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Anton Mirto’s Army is on the March. Interview with Maddy Costa.

Image: Film still, The Army. Performer Eleftheria Tzamtzi.

Working under her own name and in partnership with Alit Kreiz, as the company A2, Anton Mirto has wrapped performers in tinfoil and buried them alive, created a sound installation of whispered apologies and a dance from people jolting to the pop of bubblewrap. At once playful and rigorous, her work is interested in the possibility of social change – and in thinking about the small actions that might build up to bring it about. As she prepares to lead The Army into The Yard Theatre as part of NOW 18 Festival, Mirto talks to Run Riot about dreams, resilience, and the stuff that gives her hope.

Maddy Costa: Although the military is hardly a woman-free zone, traditional (and restrictive!) notions of femininity seem at odds with the idea of army. So how did you come to build an army of women, and why is it an army and not another kind of collective?
Anton Mirto:
The title The Army was coined following a dream I had in 2016 where I saw women and men marching in formation in a large hall, mimicking militaristic behaviour to forge individual and collective strength.

Around the same time, I envisioned a body of people moving past my window, expressing a new free logic on my street, instilling renewed purpose, hope, commitment and strength. Following an open call-out to begin exploring these ‘visions’, only women came. The title The Army remained.  

It is a call to be brave in an age that promotes fear, renewing a visceral desire to stand up, stay awake and survive. My Army is akin to a body of protestors, moving against apathy and for healing, resilience and power.  

Maddy: Were you surprised when only women responded to the call-out?
Not really. All too often body, movement and awareness-led activities see a 90% female turn out. It’s a shame that often a whole array of emotional ‘wholesomeness’, expressiveness and receptiveness are renounced by many men.

Maddy: There's another intriguing contradiction between the force of marching and the intimacy of listening to people breathe: how are you working with that?
From early on, I wanted the work to stir external and internal energy and to have a resounding presence that unified those that performed ‘marching’ within it. I experimented with wooden blocks, with the size of each performer’s shoe screwed on. While the effort to lift and stomp this heavy limb in unison was interesting, it disempowered their bodies.

I cannot recall when, nor how, the value of an audible breath replaced the blocks (perhaps while observing my own breath, while afraid), but it soon became an anchor for sound cueing the performers to move in a more interconnected way. This connection and focus on breathing also allowed a more visceral performance language to emerge. The Army stands as one body with a collective breath and unique rhythm that is potentially self-healing and awake.

Image: Film still, The Army.

Maddy: How are you hoping to affect the breathing of people in the audience? And how have you tried to affect people physically before?
In performance I think this is actually the first time! Though there could have been some gut reactions to the work ‘the future of death’ (first performed in 2004 at the ICA), where 40 people bury each other with earth. With The Army I simply hope to keep the audience breathing more consciously and potentially rhythmically all night.

Maddy: What gives you a sense of healing, resilience and power in yourself?

Maddy: When you work as a director, do you miss being part of the performance?
Sometimes. To experientially understand an instruction I may give to a performer I often perform it myself, first in isolation or after they have personally interpreted it themselves. And in other ways, I am still performing...

Image: Anton Mirto, photography by Ståle Eriksen

Maddy: How do you decide between being within the work and outside it?
I’ve been outside my work, through choice, for a while now. I want to construct and see (from near and afar) the entire picture from this position. For The Army I am more a conductor, indicating a certain tempo / musicality, varying the performers in and out breath.

Maddy: The Army is part of the NOW 18 festival of “exciting and radical performance”. What are you excited by in performance right now?
In general I am excited by experiences that deepen my feelings of what it means to be present, be human and alive today.

Maddy: Who are the people whose inspiration you carry – and what is it about their work that feeds you?
Anne Imhof, Romeo Castellucci, Dimitris Papaioannou, Grace Schwindt, Max Richter, Hussain Chalayan, Luchino Visconti, Sylvia Palacios, Alexander Calder, Pina Baush, Jan Fabre, Jodorowsky, my foremothers & forefathers and those that came before them. It's their sense of aesthetics, awareness, humanity, beauty and shape. Their poetry, risk, wit, far-seeing imagination, integrity and courage. Their materials, resourcefulness and intelligence.

Maddy: What helps you to feel hopeful about society at the moment?
When (still) I see an ancient knowingness / consciousness / wakefulness in the eyes or expression of another.

Anton Mirto: The Army
part of NOW 18 Festival at
The Yard Theatre, London E9 5EN
7:30pm, Tue 13 - Sat 17 Feb 2018
Info and tickets:

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