Originally from Sicily, Scarafiotti, who prefers to go by the name Emma Nica, (“nica” means “kid” in the Sicilian language), is a rousing artist and performer, currently graduating from the London College of Communication, with a BA in Art Direction and Visual Design. For Emma Scarafiotti Nica, the world is a stage and we are all merely players.
The artist won the experimental category at the 2018 Thunderdance Film Festival, with her short film Six in the Beauvoir, shot in the quaintly urban Hackney quarter of De Beauvoir. The film features five dancers clad in fluid garments of one attributed hue and addresses “the way space influences behaviour and movements.” The jerky, contorted manoeuvres of the dancers are spontaneous yet mechanical, with an air of dystopian eeriness, as they use their bodies to mimic the curvatures and structures of their surroundings.
Through her highly idiosyncratic visual compositions and choreographies, Scarafiotti Nica can evoke various emotions from an audience, ranging from nostalgia to love, to anxiety, pain, or bewilderment. Paradoxically simplistic and perplex, her work allows the viewers to challenge their own perceptions of what is going on before their own eyes. The medium of dance plays an integral part in Scarafiotti Nica’s work – it serves as a vessel to convey themes she explores in a more expressive and heightened manner. In many ways, dance is one of the most tangible performance tactics, as it is used by performers to go beyond the peripheral and break through the exterior membrane of a particular topic or issue.
Jasmine Miller-Sauchella: What does performance mean to you?
Emma Scarafiotti Nica: Performance is my language. When I don’t know how to convey a message or interact with others, I simply turn reality and the environment into a performance piece. Performance is a way to get out of the material and reach the essence of things and people.
JMS: Are you a performer yourself? Do you believe that life itself is a performance and that we are all performers?
ESN: I am a performer myself and I feel I was born a performer, but the meaning of performance for me is constantly changing. It doesn't mean being perfect dancers or singers; a performer can simply be a person who uses all the parts of their body and their voice, in order to change their surroundings and the space between them and others. It’s also about changing the audience’s consciousness, through repetition. Performance then becomes a code, a ritual. Everyone can enact their own performance. I believe that when a fisherman, a baker, or a painter are performing a sequence of movements they repeat in everyday life, they are performers.
JMS: The film you art directed and performed with your brother, Nowhere Island (2018), is visually stunning and evocative. What was the idea behind this performance?
ESN: That film was improvised. I feel a particular bond with my brother, mentally and physically, and these are essential when performing in a duo. For Nowhere Island, we just expressed our conflictual relationship through our bodies, as we were both abandoned by our father. I just told my brother to use his breathing and follow it, having a specific image of our childhood in his head. I usually work with mental images when I improvise.
JMS: What inspired the concept for Dancers with a Red Chair and Pastel Dresses (2018)?
ESN: The idea came when I felt that an object is more than an object, and that it could be activated, becoming a new object invested in new transformative functions.
JMS: Performance is always up for interpretation by the audience; one could argue that there is a sexual undertone with the three undressing dancers, moving languidly next to the chair. What does the film mean to you?
ESN: I tried to challenge the power of the performer bringing things to life – it’s like an exhumation. I felt as if I was the chair. I was always sexually alienated and frustrated in my adolescence, so I exorcised my fears through the chair and through the movement of the performers, who are undressing themselves whilst “playing” with it.
JMS: John Cage once said: “It is assumed that an element is in and of itself expressive.” Bearing this in mind, do you think that inanimate objects, like the chair, can be the “performer” too?
ESN: The chair was not a chair – it was a little girl naked with her red underwear.
JMS: There is an element of vulnerability in performance; do you think that there must be a sense of “letting go of inhibitions” and letting your body and soul be totally free whilst performing?
ESN: Absolutely! That’s why it’s not easy to be a performer. You must reveal yourself as if you were naked. You have to remove all the masks and prejudices – it’s an act of courage. I still film and choregraph my performances – it’s comfortable space for me. I am pushing myself to get out of it soon.
JMS: The dancers in this film are somewhat reminiscent of the subjects in some of Egon Schiele's work (youthful, contorted, languid, and androgynous). Were you inspired by any paintings, films, music or other art forms?
ESN: I get inspired by everything, from paintings, to music, and films. But most of all, the people I meet or places I visit are my inspiration for a performance. Their glance and natural gestures inspire me, as if they’ve always been there, in a performance waiting to be enacted.
JMS: Where did you get the concept for your We Mind (2019) mini-documentary series?
ESN: This series was my first collaborative project, with choreography originally by a young dancer from the Rambert School, called Veronica Biondini. I was more of a director here, but I also had to develop the choreography myself, as this was an autobiographic performance on my experience with mental illness.
JMS: Mental health is a stigmatised topic, to some extent. Do you believe that the portrayal of mental health through performance can contribute to removing the stigma?
ESN: As an artist, it’s important to take risks, follow an instinct, and be daring. I struggled to put this project into practice, mainly because it was hard to dig into my experience and portray mental illness, which is seen as such a delicate theme. However, I find performance to be an incredible and powerful practice that can change the perception of things and the way we empathise with others.
I needed to express that vision and put something meaningful into the movements; it’s always been difficult to visualise mental illness. There are many things you can say with words, in a serious manner, but nothing can be more serious and communicative to your subconscious than a performance. So, I don’t care what people think, because I’m sure they can feel, and that’s the most important thing.
JMS: Choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela argues that “there can sometimes be great beauty in ugliness.” Do you agree with this idea that there can be something beautiful within what is commonly seen as ugliness?
ESN: I agree – beauty coexists with the ugly and the unconventional. I always say to performers “be uglier with those sequence of movements.” I always found beauty in breaking harmony, then finding a new form of harmony later on.
JMS: Is there anyone who you’d like to collaborate with?
ESN: I would love to collaborate with Es Devlin in the future, and with amazing choreographers such as Sasha Waltz. Who knows? I live to think big.
JMS: What’s the next creative venture for you?
ESN: I am working on my final year Major project. I went back to Sicily, and now I’m trying to put together an experimental documentary short, including a performance piece. I call it a docu-performance film, an experiment in merging film, narrative, and performance. What could happen? I don’t know, we’ll see!
Words - Jasmine Miller-Sauchella
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Images and Video: Courtesy of Emma Scarafiotti