimaldi, my teacher at the gymnasium. And certainly several people who would be too long to list, which I especially found in Israel and Palestine, such as Ruben Moskovitz a Jew who emigrated to Israel from Romania who has always fought for coexistence between the two peoples and is one of the founders of Neve Shalom / Wahat. al-Salām, the only village in Israel to host an equal number of Jewish and Arab families, then Hassan Kunduz (Jaffa) my Arabic teacher.
The talent I don’t have? I wish I was a better dancer.
Well, I attended Le Etiopiche with a theater director and a dancer who deals with social projects: they both said that your body expressed a lot because you were a dancer-actor and not a dancer: especially the first stated that for many directors it is a fundamental quality!
How nice to know! The fact is that I started dancing at 23 and that limits me. I wish I had played less football and had more hours of ballet!
A book and a song with you right now
They all come from Naples. I took Antonio Ghirelli’s ‘History of Naples’ and he is here with me now. And I was studying Carosones’ Maruzzella. Naples is always a world that you regret to leave after only a few days … I would like to take this show further south and stay more on these latitudes.
What have you learned from life so far?
A question like this makes me think of an answer that is always too exaggerated … I don’t know if I’ve learned it, I prefer to talk about intuition: I sense that in the other and in the ‘elsewhere’ there is a wonderful inner journey.