Karmen Brownson
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project
Interview with Morella Petrozzi

Morella Petrozzi is a contemporary Peruvian choreographer who explores the expressive possibilities of movement as pleasure and polemic. Founder of Danza Viva, with her mother and co-founder Ducelia Woll, Petrozzi generates work that involves the personal voices of each of her dancers in their own process of making movement. Through the collaborative process, in both choreography and musical accompaniment, Morella Petrozzi pushes the limits of genres in dance by making work that is at times gothic, structurally classical, essentially modern and boisterously punk. Interested in the power of detail and visual impact, Petrozzi designs her own costumes and considers the elements of set, lighting, and make-up as an essential part of the process.

Danza Viva, founded in 1987, has been invited to participate in several national and international festivals, and is widely recognized as one of the top Peruvian contemporary dance groups-with over 25 dances in its repertoire performed by its currently ten performers. Coming from a background in classical ballet training and American modern dance, Petrozzi combines a familiar movement language with brutal corporeal honesty-expressing the horrors, joys and ironies of living in a constantly erupting and changing Peruvian state. Her work reaches out beyond the local, making connections across time and geography to locate the experience of her country's history of violence and corruption, as well as its complicated beauty, in a global perspective.

Morella Petrozzi began her dance training under the tutelage of her mother Ducelia Woll, and then continued throughout college in the United States at the University of Western Michigan and Sarah Lawrence College in New York, under Eric Hawkins and Viola Farber. She has a bachelor's degree in Women's Studies and a master's in Modern Dance and Choreography. Her choreography has been performed in American College Dance Festivals in the USA, and has received choreography awards and scholarships including the National Collegiate Fine Arts Scholarship Award. In 2000, Morella was invited by the National Dance Board of Peru to teach the seminar " El Arte de Contruir Danza" (The Art of Building Dance). Her most recent works include Fresh 100% Danza and Colapso Gotico.

KB: I am speaking with Morella Petrozzi. Morella, could you tell me a little about where you're from, and your background?

MP: I was born in Lima, Peru, on 8th of August 1964, and I have an Italian background from my parents, that's why my last name is Petrozzi. At a very young age I went to study dance in the United States of America.

KB: Can you tell me, what is your training, what are your influences?

MP: Okay, I studied classical ballet as most children do (girls) and when I was 18 I decided I wanted to express the contemporary aspects, social, economic and political aspects of my country. So, I decided I wanted to go and study in the United States. Also, I started writing some poetry about the problems of my country.

KB: What is the relationship between your choreographic work and your writing? Specifically, in relation to the political situation you're commenting on or responding to?

MP: The relation is hard sometimes, and easy other times. I was trained in my Master's Degree with Viola Farber, who told me, because of her background in modern dance, that you couldn't mix politics with dance. I was distraught with that idea; I had graduated with a Women's Studies diploma from Western Michigan University. So I said, "oh my dream is shattered!" because I wanted really to mix politics with dance. Yet, now I am very happy because you can do it and it's perfectly correct, no? So I decided to make dances of "first function" and of "second function". You know, there are dances that tell a story, like the story of the political collapse of my country, and dances that only celebrate movement for movement's sake.

KB: Recently you've performed a piece called "Collapso Gothico", is that correct? Could you tell us about the process of making that piece and how it is responding to the current situation in Peru?

MP: "Collapso Gothico" is the most actual and immediate choreography that is still…I would say the choreography is still alive. You know it is a year since the government, the last government, has collapsed and we still have news about the corruption that we live in. (You just saw a commercial in the paper downstairs.) The tortures in my movements involve a lot of trembling, lack of members-- lets say movement without an arm, without both arms, and shakes, a lot of darkness and blood, no? That's why I used the theme of Ursabeth Battery-an evil woman that existed in Hungary in the 18th century, and mixed it with the actuality of Peru in the 21st century. So, the mix, I think, worked very well because Hungary and the antiquity of all the vampires and gargoyles put an ironic touch to my piece so we can breathe a little bit. The newspapers make you cry and my dancers make you laugh.

KB: I like that, and the idea of working with what's going on in the contemporary sphere in the body. Could you tell us a little about how you hope for your audience to receive your images? And maybe what is your ideal audience?

MP: My ideal audience is the audience that is ready to experience something new. I conceive an artist to be a person who has to break boundaries. I think an artist has to make people think. So, I would like the audience that comes to see my work, as thinking people, to be concerned with the problems and joys of my country. That's the type of public I would like to capture and I think I have a public like this who comes to see me.

KB: Have you had a response from your public that has affected your work-do you find yourself responding to their response?

MP: Yes.

KB: Could you tell us about that?

MP: Yes, since I came back to my country, which was in 1994, I have been a polemic figure-as a person, not only as a dancer. Me, myself, you can see I have some tattoos-in New York or in other countries this is normal, everybody has tattoos, but ten years ago in my country that was very freaky and weird-and other things that made me a polemic figure, my writing is very polemic. I did a novel called 56 Days in the Life of a Freak. Mostly a freak to me is a person that is not understood in a society like Lima, you know? So, my living is polemic-I experience my life, and I cannot separate my dance from my writing and from what I am living. I think most artists say that, your art is your life expression. So, I have a group of people who don't like me because I revolt, I am subversive, and I have a lot of people who really like me. So, I guess I am like a type of olive, no? You either love it or you hate it.

KB: That's a beautiful image. What kind of affect do you think you have had on the dance community, specifically in a political way? And has it influenced the way people are making dances now in younger generations or other companies?

MP: Yes. Yes. I really think that since I came to Lima, Peru, the younger dancers are starting to really make political statements through dance, movement-in the streets, in the historic Lima, a lot. Also, it was something that exploded from the hearts having so much corruption, so they hang onto whatever they could, now they are washing flags in the Plaza De Armas, now they are going to wash Pampers because the president has a child that hasn't been recognized. So they're making another activity. It's a great moment that you guys are in Lima, because politically, and also in the arts, including dance, things have changed.

KB: Do you find that across the disciplines this idea of being more radical, more polemical, has had an affect on maybe the way in which your audience has started to view their own political role, making art, speaking out, in their own writing? Do you feel perhaps your influence as a choreographer and writer can breach just that genre, going into other genres of art and politics?

MP: You know, the other arts were politicized before dance-so I think the other arts already, lets say theater, or movies or literature or painting, they were already politicized. So the last thing that has been politicized is dance. We are the last ones who have been politicized.

KB: What do you feel is the deepest contradiction in your work? Is that, perhaps, something that compels your to keep creating work?

MP: Yes, the most difficult thing I encounter is me and the press. The thing is that I want dance, dance is my passion-to be more…I would like more questions like you are asking me from press because press are the ones who supposedly educate the rest of people. But they tend to come to me for the yellow aspect of it, the more private questions, the more stupid questions, really, that won't tell anything to the public. So, many times I don't answer a lot of interviews from press that really want to investigate a part of me, they want to show me let's say as a freak, or like something strange, and curious, and simpatico, but not really somebody that makes something different in dance or literature. I also have smart people who interview me that way, so sometimes I stop talking because I want to talk about dance or literature and not really personal things. That would be more of a conflict, I find, as an artist, a dancer, as a polemical figure in the country.

KB: How have you found the response to your work outside of Peru, if you have brought it abroad?

MP: Well, that's the thing…I feel better in other countries. Not all of them, let's say countries that are more avancada-who have more space, lets say for what you guys are doing, you know, "Hemispheric Encounter of Performance and Politics", those are wonderful things to come to my country, because that a breathing thing. So when I go to other countries, Europe, the United States, I have found more love for my work and more interest in my work. Here, I still feel so much a pioneer and I sometimes get very tired of being a pioneer, you know. So when I go to other places, I don't feel like a pioneer, you know, I feel like other people are probably doing the same thing I am in a different way. Whereas here there is a lot of rock you have to hammer. So sometimes I get tired. And, yet, sometimes, it fun to be a pioneer.

KB: Morella, thank you so much for your time. It was great to speak with you and share your work.

MP: Thank you.

Lima, Peru, 7/8/02