Dancing on the ceiling

No Gravity makes dance works like no other company on earth. PAY spoke to founder Emiliano Pellisari about his unique approach to movement, his artistic and romantic partnership, and his constant need for new challenges. 

It’s hard to think of a company with a more perfect name than No Gravity Dance Company. Using clever mirror techniques, their dancers seem to fly through space, unbound from the Newtonian rules that apply to the rest of us. It’s part magic trick, part performance, but entirely beautiful. There really is no dance company quite like No Gravity. 

But then again, there really is no one quite like company founder Emiliano Pellisari. Eccentric and energetic, he’s always telling wonderful stories and making strange jokes – a rare example of an artist who is as interesting off stage as his works are on it. 

“Life is boring otherwise if you don’t do new things,” he says at the start of the interview. “I always want to be moving, to be creating. I don’t want to ever be stuck in a rut.” 

It’s an understandable attitude given Pellisari’s background. He started out studying philosophy, but ended up working in the theatre, first as a stagehand and then later as a producer and dramaturg. It wasn’t the most exciting work, he says, but it paid the bills. 

Then disaster struck: in 2005 Pellisari was diagnosed with cancer. He beat the disease, but vowed never again to work on anything he didn’t truly believe in.  

“I decided to change my life – to make my own company and create my own art” he recalls. “So I started rehearsing and experimenting in a small garage. Eventually, I created my own technique, and I have been exploring and developing it ever since.” 

Pellisari’s technique traces its origins back to old theatre tricks developed in the 17th century. Using mirrors, he creates the illusion that his dancers are floating or flying. As a result, No Gravity performances are very different from every other contemporary dance company, with the performers able to move in any direction. 

But this unusual technique had a drawback, because when he was first starting out it was impossible to find the right creative partners. 

“I called a choreographer, and it was a disaster,” he laughs. “The problem is that with my technique the dancers are lying on the ground, reflected towards the audience using a big mirror, and choreographers are not used to this. They’re used to working on the floor, with the dancers’ steps as the starting point. But you can’t use the feet with this technique. So it took me a long time to find the right person to work with.” 

That person came along in 2008: Mariana Porceddu. 

“We worked so well together because she is passionate, and she has so many ideas for how to make the dancers move,” he enthuses. “As the years went by, we started to become closer as an artistic couple; each new work was more refined, more interesting, more sophisticated. Eventually we fell in love and started a family…so now of course we have a very complicated life!”

It might be complicated, but for Pellisari it’s the perfect situation.

“Working so closely with the person you love is a really wonderful experience,” he says. “Now I can paint the idea for the show in broad strokes and Mariana fills in the detail. When I create worlds they can sometimes feel quite cold, but Mariana breathes life and soul into them. We are very strong when we work together.”

You can certainly see the power of their partnership in their two current shows, Inferno 2021 and Fellini Dream. The first takes its inspiration from Dante, while the second of course comes from ideas of the great Italian film director.

For Inferno 2021, Pellisari decided to completely reinvent a show that he originally presented more than 10 years ago.

“Until now you could only watch our shows as a reflection in a mirror, which meant they didn’t have any depth,” he explains. “But now Mariana and I have developed a new technique so that you can see both the dancer moving on stage and their reflection. It’s very difficult to do, but the result is amazing.

“That’s why I wanted to revisit this show again, so I could present these ideas inspired by Dante in greater depth. I wanted to be more minimalist, more raw, with the bodies of the dancers exposed so that the audience can feel their energy.”

Thematically, the show takes the audience into the world of Dante’s Inferno, a hot and heavy trip through hell.

“Dante is the most important artist in Italy, and I think Inferno is one of the most important books ever written,” says Pellisari. “After my experience with cancer, and other tragedies in my life, I have always been interested in journeys to the world of death. This theme comes up again and again, and I am always inspired by art that deals with these ideas.”

Death was also a start point for Fellini Dream, the other major show that No Gravity has on offer right now.

“The director of an international festival in Palermo asked me to make a show about Fellini, and I like the idea,” he remembers. “Fellini was born in Rimini, which is also where I grew up, so that’s an interesting connection. As I did more research I found out about a script that he never produced, which was all about a journey into the afterlife. I took inspiration from this and made a new and original drama based on it. It’s actually not a dance piece, but a theatre work with dialogue and actors rather than dancers. So this is a new challenge for us, but as I already told you – I like challenges.”

Both shows will be on tour in 2022 and 2023. Inferno debuted at the Oxford Festival in 2021 and will head to the US for a tour in 2023. Fellini Dream, meanwhile, had its world premiere at the Palermo Festival in December, and the company is planning both Russian and European tours for 2023.

Unsurprisingly, Pellisari is already full of ideas for the company’s next show – although that too will be a new challenge.

“Our next show deals with immigration,” notes Pellisari. “It’s actually the first time that we will do a show based on Mariana’s idea rather than mine, which I’m very happy about. It will be a new experience for me to help realise her idea and it’s a chance to work together in a new way. I can’t wait to get started.”

To book Fellini Dream or Inferno 2021 contact WHO.