A Message of Hope: Léa Tirabasso on Starving Dingoes

When choreographer Léa Tirabasso was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, she became fascinated with the process of cell death and in particular how, in humans and other animals, cells will sacrifice themselves for the greater good. 

Starving Dingoes by Léa Tirabasso. Photo: Bohumil Kostohryz.

Here, ahead of her performance of Starving Dingoes for undisciplined festival, Léa talks about the genesis of her work and, presenting through dance, the irony of a disease that is too full of life.

‘I have always wondered whether our consciousness wasn't in fact a curse. The reality that we are so aware of our own life, and thus death, is something so tragic yet so absurd to me.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer six years ago, it hit me: mortality was facing me and there it was: the preciousness of life, its fragility, my body, my dislocated body, my dislocated mind, the matter and its finitude. My body had created a monster, my femininity had been mutilated. It was violent.

In 2019, I created The Ephemeral Life of an OctopusFor this piece I looked at what a cancer is and how a healthy cell becomes unhealthy. Gynaeco-Oncologist Adeola Olaitan explained that cancer cells are out of control, chaotic. Onco-Genetician François Eisinger was the first one to tell me about the phenomenon of apoptosis, the process whereby a healthy cell dies when it dysfunctions. A cancer cell is a cell that dysfunctions but that has lost its ability to die by suicide. And I understood the irony of a disease that was, indeed, too full of life. 

For Starving Dingoes, apoptosis is at the centre of the work. I talked about it with cancer specialist Alex Gentry-Maharaj. She told me about the shapes and the movements of a dying cell. I wondered: if one dysfunctional cell cannot kill itself anymore in order to save the whole body: what do the other cells do? Do they know what's happening and can they do anything to prevent it? I wanted to imagine and stage that they could. It's like in a film where a group of people is lost on a desert island and to survive they have to eat one of them. 

We extrapolated this idea to a group of people, a country, to our planet even: what do we do when something dysfunctions? Do we outcast it, do we repair it? Or do we destroy it?

Underlying this is the idea of the brutality one experiences when their body does not respond the way they should. The friction between what is expected and what is truly bubbling underneath. 

It is very much a collaborative piece. Aside from working with scientists, I brought in animal transformation coach Gabrielle Moleta to work with the dancers Catarina Barbosa, Karl Fagerlund Brekke, Alistair Goldsmith, Laura Lorenzi and Laura Patay; to help them immerse themselves in their roles. The atmospheric electronic score is by Johanna Bramli and Ed Chivers is intercut with sparkling operatic arias from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata and snatches of chanting from the dancers themselves. 

The work can be a cathartic experience for the dancers on stage as well as for the audience - if they allow themselves to feel what we are trying to share with them. 

I hope they connect with some primal emotions, primal instincts. I hope they connect to a part of themselves they’re hiding most of the time and that during the hour watching the shows, that they allow themselves to feel and to embrace those weird and bizarre states we are sharing. 

I want to leave the audience with a message of hope, that life is precious and weird and beautiful. I also hope that through some of my work other messages are given and shared, for instance, the things we need to do to remain in good health - because without health there is nothing.’

Book tickets for Starving Dingoes here.


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