Happy Hour on the Fringe: Un Poyo Rojo
In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, Zach Blackwood, FringeArts’ Artistic Producer, talks to artists Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi of Un Poyo Rojo, which ran Sept 19–21 at Christ Church Neighborhood House. They share the origins of their relationship to each other, the work, and how they prepared for this dynamic physical piece.
Featured photo: Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi, Un Poyo Rojo
Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.
Conversation with Un Poyo Rojo Team
Zach: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. Happy Hour on the Fringe is FringeArts’ podcast. What is FringeArts? FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts and the producers of the 2019 Fringe Festival. Like I said, I am Zach Blackwood. I’m an artistic producer at FringeArts, and I invite you to pour one up with us. The bar is not open yet. Spoiler alert to our listeners at home. But I invite you to have a cocktail and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. We used to say in Philadelphia, but it’s not where you’re from.
Luciano: No, we are from Argentina.
Zach: That’s great.
Luciano: Yeah, far away.
Zach: So before we jump into this conversation, I just want to take a moment to thank all of our Fringe Festival sponsors: the Durst Organization, the University of Pennsylvania, M&T Bank, Parx Casino and Getaround, the Airbnb of rental cars. I also want to thank our Fringe Festival bookstore partner, Head House books, for helping curate the selection of books you see all around you here at the Fringe Festival Bookstore. Today we’re excited to talk to the creators of Un Poyo Rojo, Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi. Un Poyo Rojo is a dance performance in this year’s 2019 Fringe Festival happening tonight and tomorrow night at 8:00 PM still, that’s over at Christchurch Neighborhood House over on American Street, so a little bit around the corner. I have so many things I’m supposed to start with, so let’s do that. As we stated, me and Katy – my Artistic Producer partner here at Fringe – first saw this piece as a part of a circus festival in Montreal. It’s interesting because here in this festival, the piece is being treated as a work of a physical theater, kind of a dance theater work. That’s how we’re describing it to people. But how would you describe the piece in formal genre?
Luciano: For me, it’s theater, and theater in the most complex word, like theater being dance and being music and being theater…
Luciano: … Sport, all come together again, like a ritual.
Zach: I like that. And that’s not just to get into more festivals?
Luciano: No, we needed to put some subtitle like what is it, Un Poyo Rojo? And we put physical theater because it was the most… I don’t know, we work a lot with the body, so it was a physical language, so we needed to put something that would be physical, physical theater, because we think is the most close word to describe what we do.
Zach: Yeah, and the work, it really does span so many different movement styles, so many different tones. There’s very humorous tones, very tender tones, these kind of aggression, sportsmen-like tones as well. And it spans a lot of themes, I think. What are some of the themes that you were thinking about as you created this piece? Or did it start with the body first and did the themes come after?
Luciano: Yeah, actually we start making some improvisations, and then we select the little particles that work out to match together something. For example, his last name is Poggi and my last name is Rosso, which is red in Italian, so Pollo Rosso, Poyo Rojo, it was an accidental thing about the name. And after that we started looking for cockfights on YouTube and see the movement that they do, and so it was kind of a big chaos, the creation. It was really chaotic, but this is it.
Zach: As you were working on these improvisations, were they set in this locker room environment or did that get transposed on top of the dance that existed?
Luciano: No, it was by chance. We used to rehearse on the space and there was a locker and a bench and a mirror and a radio. And we said, “Let’s put this thing together and see what happens.” It was kind of accidental.
Zach: That’s so exciting, because it feels so… like that’s the gravity well of the piece is this really masculine, this traditionally masculine environment.
Zach: And the piece, I think, interrogates or buts up against the idea of masculinity in a really interesting way that looks at the tenderness between men, and how that is maybe directly underneath a layer of competition or aggression…
Zach: … that is is maybe more the typical male relationship that’s presented to people, the typical relationship between two men.
Zach: How did you build on those ideas? On the two sides of that coin?
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue]
Luciano: [translating] Back then, in 2009 we were living the three of us together and actually we were in couple, so we start putting some real things from the relation and like tenderness competition, things that you do when you are alone. And actually when we started, we wanted to make a contemporary dance piece, but it didn’t work out. So we knew that we want to tell a story, a simple story. The things like competition or…. things, masculinity and tenderness, all those things were already there.
Zach: Great. Well, we’re going to kind of move away from the themes here and talk about more of the form. There’s so many kind of different varieties of dance and movement styles that creep through the piece. There’s a lot of… this bullfighting moment in the piece. There is some really great ballet, there’s a lot of voguing. There’s some vernacular dance as well that’s come from a pop culture world?
Zach: Can you both describe a little bit of your training as dancers and how you arrived?
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue].
Maxime: Nicolás studied theater.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue].
Maxime: And I went to the school of San Martín, which is a very famous school in Buenos Aires.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue].
Maxime: And then boxing and acrobatics as well, as a kid.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue].
Maxime: That’s me.
Luciano: I come from the dance world and then I started to mix it with theater and also with music. But I didn’t make any academical stuff, I just did what I wanted to do. Now I’m going to work on that dance, I mean that dance or Afro or things. And then I put it all together in this piece.
Zach: Can you speak to the relationship a little bit between your backgrounds in acting and your backgrounds in dance and…
Maxim: [Spanish dialogue 00:08:52].
Zach: … or is that maybe not a barrier that you…
Maxim: [Spanish dialogue 00:08:55]
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:08:58].
Maxim: The first thing is, in Argentina there’s a lot of mixing theater and dance.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:09:15].
Maxim: I did very few specific dance pieces. It’s more about… I did a lot of pieces which is trying to explore more from the physical side, but not specifically dance.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:09:41].
Maxim: Having studied both things as a kid, as an actor and then after dance, it was easy for me and the Argentinian way of doing things make it a lot easier as well. So yes, there’s no barrier, to answer your question.
Zach: I thought that that might be the case. There are so many emotional registers that the piece operates on. It’s very, very funny, but then there are these moments of aggression in the piece that feel almost political or almost like they’re grasping at maybe the worst case scenario for a relationship between two men, and then these moments of this emotional tenderness. What does it feel like as a performer to have to shift gears in that way so many times during the course of the show?
Maxim: [Spanish dialogue 00:10:59].
Nicolás: Like in real life, a bit, but on the stage, a bit more theater, like in real life, like real relationships. We are all doing that all the time.
Zach: Yeah, that’s true. I have seen that a lot this last three weeks. So you’ve been performing this piece all over the world in places with different attitudes towards masculinity and queerness. Can you tell us a little bit about how the piece has been received in different places? And how it feels to triumphantly win people over every single night?
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:11:53].
Luciano: Every country we are allowed to go, it’s always a real good reception from the public, yeah, of course. We won’t go to Russia or to [inaudible 00:12:15].
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:12:15].
Maxim: Sometimes it happens like maybe a few people just would leave when there’s a kiss or with [crosstalk 00:12:30].
Luciano: Yeah, we went to some more conservative places, some people go, but it’s okay.
Maxim: And Luciano was mentioning it; there are some places that we would not go because actually we had a lot of people in shit for us to go to China.
Zach: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Maxim: The guy that’s from China would just say, “I want to bring you to China.” But you would have to take out the number… minute 12, minute 42, minute 50.
Nicolás: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.
Nicolás: [crosstalk 00:12:55]
Zach: But then what is the piece? Really and truly. What is left then? It’s just two guys fighting.
Zach: Which is I guess okay.
Maxim: And they would say, “Yeah, I’m changing the whole heart of the piece,” so those countries, yeah.
Luciano: But it’s okay.
Maxim: Well it’s not okay, but.
Zach: It’s not okay, but it…
Maxim: But it’s okay if we don’t go.
Zach: It’s the world, yeah, and I think to go places where you’re received well and where people can interface with the work in a way that feels whole and complete and like they’re seeing the thing that you meant to create, I think that’s a prerequisite for you even going to that place, yeah.
Maxim: But I mean everywhere we go, the reception is really well and the places where we think might be more conservative, they receive the piece really well. Elderly people or kids, they receive it as a gift. So really we’re always surprised about that.
Maxim: Of course, in some places, as I was mentioning, places where we can’t go because there’s censorship, but a lot of places, all the places we go to [inaudible 00:14:05] reception.
Zach: So Nico, you’re recently rejoining the piece after some time away. For the both of you, what does it feel like to be performing this piece together again? What changes might you have had to catch up on and what does it feel like to shift back into that…
Maxim: [Spanish dialogue 00:14:25].
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:14:34]
Maxim: At first I was kind of nervous because I don’t know if I would remember the piece, that would happen, I would feel the same way or…
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:14:58]
Maxim: And getting back into your group that had been living life meanwhile.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:15:13]
Maxim: So I came back to Paris, but now the guys are in Paris, and after three days of rehearsing, my body already had all the memory of the show.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:15:31].
Maxim: Flying is cool, traveling around the world. And he started back at the Biennale di Venezia.
Zach: Oh jeez.
Zach: You just you have to jump back in here at the Venice Biennale.
Maxim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Zach: That’s exciting.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:15:50]
Zach: And then from there… Can you recap some of your travels recently? Where have you been? Because I just saw you in Scotland.
Maxim: Yeah, we’ve been traveling about.. We do… How many? This year 120 shows in the whole year, so it’s a show every three days, and different countries. We’ve been to Mexico, São Paulo, Edinburgh.
Nicolás: [Spanish dialogue 00:00:16:16]
Maxim: [Spanish dialogue 00:16:19]
Maxim: I don’t know. It’s madness anyway. In this North American tour, we’d been to Pittsburgh, we came here, and we’re going after to Montreal, and to Toronto. So yeah, friends there.
Zach: So you travel all over with this piece and this is the piece that’s the namesake of the company. It’s the one that smashed in this way. Like it really has blown up and people love it. But what do you think is next for Un Poyo Rojo? Is there going to be an attempt to further perfect this piece, to add a second company and tour everywhere all the time? Or is there maybe a new piece in the works?
Luciano: All of it.
Luciano: All of that, yes. We are preparing the new show for next year and we are also thinking about doing the female version of this one. It won’t be in the locker room, it won’t be the same, but we’re starting to think about that, and yeah, new projects and things.
Zach: That’s exciting.
Luciano: And keep rolling with this one also until…
Maxim: Actually we’re going to be back in Western America in… In 2021 we’ll be in Miami and we’ll be in Syracuse, Syracuse?
Zach: Nice, yeah.
Maxim: And we’re going to Quebec, so yeah, that part of the world, we’re going to be back in 2021 and everywhere we go pops up some new possibilities. We’re going back to Hong Kong next year, and to Australia and New Zealand.
Zach: Yeah, because we also nearly crossed paths in Australia earlier this year.
Maxim: Oh yeah, we did.
Zach: What the hell? Yes, we need to… buy houses. So I’ve got some time for a few audience questions. Does anybody have a question? Yeah?
Joe: I wanted to know, as far as the company goes, is it just the two of you or do you have many members or is it more like a pickup company, so you just add members as project to project? Or is it just the two of you?
Zach: So just for our podcast listeners, I’m not sure if it picked you up, so I’m just going to do this.
Zach: Our lovely… What’s your name?
Zach: So Joe, one of our lovely audience members, just asked how the company for Un Poyo Rojo is structured. Because it’s really a great question because I don’t even really know that. So we’re going to talk a little bit about how the company is structured, how many people are in the company and… What was the last part?
Joe: If it’s project-to-project or…
Zach: If it’s more project-based or if the ensemble determines what projects the company pursues.
Luciano: Well actually we are four in the company: Hermes, which is the director, Nicolás, me and Alfonso, Alfonso Barón is the the guy who replace him when he left in 2011, and now Alfonso is having some… problems with friends, so he couldn’t go out and he came from Mexico to replace his replacement. But we are that kind of company that goes… [inaudible 00:19:52] I mean this company has 10 years, and we are.
Zach: Do we have another question from any… [crosstalk 00:20:07].
Audience Member: I asked you one question already.
Zach: Well, if we don’t have any more questions, I’d love to say thank you all so, so much for joining us for Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and download the FringeArts app. This has been Zack Blackwood, that’s me. And I’m here with the folks from Un Poyo Rojo. If you’re sitting at home listening to this, I hope you’ve got your Fringe guide open and you’re looking at all of the shows that you can go see. I hope you go and see Un Poyo Rojo as they continue their North American tour, and also check out the independent shows. There’s lots and lots and lots of great stuff in there, and I’ve been seeing a lot of those shows myself, so yeah, thanks so much for joining us for Happy Hour.