Most visitors to Palermo come to see the rich remains of the city’s past – and they’re right to do so.  Palermo was once one of the grandest cities in Europe – the centre of what John Julius Norwich refers to as “that flashing, endlessly-faceted jewel that was the culture of Norman Sicily” – and many of its treasures, including some of its finest, are still here to be seen.  Now, they perhaps gain even greater lustre being seen in the context of a modern city to which time has been far from kind.  But for all its problems – or maybe partly because of them – modern Palermo too has its riches.  They are less apparent to the casual visitor, and certainly not likely to attract large numbers of tourists, but nevertheless they are well worth discovering.  There’s a rich vein of creativity running through the old city, finding expression in various small theatres and musical venues.  It’s one of the things that makes the city such an intriguing and rewarding place to spend time in.                             

One of these theatres is Teatro delle Balate, a small experimental theatre,  established in 2007 in a slightly edgy part of the old city, directly opposite the decorative façade of a 17th century church, S. Annunziata delle Balate.  Finding the theatre proved to be something of an adventure; attending a  performance there, a real discovery.    

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I discovered Emma Dante, quite by chance, while browsing in a bookshop  recently opened in Palazzo Cattolica, one of Palermo’s grand old palaces. I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to the small  book called Interview with Emma Dante.  Maybe because it was an interview I thought the Italian would be relatively easy to follow;  or maybe I just found the size and appearance of the book appealing – it’s an attractively produced little book, just  12 x 16cm, printed on lovely smooth white paper.   Whatever it was, I had soon read enough to realise that Emma Dante was both a formidable talent and an interesting commentator on Palermo: definitely someone I wanted to know more about.   

What interested me most, initially, was her relationship with Palermo.  She is one of the most important figures in contemporary European theatre, her works regularly performed to acclaim – yet here in Palermo, her home city, she is virtually unknown and her works are almost never performed.  Not surprisingly, she is highly critical of the city, but her relationship with it is complex: on the one hand she despairs of Palermo; on the other, she is deeply attached to it.  It is the force behind her work.

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