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Artists in Residence: Nicoletta Key Bonanni (Q&A)

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Nicoletta is a dance and movement artist born and raised in Rome, Italy. Since 2010, she has been based in London, developing herself as an artist and creative. She is now living between London, Rome and Dakar, pursuing her career as an international dance artist. Nicoletta was the Artist in Residence at IRIE! dance theatre between 2017 and 2019, where she got the support to found her dance theatre company MOVEMENT DECO’.

Read our Interview with Nicoletta:

· Why did you decide to include African & Caribbean dance forms in your dance practice?

I remember the first time I have stepped foot at the Moonshot Centre, it was because of my audition for enrolling at IRIE!’s Foundation Degree course. Rosie Lehan told me straight away that they wanted me to be part of the course, and after the interview, she invited me to join the rehearsal of their youth company ‘Connectingvibes*’. I sat down and started watching this Reggae contemporary piece having no clue of what forms existed within those bodies. They spoke to me deeply and I knew straight away after watching them, that I wanted to do that too, I wanted to move that way and be in that space surrounded by these artists. When I left the building, I decided not to go to the next day audition for another course, because I had already found my place. My first day in the Caribbean class with Beverley Glean and Master drummer Ras Happa was a revelation to me. I have never felt so alive, and most importantly, I have never felt so appreciative of my body and my femininity. For the first time in my life, I was celebrating myself and my body without feeling ashamed of my shape, without feeling like I had to change to fit in and be appreciated.

These memories are the essence of my choice, a choice that keeps evolving and becoming more nuanced as the years go by. African and Caribbean dance forms are beautiful to me, they speak to me in a visceral way. They are intricate expressions of people’s cultures and social interactions, they allow me to truly engage with myself and my surroundings in a more sacred way, they gifted me with the joy of encountering people with different cultural backgrounds and taught me how to find myself in their reflection. I include them because through them I have found myself, I include them because my essence cannot separate from them any longer, I include them because I am forever grateful and in debt, I include them because I want people to know and recognise how revolutionary are the people carrying this knowledge and how revolutionary it is to experience this art.

· What’s your contribution to the dance sector?

I hope to have been contributing even if a tiny amount to the art and education sector in general, through dance and movement, through my teaching but also through my poetry and my political stance as an artist and human in this world. There is a part of me that feels quite distant to what the dance sector is right now, as I consider aesthetics only a small part of what movement is and how it can contribute to art and more broadly to people’s health. I feel closer and closer to spaces that facilitate the use of movement as catalyst for expression of human emotions, even though I still find deep joy ‘in the act of dance’.

If we look at productivity in a strictly capitalistic way, I can say that I haven’t been productive this year, as I haven’t produced work and made money out of it. However, this pandemic has forced me to sit down and ruminate my thoughts. I have asked myself how do I want to move from here, how do I want to carry myself as an artist and creative and what kind of impact I want to make in this world. Right now, I am focusing on integrating my many passions and make them all part of my skill’s set as well as leaving behind what no longer serves me. My contribution in both education and composition feels now more than ever close to human experiences, it craves for empathy, softness and openness; it craves for dialogue. It cultivates expression and it is definitely political.

· You have an international career around London, Rome and Dakar. What’s the most positive impact of working in different countries?

The biggest impact of working internationally has been having the possibility to share my practice with a variety of people. Sharing my work this way allows me to receive a vast amount of responses from people, and those responses are crucial for me, as they are as diverse as the spaces/places I engage with and the people I encounter. I am not perfect and I am not looking for perfection, however being able to share, collaborate and dialogue with people of different cultural backgrounds allows me to continuously evolve and re-asses my artistic career and myself as a person. I am also engaging with new artists and new places across the world and I can’t wait to collaborate with them and going back to travelling soon.

· What are your main inspirations in the arts sector?

This one is a big question. In different times I crave for different types of inspirations. There are artists that have personally impacted my career and that continue to inspire me for their ways of carrying themselves and for their constant evolution; I continuously look up to them. Within the dance sector, there are choreographers that I always go back to when I am in need of inspirations; Dimitris Papaioannou, Ohad Naharin and Germaine Acogny are inspiring artists and choreographers in their own rights. There are other dance artists specifically in London, like Kenrick Sandy, who I really look up to as leaders. Kenrick really inspires me with his approach to movement composition and creativity using Hip Hop and Urban styles, he keeps evolving while remaining truthful to his craft.

I love street art, therefore I love when I see dancers maintaining a connection with the social and cultural aspects of the dance, however seeing evolution as a natural and necessary part of the process. There are artists who are pushing Afro dance styles who I am obsessed with: Enfantdesbois, Cori D, Homebros, Official Ordinateur to name few, but also young artists in the African continent who are fusing dance forms, from traditional to contemporary in a powerful yet organic way; Ebinum brothers, Florent Nikiéma, Serge Arthur Dodo and many, many more.

I have been also dedicating time watching movies and tv series and finding inspiration for their content, use of the camera, lighting and music, for a more sophisticated use of bodies on stage and a more authentic portrayal of diverse bodies: Euphoria, Malcom & Marie, She’s gotta have it, Judas and the Black Messiah are few examples. I also read books, articles and have dialogues with people in the art sector across different countries as I believe in the power of dialogue as a form of education as well as inspiration!

· What is the best memory in your career?

Stepping foot in Senegal was a life changing moment for me, however if I have to pick a specific event, I would say that watching my piece for the first time on a real stage for five consecutive nights -as part of EMERGE FESTIVAL 2018- without performing in it, was definitely an important step.

· You were an Artist in Residence at IRIE! Dance theatre between 2017 and 2019. How was your experience?

IRIE! is home to me, therefore the only way in which I can explain my experience as an Artist in Residence is of joy and gratitude to be chosen alongside Akeim and be the first two artists in residence stepping foot in IRIE! after a long time. If it wasn’t for their support, I wouldn’t have been able to create my company ‘MOVEMENT DECO’’, rehearse and create my first long length piece ‘Prayers of freedom - Can you see me?’ and present it at EMERGE FESTIVAL.

I think it was a brave choice for them as well as an important and necessary one to make; allowing artists interested in using and developing African dances and dances of its Diaspora to participate actively in IRIE!’s program, it is relevant for their students, their community and their artistic development as well as being what the UK dance scene needs more than ever right now. I hope IRIE! dance theatre will maintain and develop further these fruitful collaborations and continue to strive for the recognition of those dance and music forms across the London art sector.

· Do you have an advice for emerging artists?

Keep truthful to yourselves and try not to chase trends. Trends will eventually pass, but an art form that is introspective, attentive and empathic to the outside world will always be current and necessary.

· Do you have news and upcoming events to share with us?

I am keeping low key at the moment as I am working on few collaborations with artists and organisations across different countries as well as experimenting with other art forms outside dance.

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