Riccardo Tarocco was a portrait life model in my drawing class. At lunch, over some take-out sushi, he was the first person to ever make me think about the complexity of gender identity. Here we talk about dance, bilingualism, and the culture of disembodiment.
I’m from Verona, Italy, which is North-East of the country. I moved to Milan when I was 14 and then I moved to London when I was 20.
Teased for being gay
Verona is very rich and very snobbish. People there are not happy with any gender debates, so I always had a bit of a problem.
Growing up, the cousins would point and laugh at me for being gay. At eleven or twelve, you pray for this to stop. Once I grew into myself, whenever they teased me for being gay, I teased them back for being straight.
It took time, but eventually everyone moved on.
Attitudes change very slowly. My mum has always been a bit of a hippie because she grew up in a convent. But my dad and his family are far more conservative.
Dance is for men
Dancing was totally a part of becoming cool with myself. Culturally, there is this idea that dance takes away from being a man.
But, when you’re surrounded with people who share your interests and attractions, and who are perfectly fine with them, whether these are acceptable never becomes a question.
My boyfriend is Portuguese and we speak English. Partially because we live in the UK, so it feels natural.
I have a very different persona in each language. When I speak Italian, I link with a memory of the time when I spoke Italian regularly, until I was nineteen; what life was like then; how I felt then.
Now, whenever I go back to Italy, I feel like a teenager. I use the vocabulary of a certain time in history and in my life. If I try to explain in Italian something I totally understand in English, like my undergraduate thesis, I struggle.
Having thought about things
It’s not the vocabulary; it’s having thought about things, having engaged with concepts and having broken them down. It’s about a different level of understanding, which, when it comes to my thesis, isn’t accessible to me in Italian.
But it’s not just my thesis. Having lived in London, whenever I go back to Italy, I notice that there is more diversity than there used to be, but there is very little mixing of cultures. There is segregation that, living in London, I’ve become attuned to.
In Italy, you never see Black or Asian people working in a bank. Only Italian people work in a bank. It’s as if a class system is emerging; people of particular backgrounds are pre-assigned certain roles and there is no deviating from it.
Italy still needs to get used to diversity and equality.
Diversity? Only in English
Ironically, this includes my Italian persona. On one hand, this segregation freaks me out. On the other hand, when I see people of another ethnicity in Italy, I do a double take.
There is a big Chinese community in Florence. This is weird, and I hate myself for this, but when I go to Florence and this Chinese girl – she’s Italian, but of Chinese heritage – talks to me about pasta in perfect Italian, I go, wait, what?
Diversity is something I only experienced in English. In Italian, I missed out on this mental process.
Freedom of movement
When I moved to London, a lot changed for me. For one, in my career, I moved from ballet to contemporary dance.
In contemporary dance, movement is not pre-defined. There is freedom to explore. In ballet, there is only one way of being beautiful; everything else is ugly. But, how can it be?
A body doesn’t become ugly just because I move my hand in a different way. If I see it through ballet’s definition of beauty, sure, it’s ugly. But who’s to say that that definition is the right one?
Overtime, I realised, I’d been watching people move with control for over twenty years; it no longer impressed me. It’s beautiful, but, on its own, it’s also incredibly boring.
I needed more. I started searching for another layer and this is what got me into performance art.
Multitudes of categories
Dance and performance see each other as separate. The problem is, they feed on the same thing and they don’t want to share. Things that are now considered cutting-edge in performance were considered interesting in dance in the 1960s.
There is nothing exciting in doing something in performance if it’s already been done in dance. You need to make new connections.
Britain likes to separate things. You’re expected to fit into one. If you’re lucky, you can maybe bounce between two, but there is no permission to come together and say, hey, this is where we are, this is what’s been done in dance and this is what’s been done in performance, now let’s work together and move it forward.
For example, I learnt a lot about performance through life modelling. It’s very odd because, coming from a dance perspective, the idea of not moving for so long, I’d never considered the possibility.
In the first twenty minutes, the model makes adjustments they can do nothing about. Students were told they could start sketching, but that things would change and they shouldn’t blame the model.
That intrigued me.
I’m very aware of my body and during those twenty minutes, I had no idea I was moving. Yet, at the end of the twenty minutes, I realised I was tilted. It was a revelation.
We now live at the moment when there is a sense of disembodiment that I’m not happy about.
We’re pushing ourselves away from our bodies, separating our minds from our bodies.
How can mind and body be separate if an emotion can push my bones into my muscles and stop me from moving?
Thinking and experiencing with the body, not just with the mind, is something we need to learn.
Riccardo Tarocco is a performance artist based in London. He works in a duo together with António Branco making art about the body – its physicality, aura, psyche. It is their first and ultimate instrument, raw material and site for performance. Their work is open. The work doesn’t have to be presented as a finished stagnant piece, but rather a work receptive to change throughout its longevity in the space while being responsive to its audience. With their work Riccardo T. and Antonio care about getting people to reconnect with the forgotten zones of their psyches and bodies, and understand the possibilities of their own freedoms. Find their work at .2Dot Performance.