Former USA gymnast, Dave Durante, and performing artist, Sadie Wilhelmi, travel the world eating, living, and experiencing all it has to offer while living in Venice performing at the 2011 Biennale di Venezia. Follow them along as they take on new adventures!
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Gloria: The Opening
So what exactly are we doing out here in Venice? Not the easiest thing in the world to explain, but we’ll try. We are bringing to life the artistic concepts of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. The idea revolves around the melding of the modern dance world with artistic/rhythmic gymnastics. Add to that wood and steel sculptures in the exact design of business class airline seats, and you have the general idea. Our pieces are called “Body in Flight” and they play with the idea of gymnasts flying through air on sculptures of objects meant for the air themselves. We’re aware it can be a little difficult to picture, so hopefully the pics from the last post will help. We worked for months putting the routines together that incorporated exactly what the artists were looking for with each separate routine.
All the performers with Rebecca, our choreographer
Let me just say that this project started out as a part time gig and slowly began to consume both of our lives...in a good way. All of the other performers who helped with the creation (Olga Karmansky, Rachel Salzman, Matt Greenfield, Mike Moran) and of course our amazing choreographer, Rebecca Davis, played important roles in bringing the concept to reality. We used Chelsea Piers as a rehearsal space for a while, but then moved to Circus Warehouse in Long Island City for the majority of our training time. **We have to give CW some love because they were incredible for us during the creation process. We took over a good chuck of their space for a few months and they couldn’t have been nicer about having us there. Thank you CW!! After months and months of trying different concepts, the routines were set, approved by the artists, performers, choreographer, and museum we represented (IMA) and we headed to Venice to wow the art world.
As you might imagine, we were in fantasy land when we arrived in Venice. Let me set the scene for you...
Venice, Italy. One of the most enchanting cities in the world. End of spring brought impossibly beautiful weather. The ultra rich and their mega yachts in town just for the opening of the exhibits. Endless amounts of Bellinis calling our names from every direction. Italian men on their best behavior, only hitting on every third girl, which is a drastic change from their normal habits of going after every woman in their line of sight. It was paradise, and we were there to showcase what we had been working endlessly on for such a long time.
Our first full day in Venice was Sadie’s 25th birthday, which we looked at as a positive omen. Buuuuuuuut, our positivity soon changed once we headed to the US pavilion at the Biennale later that day. It was the first time we had seen the real sculptures and as you might expect, we both got a little over excited. We jumped all over the pristine works of art and began showing off our stuff to the artists, curator, photographers, Guggenheim museum workers and interns, IMA staff...you get the idea. There were a lot of important people there. Within the first 20 minutes I pulled my hamstring and Sadie ripped her brand new shorts almost in half while showing off her crazy flexibility. Great start!!!
The first official performance we did was for the jury. Who are these jurors you ask? They are a committee of five people from around the world (the countries represented on the jury this year were Egypt, China, France, Italy and the USA) who are given the task of going to each nations pavilion and selecting the recipient of the Gold Lion Award for best national pavilion.
Sadie and I were given the honor of performing for this group, and we were more than ready. They would watch the tank performance (USA Track and Field runner on a treadmill fixed to the tread of an upside down army tank) then Sadie, then myself. (NOTE: Along with the three performances pieces of the American pavilion, there are three other works as well. A stand alone sculpture when you first walk in, a video playing in another room, and a huge custom made organ hooked up to an ATM machine that plays various melodies as you withdraw money). All in all, if we hurried they would be able to get through our pavilion in an hour.
They gave us 20 minutes for everything. SON OF A BEE STING!! Plan B was quickly set into motion with a flurry of activity going on at the same time. Tanks running, gymnastics being performed in two separate rooms, video going, and organ playing strange noises throughout. Not quite the ideal way to see grasp the entire concept.
Our time slot was 10:00am. Everything was in position for a seamless execution of all that we had to offer. The jury shows up and for a reason out of our control, our fearless curator, Lisa Freiman, asks for a five minute push back of our start time. Let’s just say that this minor request was not appreciated very much by the jury. Ok, they were furious. Who did we think we were asking for more time??! So, they left. Moved on to the next pavilion without seeing ours at all. Our whole set up was crushed. For the next nine hours, Sadie and I stood, in uniform, by our sculptures, adrenaline working overtime, waiting for the jurors to return. What made it even worse was that every half hour someone would run in saying, “THEY ARE AT THE PAVILION NEXT DOOR!!! THEY WILL BE HERE IN 5 MINUTES!!!!” Lies...all lies.
At ten to 7:00pm, the jury strolled back to the US pavilion. At this point we could barely stand up. Waiting around all day, getting ready to perform, only to be told no time and time again, sapped us both of our energy. By the time they walked in the pavilion doors I was working off fumes. They nonchalantly watched about three minutes of both of our routines, took a quick peek at the remaining sculptures, and left. They stayed 10 minutes max. DAMN!!!
Needless to say, we were all pretty devastated. The Golden Lion was presented a few days later and was given to Germany.
Fortunately, we all settled in pretty well after that. We used the first week to get adjusted to the time change and consume disgusting amounts of gelato. The days had a pretty consistent flow to them during the opening few weeks. We’d take the vaporetto (water bus) from our island of Lido to the Giardini every morning and start preparing for the days performances. The opening week was so packed with people that we were performing every hour, on the hour from 11:00am to 5:00pm. Being that our pavilion was so unique and performance based, we regularly had a line hundreds of people long waiting to get in every hour. And the people would just hang out for hours until they got their chance to view our performances.
When things had settled and the media/critics left town, the mark we made was pretty evident. The jury might not have appreciated our pavilion, but the critics and media loved it. In a lot of ways we were the hit of the Biennale. This art crowd is pretty far removed from anything athletic, so watching us perform was like going to the Olympic Games for many of them. They just could not wrap their heads around the idea that the human body could do what we were doing.
Along with all our time spent at the pavilion performing, we also got a glimpse of Venice in a way I’m certain neither of us will ever experience again. Each night for that opening week we would finish our shows for the day, make ourselves presentable, then head to some ridiculously extravagant, over the top party. Appertivo at the Guggenheim? Just an ordinary Wednesday. Dinner at Cipriani with the who’s who of the art and music world? Why not. Drinks and dancing at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta ? I guess we can fit it into our schedule. We tried to blend, but I’m pretty sure it was clear to everyone that we were a bit out of our element. Nevertheless, it was an incredible way to view the most romantic city in the world. We’re both just praying for a reason to come back to the next Biennale in two years to experience everything again...