It's not everyday that Taproot's Brianna Smith receives an email from someone in Italy — specifically, from a renowned choreographer. But that's exactly what happened when she opened up a message from Simona De Tullio. In it, De Tullio, founder/artistic director of Breathing Art Company in Italy, inquired about a collaboration with Smith's multidisciplinary performance troupe. Smith was impressed by the request and intrigued by the company. The groups share similarities: Both Taproot and Breathing Art Company combine theatrical elements with contemporary dance. This leads to emotion-driven performances that oftentimes leave powerful impressions.
Select members, including De Tullio and two dancers, of the Bari-based dance company will visit Charlotte for nine days in an effort to spread their artistic vision to the community through performances at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, where Taproot is participating in a Summer Affiliate Artist residency.
They will also travel to New York, where they will perform at J Chen Project's TRANSLATE Festival and Susan Marshall Company's SUMAC, an annual workshop on collaboration for dancers and choreographers. De Tullio will also teach, in addition to her ensemble performing, at Florida Atlantic University.
Founded in 2005, Breathing Art Company frequently crosses borders through collaborations with dance companies in Europe, but this will be the group's first time in the U.S.
"I've never been to the U.S.A. and I'm really excited for this new experience. It's something completely new. It's a different world where I'll learn a new vision of arts and life," De Tullio says.
In terms of expression, the dancers of Breathing Art Company rely heavily on things like lighting and art as a way of embodying the performance piece with extra depth. "If you want to reach the audience, you have to use every tool you can, and it's not easy today because everything has already been invented. So, you have to create your language and signs, using and transforming what exists," De Tullio says.
Taproot knows the drill. Brianna Smith, Taproot's artistic director, feels that both groups share a focus on the ways in which dance elements and movement can be used to communicate. "It's not just an abstract entity, but really having characters and using props and light effectively to communicate with stories and characters and relationships," Smith says.
Since Taproot's initial conception in 2012, it has engaged Charlotteans with works that provide entertainment and raise awareness to the powers that community members from various organizations can offer up artistically.
Taproot's last show, Freda, featured pieces from students at International House and folks from UMAR, a nonprofit organization that promotes community engagement and cultural enrichment opportunities for people with disabilities.
"It's been really important to us since the very beginning to make sure that our contributions to the community are tangible. Rather than just enhance and raise awareness of particular collaborating organizations, Taproot hopes to show audiences the creative aspects they have to offer," Smith says. "These are people that have something to offer to our artistic process and that's why we want to connect with them. We're not just looking for a charity case."
Last year, Taproot's Ophelos displayed aspects of healing through a collaboration with Pearls of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides a creative outlet that's used as a form of therapy for domestic violence survivors.
Following Breathing Art Company's stop to McColl, members of Taproot hope to receive a grant to help fund a cultural exchange that would allow them to travel to Italy for a series of collaborative performances. Taproot also plans to perform the finished pieces at 2016's BOOM Festival in Charlotte.
While in Charlotte, Breathing Art Company will perform two short solo shows — "Rendezvous" on July 2 and "An Apulian Night" on July 3 — that will be open to the public (reservations required, though) at McColl Center.
For Taproots' collaboration with Breathing Art Company, Smith says they will focus on small group ensembles and their female casts.
"One of the things we talked about for the collaboration was looking at the strengths of women and passion," says Smith. "We want to stress that power in an overlap that will compliment each other and the ways in which women express themselves."