After birth sometimes it happens to come again to life. Someone, perhaps, is forced to undertake the effort of correcting nature, the nature that we shamefully violate, that is known to be perfect but sometimes is irrefutably insensitive to the intimate needs of its creatures.
What about being born as Einar Magnus (what a thundering name!), but instead you are a girl stuck in a male’s body? You might rebel and be born again, and become Lili Elbe. You’d probably die a little later though because in 1930 the gender reassignment surgery was still experimental. Up until then, Dora Richter (born Rudolph) was the only one that underwent the operation. She started the process in 1922, with her testicles removal and paved the way for the first-ever transexual adventure.
Danish Lili Elbe’s story (1882-1931), known today for the movie The Danish Girl (2015) with Eddie Redmayne, is extremely contemporary and must be protected from any form of flaunting. We must shed a light on it and Claudia Dastoli knows it. That’s why she’s concerned.
Born in Calabria 24 years ago, Claudia is a student at Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, she graduated in scenography and is about to get her second degree in technique and communication for art. She’s the candidate for the first edition of the project that the Guido Levi Lighting Lab dedicates to the “light artisans” of tomorrow. On July 29th Claudia is going to light up the Lili Elbe Show by Riva&Repele choreographers and dancers, in the Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte in Montepulciano.
The Guido Levi Lighting Lab was founded by Guido Levi’s colleagues, friends and family to honor the famous and original lighting designer who disappeared in 2019, and to follow his path. On the lab’s interesting website you’ll read:
In honor to his professional and human ethics, to his artisanal vision of the theatrical work and to his spirit of always searching and inventing new solutions, the association’s main purpose is to promote the craft of lighting through an annual #GuidoLeviLab project. The project is dedicated to the new generations and to aspiring lighting designers and lighting technicians, who are given the opportunity to experiment themselves in the creation and realisation of a lighting project for a show set up in one of the theaters, festivals or cultural spaces that are partners of the initiative. On-the-job training is provided through the support, from the creation of the show to the setting up, of highly qualified professionals who have worked with Guido Levi.
I heard my professor Marco Palmieri mention Guido Levi in class; in our professional world he’s a leading figure - says Claudia Dastoli. How do I feel? Mostly anxiety. Because I’ve already taken part in many shows with illuminating engineering but just as an assistant. This time I have assistants! The Lili Elbe Show is very important and the story chosen by Riva&Repele is extremely beautiful and up to date with the political debate about the Ddl Zan against homo-transphobia. Many people believe light is just an outline in shows, actually, it is one of the most important features in the theatre. Through light, you can reach people's subconscious level and show them what you want, in order to trigger an emotion. This time I would love to make the audience identify with Lili Elbe to understand how it feels to live in her shoes.
With the guys, we created a very intimate environment in spite of all difficulties. That is because the Cantiere is outdoors, and it doesn’t offer the possibility to lock yourself inside that small box that is the theatre. But I will try. Luckily, I have Luca Bronzo by my side, an essential tutor (lighting designer, head of the lighting sector of the Teatro Due di Parma who volunteered to work for the project with the Guido Levi Lighting Lab)”.
Sasha Riva and Simone Repele met in 2010 at Hamburg Ballet School, and then again at Geneva Ballet. They left the company a year ago and opened Riva&Repele, based in Ginevra. They are very young but already famous and are now facing a tough challenge: up until now they only worked on short pieces that lasted no more than thirty minutes, but in the case of Lili Elbe the show lasts an hour and with five dancers on the scene. Moreover, because of the pandemic, the majority of the preparation of the show was done remotely and individually: the dancers started practicing together only on July 12.
Both Riva&Repele and Claudia Dastoli believe that Lili Elbe deserves a gentle touch. “These matters are too often blasted in people’s faces - they explain. We are telling Einar’s journey into becoming Lili, the story of his wife Gerda and we are trying to narrate the topic of transformation in a subtle way, so that the spectator can participate in the story and understand its nuances to grasp the characters’ sensibility, their relationship e the modernity of the thematic.
Next to Einar-Lili and Gerda the two painters that really existed - continue Riva&Repele - we created three other characters which emphasize Einars emotionality: there is the presenter who connects all of the main character’s scenes (this is why we chose the title Lili Elbe Show), he’s a sort of an invisible narrator only seen by Einar. There is the petite femme fatale who represents the feminine side in him since the beginning and that’s why we want to represent her with a petite dancer. And there is a figure that represents the stereotype of virility, and is functional to bring out Einar’s attraction to men”.
Mauro Montalbetti, the artistic director of Cantiere di Montepulciano is satisfied: “GuidoLeviLab has all the characteristics to be an ongoing collaboration because the Cantiere has the goal of helping young people approaching the world of music and arts as professionals. Since its foundation, one of the Cantiere’s special features was to employ young people and make them work with famous professionals as mentors, tutors and expert colleagues. The light designer Claudia Dastoli can make creative choices knowing she is surrounded by a competent team. I feel this is a huge learning experience for her, both professionally and artistically. Working with choreographers such as Riva&Repele and having the possibility to work with other students in charge of scenographies and costumes (who relate to professionals themselves) is, I believe, an amazing opportunity.
Unfortunately, I never met Guido Levi, however those who spoke to me about him are high-profile professionals in lighting design and said: “he was my mentor. You can tell he had a major personality. I think is important that this excitement is up in keeping his memory alive and in helping young people, just like he did during his career”.
The founders of GuidoLeviLab are staying behind and letting the spotlight shine on the up-and-coming. On the website however, there’s a lot to discover, starting from the logo created by a twenty-year-old painter called Zebr.ae on Instagram. “We started solo. We wanted a logo, a symbol that linked the figure of Guido Levi with light and with the theatre. We wanted something simple, artisanal as in hand-made. We also wanted a young woman to do it because we believed it was our mission and the lab had to start from us”.
A funny aspect of GuidoLeviLab, and Guido Levi, among other things, was a funny man, is that when he talked about young people you’d immediately picture kids at work, with ideas growing between the twisted canvas ropes and the stage backdrops, under the “americane” (is the name of the stage lighting truss). Not the “young people” portrayed sterilely and routinely by politics or by the media, that are usually accompanied by the “women”.
We definitely need to shed a new light.
(Translation from Italian by Alice Terzani).