10 Miniballetti is a seductive and technically impressive one-woman show, a dance performance delivered and directed by Francesca Pennini, an Italian gymnast and contemporary dancer. As the title suggests, the performance has a firm structure and consists of miniature dance experiments. The narrative revolves around an old diary in which the performer, Pennini, was writing down choreographies (32 of them) that never got the chance to be staged when she was a child. Pennini’s talents become obvious early on in the performance, as she is both in the role of a narrator, leading the audience through the verbal storyline using her voice, and of a dancer and performer. The show begins with a count down, Pennini is already among the audience, counting, and directing the atmosphere (the light design done by Angelo Pedroni). She gives the audience instructions: Breathe in, breathe out, and softly announces her next move: sitting on the lap of a spectator I know, as she is sliding through the crowd.
The stage is minimalistic and remains almost empty throughout the performance; a pile of white feathers with an air fan behind it is an exception that opens the first scene. The leitmotif of air, lightness and flying is frequent (feather, air fan, body postures, sounds resembling airplane engine), as Pennini is exploring the thermodynamics and its relation to the body. Each scene has a different choreography, an experiment demonstrating a natural occurrence (such as the pressure), and Pennini’s body is the main tool. Her physical condition is impeccable, the exercises she conducts grow more demanding as the scenes switch; there is not a single part of her body she didn’t use (Never forget a part of your body, she recites the Rules of execution from her old diary). This corporeal awareness is what makes this performer both endearing and exciting to watch, the tension stems primarily from her ability to master the techniques she sets for herself on stage, there are no outer antagonists, only the law of physics and her corporeal and mental limits to test and overcome. The dance is a mixture of ballet steps, contemporary dance moves, and gymnastics, introduced in the visual aesthetics of her costume – she changes her clothes from a simple rose bodysuit with a number “10” attached to its front, to a dark swimsuit. Pennini moves between flawless kicks, side splits, crossing, she uses her elbows and spine, makes a bridge, and flexes; some choreography acts are demonstrated, while others are verbally described step-by-step to the audience, performance is both a live show and a live rehearsal in making. The sound of string guitar is skillfully used in high tension interchanges along with the music of Strauss, Bach, Frescobaldi, or Cher. Tempestuous musical notes of Bach can be loosely connected to Sturm und Drang, as well as the idea of freedom from imposed limits explored in airy motives of flying. Pannini carries the performance beautifully, she has limitless stocks of energy that dominate the performance and energetically spill into the audience, but it is her strong technical skills that round the experience. The pulse of the performance is based on a natural process of respiration, of a ritual of breathing in and out, and it develops through the rhythm within each scene, as well as within the whole. Breathing is both a physical and mental (and emotional) process, it affects our body as well as our mind, and the imagery and the elements on the stage could just as well belong to the realm of metaphysics. One such example is the use of a special effect, a butterfly-shaped-drone riding the airy current and blowing the feathers away. Even though it was an innovative and fresh approach to exploration of the main theme, and one visually appealing to observe, it also seemed over-the-top for a relatively minimalistic 50-minute performance relying on corporeality.
AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic