The practice of writing

Interview with Elisa Sbaragli and Sara Sguotti – Spessa, 08.04.2022

I always used to write a lot. I was born in 1976, so my generation grew up writing with pen and paper, no screens, no digital stuff whatsoever. I grew up partly with my grandmother, 600 km from my hometown, so I used to miss her a lot when I wasn’t at hers, and I wrote her hundreds of letters. She wrote me back, of course, but then she also wanted to call me by phone and hear my voice. I hated phone calls (and I still hate them). To me her voice was her writing. The writing style of an old person. The lines she traced on her letters, the paper she chose to write on, represented to me the geography of her wrinkled skin, her smell when I was knitting close to her and all these small nuances that a plastic telephone receiver couldn’t transmit.

As a teenager, and because my father was a journalist, I got the chance to write some short essays for my school on a typewriter. The feeling was completely different. The bodily practice of pushing, and with a certain energy, on a key and seeing a couple of centimetres away a letter being printed, was at a first-hand kind of magic. It was a totally different writing technique and the timing between the word and sentence coming in my mind and the printing of my thought was also delayed. On the top of that, I had to be kind of sure of what I wanted to write, because black typography on white paper was to me a sort of permanent statement. No way back. I then started to write letters to my grandfather with the typewriter. I guess I wanted him to see me as a small professional, a small journalist, the small version of my father.

Then the first semi-digital typewriters came out. My father was always very up to date, and he got one from his publisher. I got the chance to write on this weird machine, with a very small liquid crystal display, where you could see only a couple of words. While writing, one had to keep in mind around ten to fifteen words, because they slowly disappeared on the left side of the small screen while being kept in the memory of the machine. When the machine had the “feeling” (this was my explanation) to have completed a line, then the line was printed on paper. This was magic! My writing experience had become with the time always more “disembodied”. From the pen-and-paper writing technology, where the gesture was immediately connected to the experience and to the result, to the first digital machines: intention, gesture and results were not so connected anymore. Something – or some thing – was mediating between me and them.

Afterwards came the Personal Computer, the World Wide Web, the mainstreaming of the Internet, the Web 1.0, and since them I think the different generations converged on the digital, as far as writing techniques are concerned.

But still, as a dancer, choreographer or dramaturg, what does writing mean in our everyday practice? I strongly see “writing” as an embodied practice. I’m used to write a lot when I work with other dancers. The way I write influences my presence in the rehearsal room, starting from the setting: are there a chair and a table? Am I sitting on the floor? Am I writing on my phone? Am I writing on my favourite “dance” block notes or on ordinary sheets of paper? Am I filming? 

Undoubtedly, how I write has an impact also on the people I am working with. How do they feel about that? 

Sometimes I cannot write at all, and this is also part of my writing practice. 

Recently I had the chance to be part of a theatre project for a young audience. The piece was called “L’incontro” (English translation: “The encounter”). My role within it was to curate the dance parts within the work and to assist the director. At the beginning of the process, I wrote a lot. During the last two weeks of rehearsal, instead, I just couldn’t write anymore. I detached myself completely from the creative process. I felt as if the two performers wanted to be left alone, embodying and embracing the piece on their own. My writing, and my writing body, was not welcome anymore in the process.

I then decided to ask Elisa, the dancer, about her writing practice.

Underlying questions for me were, and still are:

What does the practice of writing mean for a dance artist? Isn’t the practice of writing often considered a – useless – appendix (or as something given for granted) in dance studies and dance trainings? Are there “creative writing” classes in dance curricula?

We as dance practitioners hear a lot of “dance is embodied practice”, “dance is movement”, “dance is body” statements, let alone the whole “dance is feeling” and “dance is passion” clichés. Yes, all true, but what makes the creation in dance more complex than that?


  1.  Auslander, P. (2006). The Performativity of Performance Documentation. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art28(3), 1–10.
  2. Delahunta, R. (2014). Publishing choreographic ideas: discourse from practice. Tanz & Archive: ForschungsReisen, Heft 5: Mobile Notate, 14-21.
  3. Meehan, E., & Blades, H. (Eds.). (2018). Performing Process: Sharing dance and choreographic practice. Intellect Books.
  4. Profeta, K. (2015). Dramaturgy in motion: At work on dance and movement performance. The University of Wisconsin Press.

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