For a Different Sense of Time: Italian Dance Artists and Labor Rights during the Pandemic

Melissa Melpignano

Contradictions have the nasty habit of not being resolved but merely moved around.
— David Harvey, Seventeenth Contradictions and the End of Capitalism

Italy has been in lockdown for several days when I start a series of video-conversations with Italian independent dance artists and curators. Since Italy declared a state of emergency to contain the spreading of COVID-19 on January 31, 2020, with the progressive closure of all schools and public spaces like theaters (started on February 23 and extended nationally on March 8), many workers of the dance “sector” ceased to make their essential income. Many professional dancers and choreographers, in fact, sustain their livelihood by teaching in private studios or gyms, usually an hourly-paid job; the majority are self-employees with or without a VAT number not entitled to labor rights; few are employees under contract (usually a short-term one) in a theater or a professional company1 . First with the implementation of social distancing, then with the closure of spaces for performance and dance education as well as the suspension of rehearsals and artistic residencies, dancers and choreographers not only have lost their short-term income but have also postponed or cancelled productions, workshops, and residencies scheduled for Summer and Fall 2020. Within this scenario, the Italian dance community is now on the breadline.

Historically, dance artists in Italy have not been protected from a social, cultural, and economic standpoint, because of a heinous gap in legislation. The pandemic, expanding a labor crisis already in place, has made such legislative vacuum more visible and relevant than ever. The fundamental problem for dance workers in Italy at this point is that the legal system does not recognize them as fully-fledged workers. Because of this, differently from the French system for instance (to make a comparison with another European welfare state), in Italy, without a law, there are not shared criteria that allow to value and protect workers in the field of dance. When a worker who bases their livelihood on practicing and fostering dance is not recognized as such, they cannot access basic workers’ rights such as unemployment allowance, maternity leave, or retirement benefits, plus extra rights that should be granted to those who rely on the body and physical proximity to exercise their profession. Indeed, this situation clearly manifests a profound disregard not necessarily for dance as an art form but for its civil role, its political force, its craft, its processes, especially among policymakers. If this condition is hardly sustainable in times of “normalcy,” in a “state of emergency” and in a global economic crisis during a pandemic (when there are always more pressing issues to prioritize), what are the chances that underrepresented categories of workers and unrecognized lives are granted protection and a safety net able to assist them in the short and long term? 

It was only in April 2018 that a national collective agreement (CCNL) for the performing arts workers was updated after a decade. Secured by one of the major Italian workers’ unions, CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana Lavoro) through its federation of workers in the communication sectors (SLC), performance artists obtained a contract that better regulates their relationship with employers, increasing their minimum wage and guaranteeing paid rehearsals––at least in theory. In fact, many employers still do not or only partially adhere to the contract (or do not even offer an agreement). Furthermore, under-the-table work and exploitation are sadly still the norm in several labor sectors in Italy2 . Furthermore, this contract does not constitute a long-awaited law able to guarantee an economic and social safety net to workers in the performing arts.

In the second half of this April, a group of Italian dance artists has begun mobilizing the larger community in the field on social media to advance their rights as workers in collaboration with the CGIL.  The group has launched an important survey aimed at mapping the current working conditions among dance performers and makers in order to expand their network of solidarity3 . In this way, the Italian dance community is preparing to advance unprecedented demands of recognition for its workers and for dance in general as a relevant practice in the life of a collectivity that, way before the pandemic, manifested the need for different modes of organizing civil life and more sustainable life conditions.

Video by the FB page B9 (BeNine) @siamolarticolonove (“wearethearticlenine)

Translation of the Text in the video: “We are the Article 9 of the Italian Constitution. We are artists. We are the cultural identity of our country. We are social heritage. We are consciousness for the change. We are the Article 9 of the Italian Constitution.”

On March 15, the Facebook page B9 (BeNine) launched an initiative of crowdsourced activism celebrating the Artist’s Day to spread awareness about the civil role of the performance artist and the performing arts in Italy4 . The post asked performance artists to take a selfie while showing with the hands the number 9, which corresponds to the article of the Fundamental Principles of Italian Constitution stating that “The Republic promotes the development of culture, and of scientific and technical research. It safeguards the natural landscape, and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation.” Upon posting the selfies, and spreading the initiative by tagging fellow artists and collaborators with the hashtags #B9 #siamolarticolonove #giornatadellartista #culturavirus, my Facebook feed was a proud creative funny elegant serious proud choreographic accumulation of solidarity in which the variation of each selfie amplified the multiplicity of voices claiming for recognition––recognition of the dancers’ labor within the realm of civil life. Directly summoning the Constitution, “We are the Article 9” works as a collective gesture of transversal solidarity that indirectly references other fundamental rights systemically violated through ongoing cuts to the arts and research, and unsanctioned practices of environmental violence with dramatic consequences on the population (such as the case of the Ilva steel plant in Taranto).
From the Facebook page B9 (permission granted by the administrators).

According to a survey entitled “The Artist’s Life,” carried out in 2017 by the CGIL, in a poll of 3,856 performance artists (from dance, music, theatre, cinema, circus, street arts, etc.), 37.1% work often or always “under the table,” 60.6% work more hours than agreed with the employer, 69.8% do not get paid for rehearsals, 43.9% work on dates not included in the agreement, and 40.8% include activities not included in the agreement (CGIL 2017, 22).

On March 17, 2020, the Italian government issued the “Cura Italia” decree in order to tackle the economic emergency generated with the spreading of COVID-19. While dancers working as employees under a regular contract are eligible to an allowance corresponding to 80% of their salary for a maximum of 1,200 euros a month, independent dancers with VAT (partita iva) and so-called “contracts of collaboration” (different from the CCNL) will receive a 600 euro check, as indicated in the decree. Only because of the negotiating efforts of the CGIL representatives, artists and athletes with at least 30 registered working days in 2019 have obtained a special social safety net of 600 euros for the month of March. Of course, dancers whose work has not been regulated through a legal contract (at least for 30 days in 2019) are not eligible for any social safety net or any indemnity.

I cannot report here either the specificities of the “Cura Italia” decree nor all the possible modalities of employment of performance artists in the Italian system that go beyond the CCNL and thus are not safeguarding the artist workers in case of emergency. What matters is that with the general crisis and economic disaster generated by the pandemic in Italy, dancers might have finally and necessarily realized the importance of being protected by a union. At the same time, SLC CGIL has demonstrated a new investment in the historically underrepresented workers of the performing arts. Despite the stigmatization of unions with the takeover of neoliberal governments and the normalization of a neoliberal mindset, unions are showing their force of action and necessity now that workers across the country are on the breadline.

But also at the same time, the Italian bureaucratic and labor system remains heavy and slow (many of those eligible have not yet received their 600 euros), and it is surely inadequate particularly with regard to twenty-first century work practices and the necessities for the transnational mobility of the artists. In relation to this last point, non-governmental European networks––such as the European Dancehouse Network (EDN) and transnational, artist-led coalitions that are emerging during this pandemic––are assessing the impact of COVID-19 on artists, companies, festivals, theaters, dance spaces across Europe to strategize in concert5 .

Dance and choreography have the capacity to challenge ideas of time, play with it, and offer a different sense of time. Within the perimeter of the stage, four performers individually play with clubs, throwing them above their heads, progressively varying heights, the speed of the rotations, and the frequency of the toss. By observing the jugglers entering the zone, I appreciate their mastery, focus, perseverance as well as the sense of enjoyment they extrude. When the performers start to pass the clubs to one another, complicating their tricks, patterns in space, and temporal schemes, a new choreography of gazes layers the overall score, and in the audience a sense of anticipation and thrill adds on that of enjoyment. How intricate can the choreography become? What happens if someone drops a club? When the first performer drops it, that instinctive instant of fear disappears as soon as he retrieves the club and reorganizes his practice and his relationship with the other three. Within the fifty minutes of the performance, the occasional falling of the clubs become part of the choreographic practice (so much so that some audience members wonder if they were intentional). The sporadic dropping plays as a counterpoint that emphasizes the jugglers’ resistance in focus and technical proficiency, and allows an appreciation of their speed in recovery in order to rejoin the group and resume their choreographic process. UNTITLED_I will be there when you die, choreographed by Alessandro Sciarroni in 2013, offers a performative meditation not only on how we sense time and but also on the practice of commitment to a shared sense of time (to say “to spend time together,” Italian utilizes the expression “to pass time together,” which literally describes what the jugglers produce through the technical gesture of ‘passing’ the clubs). How many quotidien gestures make up our relationalities? How many exchanges of gestures transmit and reproduce a specific energy and a sense of time? In order to unfold their individual action while moving together, through passing, tossing, and tricks, the performers need focus, rhythm, control and ease in the body, and a commitment to the individual motion as well as trust in their peers. Such commitment is practiced through endurance. And endurance implies the possibility of distraction and error. This is a practice that, therefore, entails and requires risk-taking. In this way, individual vulnerability articulates as a premise for the organization of collective action.

While the curve of contagion from COVID-19 in Italy is slowing down and many speculate on “the next phases,” the Italian governing bodies are discussing a possible reopening of the theaters in December. But how will dance professionals sustain themselves until then? A recent poll taken in the U.S. asked regular audience members of the performing arts when they think it will be a good time to reopen the theaters. The 87% replied when there is a vaccine. I don’t think the Italian audience feels less cautious (and let’s hope a vaccine arrives soon and for all). Within this scenario, where those in charge of the management of our lives are obsessed with reopening, restarting, reprogramming, and oblivious of the conditions that caused the Western economic and national engines to jam with the (predicted) spreading of the novel coronavirus, the communities of dancers and choreographers in Italy are trying to figure out how to survive6 . What is at stake is their livelihood and the cultivation of their artistic practices. In the next paragraphs, I am going to briefly outline why these problems need to become issues of collective, national, and transnational concern7 .

The reality produced during the pandemic is unprecedented to us but the mechanisms that regulate governmental and social responses to it were already in place. It is important to grasp these continuing realities in order to intervene. We cannot advocate for the legal and civil recognition of dance workers in Italy without tackling the larger social inequalities and labor injustices across professional sectors.

Once public venues reopen and programming restarts (the “restarting” is the current obsession in the media), will dancers and choreographers be demanded to “support” the national economy of culture with highly expendable works that attract large audiences of performance consumers? What conditions and opportunities to foster and nurture the independent dance scene will exist? We need to take into account that, in order to help the box office, at least in the beginning, theaters and festivals might largely invest in well-established and internationally acclaimed choreographers and repertory companies. This is a crucial point of concern for dance artists who have built their work or plan to develop their vision outside of the market trends and the neoliberal modes of production8 . Furthermore, how to resist the subtle system of exploitation, commodification, and exoticization of dancing bodies that commonly governs the organization of the performing arts from above in Italy and elsewhere––especially for events that expect to attract large audiences of art consumers9 ? How to break, in Italy, with the pervasive demands to “offer” dance labor in exchange of visibility, assuming that exposure per se increases one’s own cultural capital and expands future opportunities of employment (in a broken labor system)? Countless indeed are the Italian public administrations that demand free dance labor for public celebrations, summer festivals, etc. And, of course, as under-the-table-work is still a systemic practice in Italy, which keeps going largely unsanctioned and unaddressed by governing bodies, it can surely be argued that dancers in Italy are one of the most exploited and invisibilized group of laborers.

Consider, on the one hand, that if employers do not respect the 2018 national contract (CCNL), they can be prosecuted only if the dancers themselves file a grievance and activate a legal process. The problem is that, because of the lack of an underlying legislation that safeguards dance workers in case of unemployment or retaliation, dancers do not feel encouraged to denounce exploitation and eventually jeopardize future opportunities to collaborate with that employer or others. Without a robust, well-thought-out and well-written law that protects workers in the performing arts, a law capable of addressing the specificities of each professional role in the field and able to accommodate the artists’ need for mobility and exchange, this labor conundrum will not be solved.

On the other hand, dance professionals need to unite, as they have been doing during the pandemic, and remain united when the lockdown and the quarantines are eventually released and public activities progressively resume, in order to form a movement able to call out the dormant legislator. While we cannot move in studios and performance spaces, we can channel our energies into this larger, rhizomatic choreography of labor solidarity. Whether these energies are little or explosive (as it works with grassroots efforts, any contribution makes a difference), this is the time to set aside old strategies of fragmentation that have contributed to the perpetuation of the current system. At the same time, the history of labor movements shows how “explosions of consciousness,” especially when triggered by an immediate need, have to be reorganized in the form of a sustainable practice in time. Research-focused choreography, dance practice, and performance, because of their capacity to corporealize ideas and draw attention on collaborative processes, have the tools to activate imagery into action as one cohesive project.

This is the time when transversal solidarity is needed, when the interconnectedness among precarious workers, temporary, intermittent, exploited, underpaid workers, and old and new unemployed people needs to be framed and finally considered beyond the populist, nationalist, and racist discourses that have been saturating the Italian modes of feeling. What I have referred to as the obsession for the aftermath and the restart is connected not only to a collective neoliberal posture (‘if the economy restarts, our lives will restart too’) but probably more to a largely unvoiced fear for our inability to envision an alternate mode of organizing our lives in the so-called post-pandemic times. We perceive this pandemic as a threshold but we cannot glimpse the other side. In his instant-book Pandemic, Slavoj Žižek, through the words of Martin Luther King Jr., reminds us of something to which this globalized emergency gave further evidence: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat” (2020, 15). How to move this boat again and differently? How to find a compass to navigate again when existing maps are either not readable or misleading? How, in this moment, can we negotiate and make sense of uncertainties, the necessary confinement, a desire for quietness, and an urgency to restart?

In his study of the impossible tasks that dance and performance undertook as a counterpoint to the proliferation of apocalyptic promises and the exhausting imperatives of hyperactivity and overexposure in the neoliberal era, dance scholar Stefano Tomassini looks at dances performed in the dark, where the performers, in different ways, cannot see (2018). This task challenges the strategies of moving/not moving, feeling, participating, and sharing for performers, dance makers, and the audience. The experiences this task produces show how our future unfolds as a process in which the bodies reconceptualize modes, practices, and tools through which we assess reality, reconceive its structures, and interact within it. In IKEA (2016, as a solo and as a double solo) by Cristina Kristal Rizzo, the two performers, Rizzo and Annamaria Ajmone, move wearing sleep eye masks. The title suggests an immersion in a globalized domestic-scape we can all recognize and, to some extent, relate to. Rizzo and Ajmone move quietly, without showing off confidence and without hesitating: just practicing everyday gestures but through a different system of reference because the paradigm of vision collapsed. While as an audience member I am visually active, I am also progressively considering how during this performance my own practice of watching, of commonly relying on sight becomes overcharged and overrated. As Tomassini observes, the two performers “have autonomous temporalities, sometimes they quietly talk to themselves (blind words because we can neither hear nor see what they say), they utilize objects (a tambourine, tennis balls that roll in the space), perform transitive actions (such as drinking), but without being in an actual (conventional) relation” (2018, 60). Indeed, they actualize a different way of inhabiting a space in which the dominant organizing paradigms feel inappropriate. In a solo performance of IKEA (Bolzano, 2017), audience members can enter the small performance space in which Ajmone is moving––a cube with transparent walls. Some are reluctant to give up their dispositifs of vision, and follow the performer through their phone screens. Ajmone does not know she is been recorded. Recording is not forbidden, probably because the experience of the performance would not be retained anyway by the camera. In the era of surveillance, Rizzo has organized a way to deactivate the power that visibility exercises on the self, and overcome the very principle that organizes control. Theorizing on this modality of movement, Tomassini notices that the performers’ “foreseeing without seeing” works as a political act that favors event (which doesn’t require to be seen to happen) over concept (which relies on perception), meaning that it favors the unfolding of the possibility of encounter (with space, objects, other bodies) over the recording of time, a time to which we are subjected (2018, 61-62). The work of Cristina Kristal Rizzo overall unfolds as a research that offers ways of experiencing the reciprocity of intimacy and collectivity. In this moment, when many expect, hope for, fear, or claim a restart, a revolution, a radical change without taking the time to orient ourselves, a work like IKEA suggests to consider a different temporal posture. Space and time are not dimensions to be consumed but listened to in the first place. Rizzo’s work reconnects the participants to a sense of corporeality as a full-immersion into the energetic densities of living, where reciprocity manifests through asynchronicities and delayed correspondences.

What parameters are governing bodies considering to establish, how are they deciding when and how to reopen theaters, rehearsal spaces, dance schools? With whom are they consulting? On which data are they relying? For a country like Italy, where the Ministry that encompasses “Cultural Heritage, Cultural Activities (performing arts included) and Tourism” has the responsibility of managing about 20% of the Italian GDP, economic indexes and financial projections do inform decision-making in the post-lockdown times, and might also determine when and how a legislation for the protection of performance artists will be written.

Within the ruling global economic paradigms, Italy is a country of dramatic economic and financial fragility. Its severe public debt causes ongoing tensions within the EU, and informs a series of disgraceful economic interventions that have heavily affected all public sectors and the lives of millions. With the pandemic and the impulse to restart and reopen, the danger ahead is predictable: in an advanced capitalist nation (Italy is part of the G8), in order to accumulate capital (especially in the midst of such an economic crisis), there might be a novel incitement of consumer activities––what David Harvey calls “compensatory consumerism” (2014, 264-281).

Workers as well as unemployed workers, students, users, etc.––all the members of what Byung-Chul Han indicates as “the burnout society” (2015)––find a way to compensate for a distressful or dissatisfying daily life through forms of consumption that distract from preoccupations, enable fantasies of happiness, or simply feel pleasurable for a limited and prescribed amount of time. Since February, Italians have been constantly reminded, in the press conferences of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, through the voice of Pope Bergoglio, on TV, of the “great sacrifice” they have been required to make during their long lockdown. I expect the head of the Vatican State to address as sacrifice an emergency measure aimed at minimizing deaths while hospitals are overcrowded and the medical personnel is overworked. But when the Prime Minister of the Italian Republic does that instead of insisting on collective responsibility as a framework, a specific mystique overcomes the civil discourse. In other words, ‘we are aware that by demanding you stay in a quarantine, we ask you a sacrifice at the expenses of your individual freedom, desires, mobility, job, etc., but you’ll be compensated10 ’. Consequently, during these mid-April days in Italy, an urgent governmental discussion concerns the reopening of the beaches. It is, indeed, a structural paradox of capitalism that a government in April prioritizes the organization of beaches for the summer while, for instance, many workers are still waiting for the 600-euro emergency bonus for the month of March, testing kits are insufficient, and medical workers are probably experiencing the largest collective trauma since WWII.

How will the Italian initiatives of “compensatory consumerism” in the state of emergency impact the performing arts? And how can independent dance artists afford to bypass and overcome this scheme while reclaiming recognition for their work and social role? How are these concerns related to the global dance activities emerging during the pandemic?

One of the crucial problems when thinking about the necessity of granting basic income and a safety net to performance artists while ensuring that a legislative umbrella does not regulate their creative process and mobility is to discern what idea(s) of dance institutional powers have and what functions they assign to dance and the performing arts. The Italian Ministry has clearly never been invested in this epistemic concern, and if this conversation does not start I cannot see how a legislation able to protect dance artists can even been hypothesized. During the global pandemic, we all have witnessed the “need” for the performing arts––from the proliferation of online dance tutorials to Zoom dance parties, to a domestic rendering of the old Live Aid called “Global Citizen.” Who are the artists that show up online though? And what does that “need” for dance respond to? For whom and for what are international dance companies that never shared a full-length work online now giving free access to full repertories? There are many issues and functions at stake in these operations, such as the economic survival of individual artists and cultural institutions, the social media platforms’ capitalization power on performing bodies while temporarily increasing the user’s own social and cultural capital, and, no less important, the emotional benefit that performing, experiencing, and consuming dance brings. New and old concerns need to be processed to enact structural changes and expand what dance can be beyond the prescribed logics of consumption11 .

Dance artists in Italy and in other contexts are interrogating the relevance and function of their practices in the current scenario with the social transformations it is generating. They are reassessing ideas and practices of touch, proximity, space, and time. They are envisioning modes of sharing movement and dance that call for a new relationship with the audience––an audience that has also gone through a new experience of mobility and relationship with movement and physicality. Likely, the sense of being an audience member and having an audience might change.

To conclude, in this instant-article, I wanted to advocate for the recognition of dance artists in Italy as workers, and of dance-based research practices as important sources of methods and ideas for rethinking the Italian collectivity. Such a civil relevance of dance and dancers further emerges when we consider that a shared primary concern among Italian independent dance artists during our online conversations was the need to make sense of the latent vulnerabilities in our society, the need to make sense of a collective experience, listening, observing, sensing as tasks for reweaving a society that has been weakened in many of its fibers. As the works of Alessandro Sciarroni and Cristina Kristal Rizzo suggest, to commit to dance and performance practices that equip us with new possible senses of time and relationality is an act of civil collective responsibility, a way to consider how we move together, a gift for rethinking a future released from those exclusionary and oppressive paradigms of the existent and that we12 as a community of citizens need to protect and cultivate.

Post Scriptum (May 14, 2020)

On May 4, a new governmental decree has initiated the so-called "Phase 2" of the lockdown with a progressive – and often confusing – loosening of the restrictive measures. Meanwhile, dancers in Italy have strengthened their relationship with CGIL. Today, PM Conte has announced an expansion of economic aids towards cultural enterprises and eligible performers. We will have to see how and when independent dance artists will access new funds. More importantly at this point, in this ongoing state of emergency, neither legislative nor executive powers are addressing the structural changes that performance artists working in Italy strongly need: the end of illegal hiring, exploitation, and under-the-table work. To restart under these old terms implies the illusion of an acceleration that merely reproduces the old paradigms; while the exploiter gains time, the exploited wastes it. Hopefully, these issues will be addressed by the newly-established "informal, non-party, and independent movement" Lavorator_della danza ( and, stemmed from the FB group CCNL lavorato_spettacolo_danza, a network that now connects and gives voice to more than 600 dance workers across Italy.

1. A survey of the Italian labor union CGIL on the working conditions of workers in the performing arts shows that among the dancers (improperly indicated as “ballerini”), only  7.1% is considered “well employed,” 30.2% is a “precarious worker”, 56.3% is “self-employed without rights,” and 6.3% is “well self-employed” (CGIL 2017). I thank Emanuela Bizi, National Secretary of the SLC CGIL, for sharing the results of this survey, and Fabio Scurpa, SLC CGIL representative. The SLC CGIL is the section of the primary Italian workers’ union CGIL that takes care of the performing arts workers. (Italian). back to text

2. According to the same survey of the CGIL (2017). among the 3,856 performance artists (from dance, music, theatre, circus, street arts, etc.) that responded, 37.1% works “often or always” under the table, 60.6% works more hours than agreed, 69.8% doesn’t get paid for rehearsals, 43.9% works on dates not included in the agreement, and the 40.8% exercises activities not included in the agreement (CGIL 2017, 22).

On March 17, the Italian government has officialized its “Cura Italia” decree, with special economic measures for the Covid-19 emergency. While dancers working as employees under a regular contract are eligible to an allowance corresponding to the 80% of their salary for a maximum of 1,200 euros a month, independent dancers with VAT (partita iva) and so-called “contracts of collaboration” (different from the CCNL) will receive a 600 euro check, as indicated in the decree. Because of the union representatives’ negotiations with the governmental counterparts, they obtained a special social safety net of 600 euros for the month of March for artists and athletes with at least 30 registered working days in 2019. Dancers whose work has not been regulated through a legal contract (at least for 30 days in 2019) are not elegible to any social safety net or any indemnity. I will not report here all the variations, intricate specificities, and details of the “Cura Italia” decree and of the system of employment of performance artists in the Italian system. While CGIL is participating in an important effort, and while dancers are finally and necessarily realizing the importance of being protected by a union, the Italian bureaucratic and labor system remains heavy and slow, surely inadequate to the 21st century work practices and to the necessities of transnational mobility of the artists. back to text

3. The members of the group of dance artists that produced the survey are Manolo Perazzi, Valeria Russo, Sara Sguotti, Silvia Albanese, Beatrice Capitani, Elisa Ferrari, Giselda Ranieri, Chiara Ameglio, Riccardo Olivier. Visit the Facebook Group “CCNL_lavorator_spettacolo_danza” at to follow the progress of their initiatives and access complete documents such as the CCNL and the survey. I thank Manolo Perazzi and Valeria Russo for welcoming me in their conversations and for expanding our network of activism and solidarity. I also thank Luisa Baldinetti, choreographer that manages the FB group “Vivere da Artisti,” created in 2016 to bring together self-employed workers in the performing arts and help them navigate the intricate Italian fiscal and bureaucratic system. I also thank dance maker Cristina Kristal Rizzo, who first put me in touch with Manolo Perazzi and Valeria Russo. back to text

4. For a theorization of different modalities of choreographing relationalites through dance and digital media, see Bench (2020). back to text

5. See the “Rescue the Arts” plea to European national governments to respond to the crises in the arts and culture, written by IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) and co-signed by Circostrada, European Theatre Convention, IN SITU, European Dancehouse Network (EDN) and European Festivals Association:

I thank Pia Krämer and Marie Fol of EDN, and Roberto Casarotto, a leading figure for the curation and dissemination of dance research in Italy and Europe.

See also the survey created by EDN to assess the impact of Covid-19 on individuals working in the dance sector: back to text

6. As mentioned, different labor roles within the dance field in Italy are bureaucratically organized according to a variety of contractual and administrative rules, which create not only confusion but also economic troubles if a dance worker is engaged in multiple projects with different roles. Italian dancer Lia Courrier has offered an overview of how the state of emergency declared with the spreading of Covid-19 has only exacerbated the already precarious conditions of the Italian dance community in a two-part op-ed available, in Italian, at and back to text

7. Writing myself on lockdown in the U.S. in the midst of this international health, economic, and human crisis, while in constant communication with family, friends, and dance peers in Italy, I acknowledge a certain difficulty in trying to make sense of the ongoing stream of news, opinions, executive orders, and losses. So, in order to orient myself in the foggy circumstances of this pandemic, I will rely on the theoretical work of David Harvey, social geographer and scholar of Marx and capitalism, to better frame the urgency of a legal recognition of dance labor in its complexities and specificities in Italy.

Note that, similarly to Kathi Weeks (2011), here I use work and labor interchangeably, although, similarly to Mark Franko (2002), I acknowledge with “labor” a sense of corporeal expenditure in time, the energetic work in place in a process. back to text

8. For a theorization of the possibilities of dance and performance to resist ideologies imbued of neoliberal values, with a particular attention to the Italian scene but not only, see Tomassini (2018). back to text

9. See, for instance, the exploitation of dancers and dance volunteers in the opening ceremonies of various Olympic Games, underpaid dancers in videoclips produced by major music labels or for performances organized by first-class world artists. In Italy, notorious is the case against Marina Abramovic and the organizers of her retrospective in Florence in 2018. Dancers were asked to participate in unpaid rehearsals and sign documents according to which, in case of injury, the organizers did not have to share any responsibility or expenses. Pushed by the international participants, accustomed to legal labor protection, the Italian dancers initiated a labor dispute with the support of the CGIL union. back to text

10. For a study of the rhetoric of sacrifice in Fascist Italy, see Ferrari 2014. back to text

11. I am thinking about Pierre Klossowski’s Living Currency ([1970] 2017), where he hypothesizes a scenario in which human beings utilize human bodies as a form of payment. Klossowski calls these bodies-as-currency “living objects of sensation” (sources of emotion, pleasure, enjoyment, etc.). This is a modern capitalist mechanism already in place, and nowadays it is probably more recognizable through the example of the bodies of dogs and cats as living objects of sensation. While I shall return upon this matter elsewhere, I share the concern that the collective experience of the pandemic, with its traumas and exhaustion, might retrigger a neoliberal demand for objects of sensation and find ways to incorporate dancing bodies in this maneuver. back to text

12. For an extensive study of the ways dance circulate as a commodity and as a gift, and why we sustain its circulation, see Foster 2019.

My account is inevitably partial and engages with Italian dance artists whose work I had the opportunity to experience. Therefore, I encourage to explore the multitudes of bodies, projects, modes of choreographing and engaging audiences the Italian dance scene offers. The Facebook group I signaled above can be a first venue of networking. back to text

Works Cited

Bench, Harmony. 2020. Perpetual Motions: Dance, Digital Cultures, and the Common. Minneapolits: The University of Minnesota Press.

CGIL. 2017. Vita da artisti. Ricerca nazionale sulle condizioni di vita e di lavoro dei professionisti dello spettacolo [Artist’s Life: National Research on the Life and Work Conditions of Professional Workers in the Performing Arts]. Roma: SLC CGIL and Fondazione Di Vittorio.

Ferrari, Chiara. 2014. The Rhetoric of Violence and Sacrifice in Fascist Italy: Mussolini, Gadda, Vittorini. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press. 

Foster, Susan. 2019. Valuing Dance: Commodities and Gifts in Motion. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Franko, Mark. 2002. The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Han, Byung-Chul. 2015. The Burnout Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Harvey, David. 2014. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. London: Profile Books.

Klossowski, Pierre. [1970] 2017. Living Currency, edited by Vernon W. Cisney, Nicolae Morar, and Daniel W. Smith. London and New York: Bloomsbury. 

Tomassini, Stefano. 2018. Tempo Fermo. Danza e performance alla prova dell’impossibile [Still Time: Dance and Performance and their Impossible Task]. Milano: Scalpendi Editore. Italian.

Weeks, Kathi. 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Duke and London: Duke University Press.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2020. Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World. New York and London: OR Books.