Interview: Luca Silvestrini on his new feast of a work..

Friday 11 March 2016

Luca Silvestrini in rehearsals. Photo: Angelo Bellotti

Four vocalists and four dancers all sing for their supper in Protein’s latest witty piece of dance and music theatre, on tour now and arriving for a lengthy run at The Place (20 April – 7 May). You can always expect a surprise or two from one of the most original choreographers working in the UK today, so we asked Director Luca Silvestrini what’s cooking…


May Contain Food is Protein’s newest touring work – a multi-sensory show that explores the centrality of food and eating in people’s lives, using dance, text and singing. It was made in collaboration with composer Orlando Gough, who created an a cappella score of ensemble singing. It involves a cast of four dancers and four singers and it’s performed in the round; the audience is invited into a space that resembles a restaurant, a dining place, with a performance space surrounded by themed round tables (beautifully and cleverly designed by Yann Seabra) where you sit, socialize, watch and experience food. The show unfolds around a testing menu that gets served and that allows the different characters, and their stories or attitudes towards food, to emerge. We’ve done a show in the round before, and with a subject as intimate and personal as food, I wanted to return to it because it’s so up close and personal.

What made you want to make a show about food?
I’ve been thinking about a food centered show for a while, although in my mind I had imagined a full dinner shared by both audience and performers sitting at a very long table. I remember proposing this to Orlando a few years ago and he became very fascinated about the idea – he’s himself a great chef and a food writer. We began to talk about it and eventually May Contain Food came out. For me creating work is usually a way to respond to and react to life events, my own ones as well as those that happen outside of me. May Contain Food is no exception; I am turning 50 this year and in the last couple of years I’ve had to, and wanted to, become a more conscious eater. We all know that food is not just a way to keep us going, but instead a more complex system of habits and patterns so intimately connected to who we are and feel. It has been fascinating to explore this subject and discover how intricate, and often disturbed, our relationship to eating can be, and how easily food becomes a substitute for something we miss, have lost or need.

How did you meet Orlando Gough?
A few years ago, Orlando and I were brought together by a producer to collaborate on a large-scale outdoor project for the Brighton Festival. We soon discovered affinities between my company Protein and his company The Shout and the work we were making; we liked each other and we happily embarked on that project. Unfortunately it never happened, due to some logistical issue. We were both very upset about it, but we kept in touch over the years and nurtured a genuine desire to ‘one day’ return to make a show together.

How did the two of you collaborate to make the show?
It has been a truly fascinating collaboration and it developed along the way, following the different stages of the making process. This was my first time working with singing at this level (the entire show is sung a cappella) and I often felt out of my comfort zone. We started from a pool of ideas that we both wanted to research with the performers; we did not set any parameters and we were not after a specific outcome, we just wanted to experiment, play, allowing the performers to bring their own views and personal stories about their relationship to food. Being the cast a mix of singers and dancers, we have allowed quite a lot time to find where and how the two art forms could meet and inspire each other. Material from the performers’ improvisations then became inspirations for the both the writing of songs and for the development of movement and vocal interactions. We were privileged to have had two rich periods of research and development, the first being pure playing and the second being more focused on making a pilot project, which was later shown to an invited audience in the beautiful Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House.

What can audiences expect from the show?
A fun and thought-provoking evening about food, hosted by a multi talented cast. The show will surely trigger an array of emotions and recollections in our guests, who will have the chance to connect with the different characters and to recognize some of those feelings, thoughts and events. Food and eating are so intrinsically connected to our upbringing, family life, good moments and bad ones; there are specific flavours, smells, ingredients and recipes that will always bring us back to a person, a place, a moment in life.

Are there any related works of art, writers, or cultural theories that have particularly inspired or influenced you when making the show?
Orlando and I shared a few books and films on food at the start of the process, which served to initiate a conversation and to inspire each other imagination. Further material was also brought in by the performers. I believe Nigel Slater’s Toast was the first book on the subject that I was introduced to.

Imagine you’ve been invited to someone’s house, and they have cooked a main dish that you can’t eat on principle – what do you do?
Difficult question this one. I have never experienced this sort of situation as I have always eaten almost anything and I have always been very curious and keen about new, exotic food. But I am slowly, but surely, moving towards vegetarianism and I know I have to start mentioning this when I get an invite.

Do you enjoy cooking? What’s your cooking style? Are you a recipe follower, an experimentalist, one-pot or elaborate, a savoury or a sweet person?
I love cooking. My Mum was a cook and I am Italian. I am definitely a savoury guy, but I do love ice cream. I generally do not follow recipes and I like to experiment, take things out of the fridge and the cupboard and get creative.

What is your ultimate comfort food?
Risotto. It’s the one recipe that really distracts me and makes me feel good. It’s soft, creamy, always new…you can make risotto with anything you have or prefer. I tend to get addicted to certain food, to the point that I had to really cut it down. I did this with chips, than it was crisps and than breadsticks…there’s always one! I love crunchy raw veg like fennel, carrot, celery. I can get sick from overeating these.
Going out for pizza is my ultimate treat; it’s almost a reward when I feel I have done well or when I feel I need to switch off completely.

Tell us about a strong food memory / association from your childhood…
I have strong sensory, and therefore emotional, memories of food related to my grandmother, who brought me up. We were a big family, with both grandparents and an unmarried aunt with us. I’ll never forget my Grandma making fresh tagliatelle early morning every Sunday. I loved watching her masterfully rolling the pin and transforming simple ingredients like eggs and flour into those beautiful, precise long strings of pasta. There’s nothing like the smell of it and I used to taste it too…yes raw egg pasta before breakfast…!

I also remember the polenta day, every Thursday, and the way she served it: boiling polenta poured on a large wooden board (actually the same she used to make fresh pasta) in the middle of the table. It was a lovely spectacle, like lava pouring out the crater of a volcano. There was a lot of steam coming up and everyone was eating directly from the large board with their own fork or spoon. And the story was that in the old days they used to put a sausage, or another succulent piece of meat, in the middle of this circular polenta shape and the thing was that the fastest eater to arrive first to the center won the meaty trophy. I use to hate the taste of polenta and it was only in my adulthood that I started to appreciate it; now it’s one of my favourite dishes.

Protein are currently touring the UK with May Contain Food
Catch them in London from 20 April – 7 May at The Place, 7pm & 9pm (Preview 20 April) (except Sun/Mon). Tickets: £18 (£12 concs)
www.theplace.org.uk

Photo of Luca Silvestrini in rehearsals by Angelo Bellotti.
Production photos below by Chris Nash

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