Alice Gosti sits in the middle of the performance space at ACT Theater underneath a large white tablecloth. Her body is hunched over and still except for the occasional soft upper-body undulations of her breath. After roughly half an hour in this position, Gosti creeps across the floor still covered in white cloth. She is anonymous, the object of everyone’s attention yet faceless and soundless.
Gosti slithers to the theater wall, peeks her head outside the tablecloth and speaks into a microphone. She emerges, nude, dresses in underwear and a baggy orange jumpsuit and folds the tablecloth with the reverence reserved for cherished family heirlooms.
Gosti’s new work, Where is home : birds of passage, is a three-hour durational performance of dance, art installation, spoken text, written text, and audience discussion. Gosti specializes in the creation of durational performance and Where is home is no exception to her mastery; the work fills three straight hours with no intermission, each moment a valuable piece of a giant puzzle about immigrant identity and self-expression.
Alice Gosti, an Italian-American choreographer and performer, has lived and worked in the U.S. for over a decade, building performance pieces from a mix of mediums and personal experiences. Where is home : birds of passage is about Gosti’s life as an immigrant and her personal journey with cultural identity and belonging in spaces as a multi-national; the work reveals her vulnerabilities as a woman of two distinct cultures.
Gosti uses choreography, music, language, and posture to communicate her cultural duality. Pounding electronic beats from dance music (Gosti is also a DJ) fade into Italian folk music and Gosti breaks into fancy folk dance footwork, a small smile playing on the corner of her mouth. As the folk music fades Gosti keeps the rapid rhythm of the folk dance but stops the fancy footwork and runs repeatedly in panicked steps across the performance space, throwing herself against the wall and breathing heavily.
Each ingredient in Where is home also stands on its own artistic merit. Original music by Monkia Khot (Nordra, Zen Mother) alternates between comforting rhythms and bass-heavy, melodic rock. Sound design from Erin Bednarz weaves Khot’s music and Gosti’s choreography together with impeccable timing, ambient sounds, and silences. Gosti’s intricate costume designs, lighting by Amiya Brown, the art installation from Alyza DelPan-Monley: each medium weaves its own story through the performance. Even when Gosti is sitting under a tablecloth and not moving for thirty minutes, the theater is not stagnant. Someone or something is always performing.
While many durational performance pieces are built around endurance, Gosti’s brand of durational art is more akin to visiting a museum. Audiences are invited to come and go as they please, to experience as much or as little of the piece as desired. It is not necessary to see every part to fully experience Gosti’s art. Durational performance doesn’t always have a beginning or end and each participant will have their own unique experience depending on when they enter or leave the theater and what they look at a particular moment. Unlike a museum however, the traditional theater space of Where is home retains the feeling of a fourth wall between audience and performer. Even with the audience seated in the round, the space feels too formal for easy in and out access. Most audience members who leave during the performance do not come back. This could be intentional; the feeling of being trapped in unfamiliar territory is a repeated theme.
While Gosti dances, speaks, and even sings through the three hour performance, text in English and Italian runs along digital readerboards hanging from each theater wall. Stories about her family history, memories of flying between the U.S. and Italy, and painful personal anecdotes scroll across the boards. In one section, the low hum of an airplane engine echoes through the theater while Gosti’s memories of trans-Atlantic flights with her mother roll along the readerboards. Gosti is dancing onstage but I’m mesmerized by the scrolling story and don’t look down. At another moment, I completely miss the narrative onscreen but am captivated by Gosti’s movements. Her arms stretched outward with hands bent like broken birds’ wings at the wrists, Gosti contracts her midsection as she slowly turns her body to face different groups of the audience. Each section of Gosti’s body has its own story to tell, the top half contracted inward, her face lifted upward, her feet moving across the floor in hesitant, heel-toe steps. Gosti’s body, like her heart and intellect, are responding to the disparate pulls of her two cultures and environments.
Where is home : birds of passage continues at ACT Theatre’s Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space through November 17, 2019. For more information and tickets, visit ACT Theatre’s website.