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An ever open and evolving community: Creating together in Bologna

Bologna is a medium-sized town, has a strong associative life, a large and important University, and is rich in cultural activities. Yet not so often can one expect to find events that aim at co-creating a space and an artistic path among people who, at a first glance, are very different from each other. This was one of the first challenges that Gender Bender / Il Cassero LGBTI+ Center took on with Performing Gender – Dancing In Your Shoes.

The experience in weaving relationships inside a community – that has been gained in many years of activism and cultural policies – faces the ultimate test: the challenge is giving birth to a group of people without identity labels that is able to create for themselves the glue that sticks them together.

Therefore, in the first stage of the project our ambitious goal was to question ourselves on identities – those that are personal to each participant and the social ones that some of us shared – asking ourselves what really brings us closer – is it “identicalities” or common visions, enriched and not limited by the diversity within the group.

In order to nourish this debate, in the first few months we kept the door open for anybody to enrol in the workshops, that were hosted in different spaces throughout the city and in collaboration with many associations, so that people from the most diverse backgrounds could participate.

An open space in which one could experiment physical practices, dances, and – say – a longer prospective on sharing without being productive. In time, a group of people has bonded, one that was always open to welcome new participants and share how it is possible to stay together in a safe space

The language of dance, the physical practices that were proposed, and the attention to any specificity within the group were the common ground in which everyone could be free and aware of their body and self-expression. The workshops in this process were led by Simona Bertozzi, Daniele Ninarello and Aristide Rontini, who over the months led the participants in refining a way of listening that was sensitive to themselves, the others, and the group as a community.

Other pivotal moments of this journey were also the opportunities for meeting up outside the workshops, such as watching shows together, the group's participating in the Pride parade in Bologna, and, in September 2022, attending on a regular basis the performances of Gender Bender Festival and participating in the Performing Gender – Dancing In Your Shoes Summer Camp.

The latter was also a chance to meet the other international artists of the project, and get to know through them the experiences the other involved communities had gained – also by living the space of the festival and sharing physical practices, group performances, dinners and parties.

In autumn 2022, the community participated in the artistic residencies led in Bologna by the Slovenian choreographer Vita Osojnik and French choreographer Arthur Perole, an opportunity to test ourselves with artistic visions that further diversified the languages we experimented.

These meetings were also a chance to present our community to those who did not yet know it – an exercise that allowed the group to look at, describe, and recognise themselves.

Between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 started the journey of artistic co-creation with Daniele Ninarello, who is guiding the group in constructing a dance performance.

The results in terms of participation in this new phase were not obvious: if one takes part in a workshop to learn and be inspired, a collective creative path requires each person to contribute in a personal and proactive way, with greater commitment and consistency of presence.

All participants decided to continue together in this new direction, shaping also new opportunities and ways of sharing and discussing within the group.

We look forward with curiosity and desire to the chance of showing the performance to the public, both by meeting Bologna's audience and the audiences of the other project partners, and by getting to know the communities that took part in Performing Gender – Dancing In Your Shoes in other European cities.

Mauro Meneghelli