In the Main Room of the Town Hall of Pistoia, I witnessed one of the most intense interpretations of Dante Alighieri’s verses. The words were not declaimed, but rather experienced through the actress’ personality. They became passionate and resonant, inevitably alive.
Imagine a sensation that makes you feel exactly what the verses are saying, that makes you feel empathy towards what happens to the characters of the Comedy but at the same time that makes you clearly feel as if that experience is yours too, vibrating under your skin and shaking your very being.
“The theatre is the place for experience” says Lucilla Giagnoni matter-of-factly, who just by her voice and her gestures had closely touched the public.
Lucilla Giagnoni is an actress, even if it’s depreciative to define her like this. She works tirelessly on many fronts. Besides making radio broadcasts, she fought to improve the chances of the Theatre of Faraggiana, a cultural centre for drama, music, dancing, cinema, a place for integration.
Lucilla speaks modern and old languages, for her performances she undertook the study of Hebrew and Sanskrit.
Her Spiritual Trilogy (Virgin Mary, Big Bang and Apocalypse) reaches very high peaks and to this day she works on this trilogy.
The performance I saw is an extract from one of her works, Virgin Mary. It is an inward-looking and powerful performance where female characters of the Divine Comedy surface from the verses to mirror us.
This is one of the main aims of the Spiritual Trilogy: to use sacred and theatrical texts, short stories, anecdotes, scientific notions and autobiographies to present again to the public a path of self-consciousness. A path that the actress invites us to follow with a contagious enthusiasm.
To see, to admire, to love
Let us have a look at the moment right before the end of Lucilla’s performance when she recites from the last of Paradise’s cantica of the Divine Comedy. It refers repeatedly to “seeing”:
19 times Dante sees or makes us readers look at something. The word “eyes” recurs frequently and also Lucilla doesn’t fail to stress how the poet – one of the greatest poets, who knew how to use words to tell his story – doesn’t know which words to take from his enormous talent to make us take part in this divine encounter.
Which encounter are we talking about?
Or better, which sight?
Let’s recap: the last female character of the Divine Comedy is Virgin Mary. In the words of Lucilla she’s “the character who redeems every woman, redeems the whole of humanity. A character who succeeds, precisely because she’s a woman, in finding a possible solution, in conciliating all the opposites, in keeping together all the contraries”.
The actress guides us by the hand, she wants to show us that Mary, this silent character, actually speaks through her gaze, yes, because she is the intermediary who lets us see God, whose direct light would hurt us because of its intensity. In a game of reflections Dante sees a multitude of images in the presence of the Virgin, until he sees his own face, his divine image and merges with it:
whence wholly set upon It was my gaze
(Canto 33, verse 132)
The act of seeing almost takes the place of the word, that disappears in the gaze in preference to an all-female attitude: the greeting.
While writing has the task of discerning objects, people, events, so that what has been created by the author can be spread out in the space and time of narration, the non-focussed sight instead seems to make us embrace the pages of the book, the pen that wrote these verses, the writer, the house and the city where this book came to light.
Let’s consider also another text whose echo resonates in the Comedy: the Bible.
In the Genesis, right after the creation of the sky and the earth, we read:
“And God said: <<Let there be light!>>. And there was light.
And God, looking on the light, saw that it was good”.
And God, looking on what he had created, “saw that it was good” is a recurring sentence in some of the following passages of the Genesis.
After a phase of creation follows one of brief contemplation, a gaze that envelopes the universe, almost like a caress. It is really unique that the first act of creation takes place in darkness and that right after there is light so that we can see!
Just like a mother: after having expected her baby in the dark of her womb, she contemplates it as soon as it comes into the world.
One could also say Lucilla’s publication Virgin Mary comes into the world opting for the gaze of the poet in order to find its own face.
Because, let’s not forget, Dante’s and also Lucilla’s journeys have a specific aim: to know ourselves!
Right where the Divine Comedy ends, where Lucilla says goodbye to us with the Comedy’s final words about “Love which moves the sun and all the stars”, yes, right there it’s where our adventure, our journey, begins.
The aim to know ourselves, to see our true, our divine face, it is not the end of a journey, it’s actually the beginning. A beginning that renews continuously, just like our gaze on the world and its inhabitants has to renew too.
Countless hells have been created by eyes projecting themselves into the world and forcing themselves upon it. Nevertheless this darkness has to generate a new sight: our disappointment can now fall from our eyes.
An immense number of solutions will probably appear in front of us, not as a projection of “a better world” but as a realistic and real support of an existence that doesn’t need animosity anymore.
When our eyelids are closed towards the worn out game of defiant looks, that tend to self-assertion, we can become sober and awaken from an activity that absorbs the world instead of healing it.
The gaze that reconciles draws from sources of our innermost being and allows room for them to participate in our acting, our perceiving.