Pulcinella – MM Contemporary Dance Company

  • Photography  Mara Palena
  • Styling  Patricia Villirillo
  • Words  Giorgia Baschirotto
On 15th May 1920 Pulcinella premiered at the Paris Opera. It was the latest ballet by Igor Stravinsky, the great Russian enchanter, whose nostalgic and absorbing compositions have been bewitching the public for over a century. Pulcinella marked Stravinsky’s foray into neoclassicism; orchestral colours and impressionistic-toned paintings were put aside, making room for clear-cut arias and scenes – simple and extremely powerful. Neoclassical style sought the revival of traditional forms, a continuation of the past that could bring new, unexpected results. Pulcinella was one great example of that, a product of Stravinsky’s love and respect for tradition that persuaded him to adapt the musical work originally written by Italian master Pergolesi. The Russian-born composer twisted it and mixed it up until it turned into a new, unique work; a patchwork of past and present.

Italian choreographer Michele Merola looks at the past to reinvent the present too. Along with MM Contemporary Dance Company’s dancers, that he has passionately directed since 1999, he put Stravinsky’s iconic ballet on stage with an intense choreography: fusing tradition and innovation, Merola’s show aims to represent the modernity of Pulcinella’s multifaceted identity through the moving force that is dance. The powerful performance results from an examination of real life, where dancers reveal their stories and those of the characters they play for one night.
Emotions and rigour interplay in a symphony of movements in which the bodies and the music become one.

You are an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and artistic director. How has dance shaped your life so far?
Without dance I wouldn’t be able to recognise myself… I don’t know if it is a positive thing or not, but my body, my way of thinking, my way of living and above all who I am as a person cannot be separated from dance. Dance teaches you rigour, it helps you understand the importance of working hard and doing a lot of research all the time. It teaches you to look beyond appearances and to always look for a deeper meaning. You connect deeply to your own body and your own self, and that translates into a unique vision of human life.

Your ballet Pulcinella recently debuted at Teatro Asioli di Correggio. With his multiple identities, Pulcinella – the controversial main character – reminds us that our own self-identity is always evolving. Do you consider creating choreography a process of self-discovery?
Yes, my choreographies are always a representation of different stages of life, and of profound inner reflections as well. It’s a part of me that takes shape through movement and starts throbbing, then it materialises and our brilliant dancers deliver it to the public. They breathe new life into it with their personal experience.
This show wouldn’t have existed without Cristina Spelti – with whom I’ve been collaborating for years – who took care of the lightning and setting, Stefano Corrias, who composed a unique score based on the original composition by Stravinsky, and Patricia Villirillo, who conceived the costumes for the performance. It’s a big team who had to investigate the concept of the mask and the theme of freedom, a team who reflected on how to create a show that could speak to the hearts of people though dance, images and fascinations.

In 1920 Stravinsky’s Pulcinella was considered quite radical – it seems to teach us that the music of the future might learn from the lessons of the past. When you work on a choreography how do you manage to find a balance between experimentation and tradition?
Tradition is very important to me – after all we are the result of what happened before us. I always put tradition first and then create my own vision, always complying with the original work. It is important to know and understand our past in order to create a new version of those works that people already know and appreciate. I think we should always be aware of what came before us and have respect for it.

The costume designs of the show are inspired by Ann Demeulemeester’s spring/summer 97. In your productions, how important are the costumes to convey the message you have in mind?
Costumes are a form of expression that is both aesthetic and artistic; it delivers the meaning and the content of the work, it helps the public and the dancer to embrace the essence of the show. The costumes, beyond their aesthetic, should speak to the viewer. The costumes designs by Patricia Villirillo in Pulcinella play a key role in the transposition of the character/mask in our contemporary society, as well as enhancing the movement of the dancers.

Who are some of the choreographers you look up to?
There are some choreographers who left a mark on me, especially while a was studying, and during my entire artistic path. Besides Amedeo Amodio – with whom I have signed my very first contract and who taught me a lot – I’ve always been interested in William Forsythe, Angelin Preljocai and Ohad Naharin. Their work has changed the way we think about contemporary dance forever. Each one of them has created a unique vision and a dance notion system that are readily recognisable and very personal.

In his poem ‘Among School Children’ W. B. Yeats writes, “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/ How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Do you feel you become one with the performance when you dance?
I thinks it is impossible not to, otherwise the body wouldn’t come to life and send vibrations and transmit emotions to the viewer. If you don’t lose yourself in the performance you cannot share your deep emotions and make the public feel what you feel. You have to immerse yourself in the show and dance and feel with all your senses in order to make them feel the essence of the work.


Here, PYLOT documents the production of Pulcinella with an exclusive video interview with Merola, made by Lino + Mara Palena.

See more at mara-palena.com, patriciavillirillo.tumblr.com, michelemerola.it