Giulio D’Anna: Parkin’son

Posted: March 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Giulio D’Anna: Parkin’son

Giulio D’Anna: Parkin’son, The Sick! Festival, The Old Market, Hove, March 15

Stefano and Giulio D'Anna in Parkin'son

Stefano and Giulio D’Anna in Parkin’son

It is hard to forget Stefano D’Anna. He is not a big man, but he is a powerful man, a humble, passionate man in his 60s with big working hands and a twinkle in his dark eyes who smiles at us through his white mustache and short white beard. In his native Italian he recalls the stages of his early life: born in 1949; sent to a boarding school run by priests in 1957; first kiss in 1963; first car in 1969; Jimmy Fontana’s recording of Il Mondo in 1965 (which Stefano sings for us in a rich, defiant tenor voice); first job in 1971; marriage in 1973. His life is punctuated with the changing brands of car he buys and he remembers each one with a certain romance and pride. When he marries Anna Maria, he trades in his Audi for an Alpha Romeo Giulia. Three years ago he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s and in the same year his son Guilio, who is a dancer and choreographer, suggests to his father that they work together on a dance project. At first Stefano laughs in disbelief, but now the two are touring the world with Parkin’son, a duet unlike any other between son and father.

Over the past dozen years, a growing amount of medical research has shown the beneficial link between dance and Parkinson’s. Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group pioneered Dance for PD in 2001 and a recent study co-sponsored by English National Ballet and Roehampton University suggests that dance temporarily relieves some symptoms of Parkinson’s and aids short-term mobility, as well as contributing to social inclusion and artistic expression.

There is no doubt that Stefano D’Anna’s symptoms benefit from performing, but the physical therapy is a side effect of Parkin’son; what Giulio sets out to discover in this duet is the man behind the father as well as the man behind the son. Giulio is gay (‘It is in 2000 that I kiss a boy for the first time’), which adds a layer of significance to the interaction between the two men. They fight and spar, physically punish each other in a series of sadistic pranks (shades of boarding school cruelty) until one cries ‘stop!’ But their closeness and the desire to unravel the taboos that separate them make them come back for more, delving ever deeper into each other’s memory and consciousness to arrive at an equality that leaves father and son as partners. This breaking down of barriers draws hoots of laughter from the audience mixed with disbelief. As the program notes succinctly explain, Parkin’son is ‘a memorial and a manifesto, an exorcism of that which haunts past, present and future.’

Stefano doesn’t have the advantage of a trained dancer’s body like his son; he moves as he is. Superficially we see Giulio partnering someone with no dance training, but it is Stefano who holds our attention because he is so physically and psychologically exposed. When he arrives at the front of the stage for the first time, he stands still at an angle to us, his right hand trembling involuntarily. He looks at us without an ounce of self-pity, anchoring himself and his audience in the present moment. When he drops his trousers to his ankles and shuffles about the stage with his son like a children’s game, they are both children. It is this freedom that allows each to find his own equilibrium and which strengthens the bond between them.

Towards the end, Stefano asks his son to tell him what he knows about Parkinson’s. Giulio dances his response while his father watches. His body, which is strong, angular and hyper flexible, transforms easily into contorted, dislocated forms that become more and more incapable of movement. Stefano eventually cries, ‘stop!’ It is a moment of truth for both. As if to underline what we have just seen, we hear a sober recap of the effects of Parkinson’s: tremors, a reduced ability to move, and postural instability. Life expectancy is 15 to 20 years from the diagnosis, and medication only delays the moment when the patient is forced to stay in bed. A recurring theme of Maarten Bokslag’s subtle soundscape (when Jimmy Fontana is not pounding out Il Mondo) is a heartbeat synchronized with a grandfather clock, a subtle timeline that reminds us just how fragile life is.

Giulio is all too aware. He cradles his father like a child and imagines their future together: he will marry, he will adopt a child, he will work, he will build a house with his father’s help, he will retire and he will die peacefully in his father’s arms. In his son’s mind, Stefano is indestructible.

Parkin’son is presented by South East Dance and The Basement as part of the first ever Sick! International Arts Festival, ‘a cross-art form festival that seeks out new ways of talking about and dealing with the experience of sickness of all kinds: physical, mental, ethical and spiritual. It is about how our bodies and minds can act against us and against society’s expectations of what is normal. It is about understanding and taking back control.’

The performance is preceded by an introduction to Parkinson’s by Dr. Adam Harper, consultant geriatrician at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Following the performance, Bobbie Farsides, professor of clinical and biomedical ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School chairs a discussion with Dr. Harper and Guilio D’Anna. Stefano is sitting in the front row listening to words he doesn’t understand, the unwitting focus of the entire evening. Bravissimo.