Jessica and me must surely be Tanz im August’s most loveable performance. Cristiana Morganti may spend the evening discussing her career with her alter ego Jessica, but Jessica and me doesn’t feel divided or schizophrenic: it has one, big heart. One Cristiana Morganti can fill the whole house. One Cristiana Morganti can bring the house down.
She can do it all. Wracking weeping, knee-slapping, contagious laughter, even a nervous breakdown in five languages. As Morganti cycles through – “I have no place in this family? After 20 years?!” “In dieser Familie? Nach Zwanzig Jahren?!” – turning on a dime between shrieking and silence, I realize that Morganti isn’t just a charismatic comedienne, she also has the timing and control of one of Pina Bausch’s key soloists. Because, of course, she is that too. Was that too.
Morganti’s first evening-length performance on her own after a career of dancing Pina’s choreographies is a joyous and funny dance memoir – one that encompasses Morganti’s relationship to her changing body, to music, to her childhood training in ballet in Rome, to even her own choreography as she is doing it. There are two sections like this – where Morganti dances a score while a voiceover tracks her stream of consciousness – “the problem with going down to the ground is that you have to get back up.” “I really like this part.” “I am sweating too much, I am really sweating way too much.”
On a series of cassette tapes, this Jessica is an external voice, a clueless interviewer, asking leading questions: “So Pina was really mean?”, interrupting, mispronouncing her own name. Jessica asks probing, psychological questions. Cristiana shrugs theatrically and smooths her wild black curls behind her ear. I’ve never seen anything like this. Morganti stages, seemingly effortlessly, the paradox of dance memoir: We want dancers to dish. But the body is silent, there’s nothing to tell. Morganti sprints in place on a red exercise mat, reprising her upper body score while thudding away to “Lust For Life”, her legs slipping beneath her. It’s a perfect moment. Then she explains her scars, her injuries. It’s redundant, in a way, after what we’ve just seen. In this personal history, the dancer’s life is comprised of a series of objects each both manipulated and explained with grace and humor – huge red stilettos, in which Morganti slide-lunges across the floor, a support bra necessary to form Morganti’s teenage silhouette into something more “balletic”, a cigarette.
Toward the end of the piece, Morganti stands in a full skirt, like a wedding dress, like a backstage quick change. She smokes – though we know from her monologue that she is not really smoking – and the bottom of the dress catches fire. It burns and burns. These digital projections are smart: in another, Morganti takes black make-up and blacks out wedges of her belly in a kind of low-tech photoshop. From the audience: raucous applause. When the lights go out, Morganti is met with cheers. Not just clapping, but whoops and hollers and bravissimas. We love her as much as she loves dance and she loves dance as much as we do.