Invisible Cities


Choreography: Irene Fiordilino

Performers: Sofia Burnay and Irene Fiordilino

Original music: Peter Nagle

Production manager: Aidan Good

Light Design: Irene Fiordilino and Berta Pibernat Trias


Invisible Cities is an interdisciplinary adaptation of Calvino’s novel which blends choreography, live drawing, and original music. Our performance unfolds as a journey through 18 of the 55 imaginary cities included in the book.

The book Invisible Cities (1972) is a well structured archive of fifty-five fictional cities, each of them separately described within a narrative frame which sees Marco Polo (the notorious explorer) describing his journeys to the emperor Kublai Khan. All cities are vividly described with an evocative, multisensory language. The fictional architectures of these cities are often in conflict with physical laws such as gravity and are inhabited by creatures other than humans. Philosophical questions emerge from the configuration of each city as it affects the life of its inhabitants.

Characterising this work is the presence of an overhead projector, employed to realise and manifest the live-drawing action. It dominates the stage and acts as a portal between two realms: the physical and the imaginary.

The overhead projector further allows for an interactive choreographic score which sees the two performers alternating in the roles of mapper and mover. They externalise the twofoldness of Polo’s character: Polo the explorer is embodied by the mover, and Polo the story-teller by the mapper.

In the performance we changed the timeline of the narration (from past to present); the medium (from verbal to visual and kinaesthetic); and created a hiatus of focalisation, as the narration is propelled neither by the mover nor by the mapper, but through their interrelation.

The projected space is mirrored in the physical space: intangible boundaries (sometimes made visible through the lighting design) restrain the movements onstage as windows of similar shape accommodate the actions on the overhead projector. The aim was to investigate into the relation between two liminal, communicating stages: one contained and yet over-imposed onto the other, a setting for overlapping dimensions which create a twofold realm for action and interaction.

The skeleton of the choreographic score mainly revolves around an ordered succession of cities, and one simple partition of roles: one performer moves improvising onstage, and the other maps what she sees (e.g. trajectories in space, body-shapes, dynamic vectors ...). These two roles are not fixed, but relentlessly alternate throughout the work.

The performer moving onstage initiates the process by engaging with her embodied memory of one designated city at a time, built during the creative process by improvising in space while listening to audio recordings of Calvino’s text. As her improvisation develops, the mapper is meanwhile drawing what she sees on the surface of the overhead projector, triggering a bilateral, active–passive relation of reciprocal influence with the mover.

On the one hand, the mover is influenced by the live-drawn maps as they unfold, line after line, on the projected surface: she incorporates what she sees (signs, trajectories, shapes, etc.) in what she does, using the visual stimuli as a guideline for further movement. On the other hand, the mapper is not simply representing what she sees, but actively interacting with what occurs onstage.

Thanks to the transparency of the acetate sheets, we also introduced the idea of overlapping maps. They generate unpredictable landscapes through the superimposition of signs, the displacement of traces, and the intertwining of memories belonging to different temporal intervals.

Intertwining these cycles of moving and mapping, there is the live manipulation of other materials which allow for effects of transparency and translucency, such as: holographic sheets, transparent straws, cellophane, sweet wrappers, mini transparent lego bricks, and coloured oils on glass dishes. They strive to recall the richness of multi-textural images inherent in Calvino’s narrative.

The original music was composed by our collaborator Peter Nagle. Six musical themes mirror the choreographic structure and blend into one other. He employed extracts from his previous compositions to match his own interpretation of Calvino’s narrative. Recorded sounds from train stations smooth the separation between the musical motives and evoke the feeling of a journey. Peter also layered into the track manipulated fragments of a recording of my voice reading Calvino's selected cities in Italian. Polo’s narrated journey takes place along Sofia’s and mine: finding moments of togetherness before diverging again, each of us on their own route.

We hope that our embodied and performative approach to the text might have fostered an alternative way to digest Calvino’s philosophical concerns. Wandering - as in space, so in metaphysical matters - is a loss of direction, and the sudden awareness that the destination is in the journey.