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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

In Something, seven acrobats entertain audiences as they defy gravity, twirl around the stage and perform hilarious dances. We sat down with Mauro Ardenti, one of the performers, and Davide Agostini, one of the company's original creators, to ask them a few questions about how they began their acrobatic careers!
 

1. What do you love most about being an acrobat? Do you have a favorite act to perform in Something?
MA: To me, being an acrobat means fighting gravity, one way or the other. When I'm doing acrobatics, I feel like nothing exists except my body in the here and now. Everything else disappears—at least until I put my feet back on the ground! My favorite act in Something is my handbalancing solo, but I also have a lot of fun with the final "Panels" act, too!

2. Why is Something special to you?
DA: Something is very special to me and to the rest of the company because we created the first incarnation in just three weeks. It was right after we failed to get into a festival, so the fact that we're now performing it at The New Victory is incredible. Also, it's very fun to perform!

3. When did you start learning tricks? 
MA: When I was five years old, my sister was doing rhythmic gymnastics. One day, I went with her to the gym and I saw some of the other girls training. I remember it like it was yesterday—one of them did a cartwheel and I thought it was the most amazing, beautiful thing I had ever seen. I immediately started practicing cartwheels everywhere, including at my school and our church! My mom eventually surrendered when I was seven years old and took me to a gym so that I could start doing artistic gymnastics. 

DA: I've always been interested in circus. My background is in artistic gymnastics, so everything related to acrobatics catches my attention. My first experience as a performer was in an athletic dance theater company, but after that I wanted to go beyond dance, and also beyond circus. Thus, Liberi Di… Physical Theater was born!
 
The Something Cast The cast of Something

4. Mauro, your character is always reading a book in Something, do you have a favorite book?
MA: I haven't had a lot of time lately, but I love reading anything from the back of a cereal box to a biology essay about breeding tropical frogs. Choosing my favorite book is tough... at the moment the Harry Potter saga sits right at the center of my bookshelf. I've read each of the seven books four or five times, and I love it every time!

5. Do you have any advice for kids who want to become acrobats?
MA: Being an acrobat looks fun (and it is!) but it's also very hard. It requires constant hard work and a lot of endurance. If that's what you want, go for it. Don't give up, no matter what! 

6. How did you first get involved in Liberi Di…Physical Theatre?
MA: The company was founded in 2007 and I joined the following year. At the time, Liberi Di... didn't have a training facility, so they were using the circus school where I was training and teaching. One day, Davide told me that he wanted me to be a part of their first theatrical production, Inverni. I was so nervous the day of the premiere, but the show was great and the audience loved it. That's one of my favorite memories.

DA: Liberi Di... was created by me and three other people—Stefano Pribaz, Valentina Marino and Giulia Piolanti—in 2007.  The four of us had spent the previous seven years as artists in another company. We wanted to be the creators of our own art and free to do anything we could imagine. As a matter of fact, "Liberi Di..." in Italian means "free to..."
 
 
‚ÄčMauro Ardenti Mauro Ardenti began practicing artistic gymnastics at seven years old. After graduation, acrobatics were just a hobby for him. However, a school soon asked if he would teach full-time in 2005. Ever since then, he's worked as a professional artist. He joined Liberi Di… Physical Theater in 2008 and has been a regular member of the company ever since. In the summer of 2015, he performed with Cirque du Soleil at the Expo Milan 2015 show Allavita! Through acrobatics and circus, he explores the worlds of dance and physical theater. His specialty is hand balancing, but he also performs aerial acts, hand-to-hand and physical theater.
Davide Agostini Davide Agostini's career in artistic gymnastics started when he began competing at six years old. He attended the University Institute for Motor Science in Padova, while joining the athletic dance company Kataklò Theater. As a part of this company, he toured around the world for seven years, even performing at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin. He also studied dance with several internationally renowned teachers such as Sonia Bianchi, Gus Bembery, Dmitri Chabardin, Anna Rita Larghi, Paola Corio, Gaetano Petrosino, Michele Oliva and many more. After a number of new experiences, he founded Liberi Di... Physical Theatre to pursue his own creative vision. He's now also a choreographer and teacher at some of the most prestigious schools in Italy.
Posted by Beth Henderson

During the 1960s, the United States was fraught with racial tensions as the African American Civil Rights movement pushed back against years of oppression. One of the most controversial and misremembered figures of the time, Malcolm X, gets a second life through Marcus Gardley's new play X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation. Exploring Malcolm's life through his relationships, X dramatizes his rise as a Civil Rights leader and his eventual, tragic fall through the lens of a fictional courtroom drama. We asked Marcus Gardley about his playwriting process and about finding justice for a man, so often vilified in history.

 

Marcus Gardley X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation playwright Marcus Gardley
Why did you write a play about Malcolm X at this moment in history?
Sometimes a play finds a playwright. I didn't think "Yo, write about Malcolm X, that's timely." I wish I was tapped into the pulse of the contemporary zeitgeist in that way. I am not. This play found me. Ian Belknap, the genius director of the production approached me with the idea of writing an adaptation of Julius Caesar using the story of Malcolm X's assassination and I knew instantly that I had to do it. He is the most underrated American hero and his story needs to be told many times. He hasn't gotten the honor that his legacy deserves, so I felt that it was my responsibility to tell his story. This play is not about his death, it's about his life.

What kind of research did you do in order to create this work?
I read anything and everything that I could get my hands on. Then I re-read it. Then I watched everything that I could get my eyes on. Then I talked to people. Some people I ran into—ironically. Everyone told me "to tell the truth." I searched for truth in all of my research. Truth cannot be denied. I wanted to put people's versions of their truth on the stage. I wanted to raise the question: who was Malcolm X?
Betty Shabazz Chelsea Williams as Betty Shabazz


Can you tell us about the playwriting process? How many drafts did you write?
Oh man, I wrote so many drafts of this play that I thought for a time that I was writing in circles. I discovered that the play was in fact a circle in terms of structure. The play wanted to revisit a question, answered by many voices. The play needed to come back to this question and then ultimately give it to the audience. All in all, I wrote about 18 different drafts. And they were total rewrites. It was painful. It was a trial, but also a great adventure.

To be a playwright is to be a keen listener. Stories unravel when they unravel. One must be patient and let it unfold, and then—like the flower that finally blossoms—you get to witness the beauty of a play's nature.  Then you get to write it all down and take credit for what ultimately is just an epiphany, but it's a great one. You know when you know that you know. Until then you are putting on a brave face, writing to keep from crying. You tell everybody that you are close when you have no clue as to what close even looks like, hoping for at least one line that is worthy of stage time. 

Why are you interested in telling this story within a fictional framework?
I always knew this story needed to be told in another universe because that was the only way for Malcolm to truly receive the justice that he deserves. I put the play in a fictional time and in a fictional courtroom because in a realistic situation the truth would never have its day. In fact, justice was never served in the actual trial pertaining to his murder. I didn't want to revisit the actual trial because who wants to see a sham on stage? Sometimes, only in the reflections of our reality can we truly see ourselves.
 
Why do you think it's important for young audiences to see this play?
This is a play for everyone, especially young people. I think older generations have done a poor job of talking about the complexities of Malcolm X's character. For many older people, he is seen as a 1960s icon who was simply an angry militant. Yet young people are not turned off by his message in the same way, nor are they frightened by race and revolution. I think they have the eyes and the ears to receive Malcolm X in a different way and challenge the notion that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a loving leader and Malcolm was not. Moreover, I think young audiences can carry Malcolm's legacy and philosophy into the future as a means for positive social change in our world.

 

Malcolm X Jimonn Cole as Malcolm X and Gabriel Lawrence, William Sturdivant, N'Jameh Camara, Austin Purnell, Joshua David Robinson, and Kevis Hillocks in X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation
What conversations were had, during the rehearsal process, around the themes of the show?
There were many conversations in the rehearsal process around themes for the show—in particular we talked a lot about how the faith of Islam should be portrayed. We wanted to not only respect the beauty and themes around brotherly love but we also wanted to show how Malcolm used his faith to inspire thousands of people. We also talked a lot about betrayal and what does it mean to betray one's brother for his own good. And lastly, there were many discussions about tone. I didn't want to write a conventional play. I wanted to use humor, dance and music to delight the audience and eventually drench them in a world of deep pain. 
 
If you had to give one piece of advice to NYC teens, what would it be?
I think young people deal with a lot of pressures these days. There are pressures to be liked, to fit in, to succeed, be the best, look the best and/or to be the most talented in various things. I think we forget to tell our young people the importance of simply being a good citizen. What does it mean to be a good person: one who cares about all people genuinely without judgment or ignorance. My advice to young people is to actively pursue the art of being a good, global citizen. The world is getting smaller. People are suffering. Life is short. All we have is each other. Why not love and defend those in need? It costs absolutely nothing and the benefits are priceless.  
 
X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation Experience the truth for yourself at X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation from March 17-25!
Posted by Beth Henderson
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