Take me higher

Choreographer Michele Rizzo presents ‘Higher’ at annual Diver Festival in Tel Aviv.

Coco Zhao (photo credit: CHAD INGRAHAM)
Coco Zhao
(photo credit: CHAD INGRAHAM)
There is a common misconception that professional dancers love dancing in clubs. In fact, the opposite is often true. Many professional dancers avoid dancing socially, as it makes them feel awkward or puts them on the spot. Perhaps the hours, days, weeks and years of training the body to move in a certain way actually hinder their ability to freely flow on a dance floor. In reality, the relationship between the studio and the club is a tenuous one.
At some point in his career as a dancer, choreographer and visual artist, Italian-born Michele Rizzo, found himself plunging deep into nightlife. Having recently graduated from the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, he was questioning his next steps when a few friends invited him to go clubbing.
“It was an important moment for me,” he said over Skype. This month, Rizzo will visit Tel Aviv for the first time to present Higher, a trio for three men. The work will be shown as part of the annual Diver Festival at the Inbal Theater.
Rizzo, 35, sits at a desk with a window to his left. It is still light out in Amsterdam despite the late hour. Rizzo lights a cigarette and continues. “I was a little lost. I didn’t have so much work and I was trying to figure out my way in Amsterdam. It was this moment of reconfiguring after school. I applied for a master’s in visual arts.” Rizzo went on to complete that degree at the Sandburg Institute Amsterdam in 2015. “It was a moment in which I was questioning dance and choreography. It happened then that I met some friends who were partying a lot. I’ve been partying all my life, but not as hardcore as in this period. It’s with them that I got to know the techno scene in Amsterdam.”
Though the throngs of people filling those dark spaces late into the night were there to slough off the stresses of their daily lives, Rizzo found himself picking up on movement patterns, developing his own dance language and analyzing the choreography of the clubs. This pastime quickly became a practice, and this practice began to inspire a creative process.
“IT JUST came very naturally to me to notice how that experience influenced my experience as a dancer. I couldn’t avoid starting to notice this other way of dealing with dance. Being a choreographer and a dance-maker, it’s in my veins to be analytical about dance. So beside the fact that I actually got addicted to it, it was just like such an amazing experience to learn how to dance in that context and to learn about my body, movement and group dynamics. Historically, it is a big taboo in dance education, the experience of dancing for yourself,” he explained. 
Rizzo was so taken with the information he was absorbing in the wee hours that he decided to try to transfer it into the studio during the day. “It collapsed,” he laughed. “Everything didn’t work. It was horrible, disgusting, it was a joke and we got into this depression.” These studio hours were part of a residency, and Rizzo knew that at he would eventually have to show the fruits of his time spent there.
“I got super stressed because it didn’t work. I felt that it would be offending clubbing, because it’s so special. It’s a subculture that is protected, dark, at night, in basements. It’s hedonistic. There are no phones, no way to document it. I wanted to expose this and I felt it would be desecrated. We suffered a little bit in those days.”
Eventually, after nearly giving up, Rizzo found a way to combine his dance training with his experiences. “We stopped improvising on techno and started to make phrases. I was taking my school ways of dealing with dance and putting them in dialogue with the club and letting them infect each other. Higher is a strict, always-repeating loop. What we try to do is a very conventional way of creating a dance, making a sequence, creating steps.”
While the title may appear to be a reference to the inherent presence of drugs in the club scene, Rizzo explains that it refers to his perspective. “I always find the worst titles for my pieces,” he jokes. “The work itself is related to the experience of the self. It’s about me looking at myself from inside. In the process, I started to really analyze this feeling. There is something very intimate but also very social and communal. It’s intertwined. I am alone with everyone else around. I thought my position was to put myself higher than this and to look at it.”
Higher will be performed on September 21 at 9 p.m. at the Diver Festival in Tel Aviv. The show will be followed by a discussion with Rizzo and art critic Ruti Direktor. For more information, visit diverfestival.com.