It was a Tuesday morning when I sat in Bar du Matin in Brussels. The place had a great artistic atmosphere and everyone seemed happily drawn into their conversations. Especially me. My conversation with the fully pregnant woman in front of me felt like reading a super inspiring book. The only thing that kept on going through my mind was: ‘I wish I had recorded this, it would make a great interview!’
The woman in front of me was Agostina D’alessandro, an improvisation dancer. As I’m super interested in body movement, meditation and improvisation, this combination is totally intriguing to me. When I heard about Agostina, I immediately called her to meet up. So there, over coffee in Brussels, we just had an amazing chat. Luckily she agreed to meet again for an interview.
Now two weeks later here we are again in the same bar. With the same sparks of passion in her eyes and the same butterflies of enthusiasm in my belly, we dive into our conversation.
I got to know you through Arno, a musician who told me that when he played the guitar after you manipulated his body, he saw his fingers moving on his strings like the music was coming through him. How can you explain that?
What I propose with this manipulation is that you enter into your body, in such a way that your mind goes into the physicality. And to use your imagination to open the space in your body. The body needs to be really open in order to improvise wisely and free. The first thing is to access the body in such a way that you can really feel the energy flowing. For me the energy is not only blood and the physiological aspect, but also creativity. It’s a way to really wake up your own creativity inside.
Dancers already have more access to this reality. Musicians are not used to be touched; while touch is the first thing we develop as human beings. It opens you to contact, to trust and to feel your inner world. I think that is what Arno felt after the manipulation. He was so deeply connected with himself that his guitar play came from a different place.
What do you do in those manipulations?
We work physiologically in different ways. It’s always through touch, but sometimes we concentrate more on releasing the muscles. We touch different muscles so they understand they need to release. Many times we are in front of bodies that are totally tensed. Little by little those people feel they need to release their body. It’s a long process. In the beginning the manipulations are one hour. But at the end of the second week that we work with a group, the manipulations are only fifteen minutes. The muscles are very used to tense, also because of how our mind works. It’s amazing how when you change your mind, your muscles are like ‘oh okay’, and you release.
The body needs to be really open in order to improvise wisely and free.
Do you think a lot of artists are too much in their heads?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for everyone. I see that a lot of art is very mind focused. I think we often miss contact, that’s for sure. Our society is going more towards taking objects around us and there’s less physical contact with people. There’s something beautiful about real contact. You can feel the skin of the other person and you read information through it. It goes very fast. You need years of training to realize the information that comes with the touch. You can feel the vibration and that prepares you to be in contact with the other and not protect yourself. Just trust that relationship. That’s what we miss a lot in our society: that notion that the other one is not an enemy. I propose to first really get in contact with the other one and then create a relationship from that point. A relationship based on trust in yourself and in the other. At that point the best in yourself can come out, because you’re not scared. Your body releases. By this release is like you’re in your mother’s arms. A place where you can be totally yourself and accept yourself as you are. You don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not. That’s the closest to mother’s arms that I can imagine.
Why do you think we often lack trust?
We want to build up security as something that would protect us from insecurity and change. Society is built around this idea of making people feel safe and secure. But security doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion. Because life goes as it goes and you can never be protected from everything. This fake idea of security is useful for our society. There’s a big market around it: alarms, insurance and all other things that will fulfill this fake idea of security. When this fake idea becomes a way of thinking, we come to live very far away from each other. We think that everything is insecure. The other one can hurt us. That is unconsciously the first thing we think when we meet someone. ‘How can I protect myself from this person?’ Instead of saying: just give me your hand and let me feel who you are.
Trust is very important in improvisation.
Yes. When performers through touch build the trust in themselves, they are not thinking is this good or bad. They’re just being themselves. It’s also very important that the performers trust each other in order to develop a place where real creation can happen. Now I’m used to it so much that I immediately feel it when performers are doing a real action or when they’re in their mind, judging themselves. Thinking: is this movement right, is this word correct, is this sentence really the one I wanted to say? It’s incredible how many times we don’t dare to do what our true self is saying. Let’s say for example that you want to scream in a performance and you don’t dare to, because immediately you judge yourself saying you can’t possibly do that. But that’s your way to express the present. If you don’t do it, your other actions will be based on frustration. You can see that frustration travel through the space. It reflects on the other performers. That’s a very interesting process.
Did they lose touch with the present moment when they judge themselves?
Exactly. What I think is interesting is to work on using your creativity to fulfill the present. When you do that and you’re fully engaged in that process, good or bad is not there anymore. It’s like when you contemplate a landscape. You just look at it and you completely melt into it. You disappear in the landscape. It’s not a question of if you’re good in the landscape or not, you are the landscape. For me it’s the same with improvisation: the performer is the performance. He just needs to be always very concentrated on what he’s producing. If you’re there, then you’re in the landscape. I have experienced many times with the dancers that they experienced a kind of ecstasy or trance.
When as a performer you make the connection with your true self, you immediately make a connection with the other performers as well. The audience is also connected with you. They are connecting with their true self because of you.
But you have to work really hard to be able to be your true self.
When you’re not and you still have blockages, you can see that. That’s the beautiful thing about improvisation: it’s totally transparent.
What others things fascinate you about improvisation?
Improvisation changed the way I see myself. It makes you see so many sides of yourself. That’s amazing! I have the feeling to be infinite. I can be so many characters, so many movements or qualities. I can build any relationship. Everything is open. And from a range of possibilities you go to just one thing in an instant.
It gave me a bigger awareness. And once you are more conscious about something, you can’t go back to your previous state. You will never be like when you didn’t know about it. Let’s say for example you discover that you function in a certain way. That’s a big realization. Your consciousness about yourself expands and you touch something bigger. You can’t make yourself believe that you don’t realize that anymore. You change. I think for many people it’s quite difficult to change.
What’s so difficult about changing?
We have a very partial point of view of what reality is. What we see gets very limited. It’s super scary for a lot of us to open up the awareness and see what we can really see. To really meet ourselves. Because we will discover things about ourselves that we will not like that much. That will make our life less comfortable. We will need to work on that in order to meet our dark side. Most people don’t want that. They want to be comfortable in a place where they only know their own small reality. If you extend your awareness you will see that you need to change.
Do you often visit your dark places?
Yes, very often. Through the work, through different researches, through therapy and different approaches. Many times I meet my dark side with my son. It’s amazing how children bring up your dark side immediately. That’s the beauty of children. They are so pure that they put a mirror in front of you. That can be a big challenge. Being a couple also puts a mirror in front of you. If we want to see our dark sight, it’s everywhere. It’s a matter of accepting it. The nice thing about the dark side is once you meet it, it’s not dark anymore.
The nice thing about the dark side is once you meet it, it’s not dark anymore.
Because you integrate it. Most of us are afraid of our dark side. You lie in your bed for example and you look at the monster that makes you really scared. One day you say ‘ok, I’m going to meet that monster and talk to him.’ And when you meet him, you realize that it’s a butterfly flying away. It just disappears.
In relationships it’s also nice to notice what the other one brings up in you. In stead of saying all the reasons that you don’t like someone, ask yourself why you’re still with that person. Why do you choose to stay with that person? And take responsibility. If you feel that it’s not the person for you, then go away. It’s a daily work.
Get to really know yourself. It’s the only person you can really know. The more you know yourself, the more you start to vibrate with others.
Who are you?
The most honest thing I can say is: I don’t know. I just use my time to get to know myself better. Every moment. Observing myself is a big part of realizing who I am. No analyzing, just observing. What are my thoughts, how are my reactions to people, what am I thinking when I’m driving, when I’m walking on the street…? What is my mind busy with? And my feelings. Am I allowing my feelings to be there? Or am I trying to control myself? And what about my sexuality. Am I allowing myself to seduce people when I feel like it? Am I seducing people to feel more secure about myself? By this observation I get to know myself better and then I change. Observation is already an act to let things change.
That is something I can advice to everyone: get to really know yourself. It’s the only person you can really know. The more you know yourself, the more you start to vibrate with others. Having enemies or people who we really don’t like, is also telling you something. What is that person giving you as information about yourself? It’s a really interesting work.
Do we box ourselves in too often?
I’m surprised about how much we close ourselves to the idea of who we are. We think we are this, this or this. Because of that we don’t allow ourselves to be that, that and that. It depends on where you are in your life. Now for example I realized that I can do many things with my hands. I’m painting things and making sculptures. I was totally not aware that I could produce this kind of objects. It came with the pregnancy. With being with my son in my house and saying: ‘hey, let’s do that’ and play with it. I couldn’t believe I could that before. So I think we can do anything we want. We just need to know what we want.
And how do you find out what you want?
By doing it. I think I will arrive to knowing who I am, by knowing who I’m not. Little by little I get closer to who I am. That’s my method for now.
That’s why I always say: finish what you start. Whether it’s the biggest or the smallest thing of your life: always finish it!
Maybe you will never come back to it again in your life. And that’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to judge yourself for that. But it’s because you finished it, that you realize it’s not what you want. In improvisation it’s exactly the same. You need to accomplish the action fully, because inside that action is the beginning of a new one. If you don’t, you’re in a kind of dirty place where nothing is clean.
Whatever you finish is an accomplishment.
After it, you will know exactly what you’ll need next.
Do you believe in God?
I don’t believe in him, I know him. I know there’s something. I don’t know the name for it: God, spirit, energy… whatever.
I always say I’m very religious, but in the root of the word. In French for example ‘religion’ comes from ‘être relié au divin’. It means that you are linked to the divine. It doesn’t mean that you practice a particular religion. It just means that you’re close to that state. That you’re touched by the experience of the divine.
When I’m improvising, I’m linked with something very spiritual: with a reality that’s bigger than me. I can feel that I’m not myself anymore and at the same time I’m everything. It’s a trip! People arrive to that state in many ways. Improvisation is mine for now.
What was the most difficult thing about creating your job?
I think the most difficult thing was to find out why I was doing what I was doing. I knew I loved dancing. I knew I wanted to dance all my life. That was never a doubt. I found myself in my body state where I could feel: this is the place where I want to be. This is me. The difficult thing was that for many years I was looking for recognition for what I was doing. I wanted to get a good job, which paid well and live from it. But then I touched the goal that I had for a very long time. That goal made me go far away from my country, cross an ocean, live in a country where people spoke another language. When I got there and I was doing what I dreamed of, I suddenly realized that the whole journey was not about my goal. It was just about myself. It made me think: “Maybe I work in several companies, but is that really what I want?” That was very interesting. “What is my purpose? What’s the real meaning of what I want?” I started to get to know myself better. Now the goal is not outside of myself anymore. In stead I’m connected immediately with what I want as a human being.
What would you say to people who are stuck in jobs they don’t like?
Change it immediately! No excuses. Just do something else.
What about the rent that needs to be paid?
You will find a way. You can sell your house. Or if you’re renting, then share with someone. There’s always a solution. I think people who are stuck with excuses are not courageous. That’s the worst thing that you can do to yourself: not being courageous enough to create the life you want.
If the world would be made out of people doing what they love to do, we would live in a totally different world. What is the worst thing that can happen? That you have to go back to your parents? That you ask for help? That you live in someone else’s house for a while? And? If that enables you to change your life in the direction you want, just pass through that.
When I came to Brussels, for example, I was married to an Argentinian man for eight years. At one moment our relationship finished and I met my new partner. He was completely ready to go and live together. I had no job, no money, but I still told him I wanted to live alone for a while. I needed to know myself and for that I needed my own space. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I just moved. For the first time in my life I asked the help of my parents for the rent. I put the boxes in my house, alone, because my partner didn’t want to help me since he wanted me to live with him. (laughs) And the day after someone called me to offer me work!
Two years I lived in that apartment and those two years really changed my life. Sometimes you need to give space to be able to let things come out.
If you would have rationally observed the circumstances back then, you would have said: no, don’t move. There’s no security for that. But for me it was very clear that I had to do that. It was not about how I was going to deal with the practical things. Once you give to life, life will give back to you. I firmly believe that. So take risks if you feel it. Go into the unknowingness and be amazed about what life will give you in return.
Do you feel like society’s rhythm is really fast paced right now?
For me we are the society. We made it. We decide what we want to talk about. How fast we want to go. Do we want to keep the rhythm of people around us or do we want to slow down? That’s our responsibility. I don’t feel that society is imposing something on me. I’m just aware of what is going on around me and from that point I choose. That should be what we all do. It’s very important that we take responsibility and that if we think everything is going fast, then we slow down. If everything is tensed, then we release. We just have to see what we need inside of that and don’t lose ourselves in it.
Do we as an individual have the power to change something?
That’s the only place where you can change something: on an individual level. All the political movements that were changing things in society are very important. But I think that sometimes they didn’t come from a place where the person is 100 percent sure of what he is engaging on. That’s a real danger. You just follow a blind ideal of something, because the others are also following it. Inside of that you lose yourself. When you change yourself, you change the other. For sure. We are all linked. Either they change immediately in front of you or little by little it grows on them and years later they’ll change. That wisdom is very ancient. The Greek said: know yourself and you will know the world. But I think we still don’t take the full responsibility. That’s why we talk about ‘the society’, like we’re not the society.
For two hours we talked. What a nice ride! With a warm hug we say our goodbyes. Totally high I walk out of the bar. Isn’t life interesting? Interviews like this make me want to study humans, and myself in particular, even more.
Through lots of books, yoga, improvisation, meditation and… dance.
The 6th of January I’m starting with a course of dance improvisation. In New York I already danced for one week. It made me feel super alive. Now this dancer shows up in my life and I didn’t have to think for one second to subscribe for the course. It just feels so natural. You could say it’s all a coincidence. But there’s something more. The more I tune it, the more my life seems to be flowing. And dear God, I love it!