Creation 2001

(Little sisters)

By Caterina Sagna

A performance for the edification and benefit of young girls



Caterina Sagna
Roberto Fratini Serafide
Alessandro Bernardeschi, Elisa Cuppini (Mauro Paccagnella), Susana Panades Díaz, Antonio Montanile, Caterina Sagna
Tobia Ercolino
Light design
Nuccio Marino

Creation Associazione Compagnia Caterina Sagna / Tours Association Al Dente 
Kunstencentrum Vooruit (Ghent - Belgium)
Théâtre de la Bastille (Paris - France)
CND - Centre National de la Danse (Pantin – France)


"We'll never draw that curtain anymore, and I give you leave to look as much as you like. I just wish though, instead of peeping, you'd come over and see us. Meg and I would make you laugh over our funny stage properties."

Josephine March

THE SOURCES: glory and misery of a fake

Can a book be at the same time "the" young girls classic and the most Miseducating work among those ones which the centuries have catered to an audience of blooming young ladies? The intermezzos of domestic temperance, the two-penny puritanism, the overall science-fictional complicity between mother and daughters, and that constant perfectibility (already perfect in itself) of sentiment - all of this enriches, in Little Women, the picture of a glowing, total hypocrisy. Written to seem a masterpiece of feminine bashfulness, Ms. Alcott"s novel earned, in time, some propagandistic impudence, which makes it less and less believable, but on the one hand more marketable, and more "theatrable" on the other. But the forger coté of Little Women, so paved with good intentions, would not be as intriguing if it did not spring, in its turn, more from a desire than from a calculation: viewed with innocence, the apologue on doctor March’s daughters is not so much the counterfeited story of a ménage among sisters, as it is the "true story" (a scandal-mongering one) of a tendency to falsify the world and themselves. LITTLE SISTERS, in project for 2001, celebrates the deep sincerity of any tendency to lie, above all where the proximity is organic (established by blood), but also artificial (because what establishes it is less the blood than it is the soul) like among daughters of the same mother. We cradle the incomplete chromosome of the half sister who would die if only she could prove herself to be a foster sister with the others: even our mother is a ridiculous authority as long as we are the only ones to measure her power. Once all the love ties, free choice, "fraternity" and friendship are removed, one is cemented by nothing else but this tie: the sororality, that proximity which is given, as a definition, in a sort of pneumatic vacuum: and vacuity is its own illness, its true content.

THE INTERPRETERS: an anatomy of resemblance

In the heart of the operation four human beings: two men and two women, to endorse the thesis that the archetype of the little family be anything but an exclusively feminine daemon. What ties them is an altogether automatic imperative of "conformity": there is no sentiment, impulse, attitude which is not sifted through that conformity, since the grand game’s object is not to be recognized as themselves, but to let themselves pass for sisters among and in the eyes of other sisters: a game which would seem linear, except for the secret aspiration of all of them to obtain the record of the supersister, the patent of certified copy to who knows what lost original.

Thus, in about one hour of alternations, the female protagonists will dispute the others’ attention, split between the anxiety of appearing supportive and the certainty of being, one by one, the most supportive.. LITTLE SISTERS is a problem of looking: the main action of the performance is not that the one who looks shamelessly at the audience has the awareness of being looked at (the metatheatre here is out of discussion), but the fake modesty of who, aware of being looked at, does not show her knowledge, of who, above all, does not ignore that the priviledge of being spied upon ends where one is caught spying. As in a successful television format, the sisters will do their best to be falsely true among themselves, obtaining only to appear truly false in the eyes of the audience. Playing therefore the roles of Little Women with the enthusiasm and the deficiencies of a company of amateur actors.

THE ACTIONS: the catastrophies of candour

Games, then: not a single action, among all those on the stocks, refrains from turning into an extremely playful experience, and, in its way, into torture: from the macroscopic pretence of the life in the family, to the smallest pastimes (the nursery rhymes, the hobbies). The game becomes violent when its rules are broken, or when those very rules suffer an artificial, "official" stiffening. Above all, the game becomes violent when the rule is not self-imposed, but devoted to an axiomatic external order: when the reference "value" is not in the game or in the players, but in a phantasmatic and extraneous will, wished for in order to be able to reject it (the cumbersome absence of a moralizing father, the artificial presence of a moderating mother), or wished for because we know it will reject us (the look of an amused and never fond audience). The whole performance will thus be monopolized by the sudden and ineffable flashing of the watcher or of the watch-keeper.

If any sincerity exists at all, there is no way to discover it except through the high fidelity to the rule, absurd as it is, of that superimposed harmony. What is true is the paroxism of the performance (in the violence of the games, in the misinterpretations), not its content. And in the absence of a credible value to stand to, we are left with an arid canon of reciprocal uniformity, reassuring and enslaving as a contagious disease, a scarlet fever which does not disfigure one sister without disfiguring them all, since their sentiments are transmitted by osmosis and infection by the one to the other. The tragic error is not to stop at the interior communion, but to believe that that similarity of the mind be tout court a starting grid, the beginning of the competition, and not its arrival point. For this reason, also, in LITTLE SISTERS the uniformity is a perverse category of difformity, and uniformity itself, if persued with obstinacy, lands at an epidermic deformity.

THE DISGUISES: incurable conformities

The clothes (so central to the economy of envy or of solidarity among sisters) will not contribute to create a resemblance, but will produce a compulsory identity, at the cost of violent transfigurations. And where the good will is deficient, the clothing will contain itself as well as all its possible transformations: a mask which is worn not to be unrecognizable but to be recognized. The dress is not necessarily a suitable thing, more than it is necessary for us girls to suit it, and to fit it perfectly. The dress is a text, it is the one and only sister.

THE BOOK: a tardive catechism

LITTLE SISTERS will be, by analogy, a performance of "texts": every rite has its own formulary, and every formulary is a tale risen to the dignity of a law. The four sisters do not aspire to any other text but a single Bible, a sacred script. Ms. Alcott’s novel will be a script among the others: incongrously summoned, with its parable titles, with its archetypical situations, (from the family mourning, to the first love, to the "tests" and the "burdens"), the book will lie at the centre of the action like a totem, hideous but pregnant with certainties, with models. Let us imagine our sisters as little grown-up women who, literally, overlooked Ms. Alcott’s book in that period in which it was prescribed to have been read. Let us imagine that, in their world without truth, somebody had decided that this single book contain all the bearable truth, and all the desirable one. That, eventually, it was imposed on these sisters to believe in Louisa May Alcott in a moment in which Ms. Alcott herself could not appear to them as more than a clever builder of moralizing trash. The inadequacy of the text and its coercive potential will engage in battle.

THE MUSIC: the song of bad faith

The music will endorse the same poetics of inadequacy: sit-com jingles, television signature tunes, family life repetitive ditties, dear to the most easy going part of our collective imagination: things we all know and no-one will admit to remember, or would sing a bit on request. "Embarassing" music, since for decades we have been associating it with a model of domestic peace we consumed with the false reluctance of the real television-addict.

Roberto Fratini Serafide, Caterina Sagna
November 2001