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Land of Fires Compassionately Chronicles Italian Environmental Disaster

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 1, 2017
La MaMa - First Floor Theatre
74A East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 352-3101
Most people have heard about the flooding in Venice, a World Heritage Site and popular tourist attraction, which is threatening some of its buildings and infrastructure. But few people know about Campania Felix, an area in Italy north of Naples that is suffering devastating loss of life due to the illegal dumping and burning of toxic waste. Italian director/choreographer Bianca Falco is hoping to change that in Terra Dei Fuochi/Land of Fires, a multimedia presentation which had its world premiere at La MaMa, March 23-April 2.

Land of Fires is a 45-minute performance piece that blends dance, music, video (oral and visual) and documentary theater to relate this horrific story. The ensemble is composed of a group of artists from Campania and surrounding vicinities, including Falco, her two brothers, composer Alberto Falco and lighting designer Marcello Falco, and dancers Bianca Delli Priscoli and Laura Orfanelli.

Falco’s project came about after she read "The Gospels of the Land of Fire" by Father Patriciello, a priest in the town of Caivano, who noticed how the number of "white coffin" (children's) funerals had doubled the number of weddings in his parish. He began organizing the community and serving as spokesman for its bereaved. Falco watched interviews with the mothers and reached out to Noi genitori di tutti (We are the Parents of All), an organization in the region comprised of parents who have lost their children to cancer and started a dialogue with them. The oral testimony presented in the piece is Falco’s translation of one of those grieving mothers.

Falco said, "As a native of Campania, this is a deeply important and emotional issue for me. After watching the interviews of mothers who lost their babies to cancer and being myself the aunt to nephews and nieces living in the area I was moved to act."

The three dancers (as soloists, duos or trios) on March 30 performed in front of a large cloth screen that depicted the faces of dozens of children who have died from multiple cancers usually seen as a result of radiation exposure in adults. People of all ages have died, but the children are the most vulnerable. The screen also projected images of mothers with their kids in happier days, holding up photos of their dead children and protesting; toxic dump sites and the smoke from the burning of toxic material; a dancer peeling the skin off her leg (not real skin); and several paintings of Madonna and Child, symbolic of the sacred bond between a mother and her children.

At various intervals, the dancers gave audience members numerous objects: photos of two of the young victims to hold for awhile; a piece of hair that she “pulled” out; part of the “skin” she peeled off her leg; another showed us her blackened arms. The expertly performed dance movements were mostly slow and flowy. There was hugging and grieving, twists and lifts as well as exquisite floor work. Two dancers danced with those two photos in their hands or between their touching foreheads. The trio danced with bricks, placing them in various locations on the stage, laid down on them and surrounded one of the dancers with them. The music was very much complementary, without being overwhelming or distracting. It sometimes consisted of clinks, clacks, clangs, bangs, squeaks, the plucking of stringed instruments and the soft sounds of drums.

In the lobby of the theater were some newspaper articles about the environmental disaster and how it had affected the population. However, because this story was so little known here, I would like to quote extensively from the press release, which related background information to these unspeakable events.

“In the 1980s, hazardous waste disposal became a joint venture uniting the Camorra, one of Italy’s three main Mafia organizations, industries from all over Europe and the political class of Naples and Campania into what is now known as an "Ecomafia." A region between Naples and Caserta became known as the Triangle of Death when cancers usually seen in older people became epidemic, taking their cruel aim at children. Illegal dumping there has been widely documented but the trash crisis has only worsened through the parallel problem of the illegal burning of toxic waste, which has brought the region another nickname, the Land of Fires. The situation is a result of decades of secret dealings between manufacturers in Italy and beyond, pressing to avoid the high costs of legally disposing of hazardous waste, and the Camorra, which saw the potential to make huge profits by disposing of it. Some revelations came from the declassified 1997 testimony of Carmine Schiavone, a former treasurer for the Casalesi clan, one of the most powerful Camorra factions. Speaking in secret to an investigative parliamentary committee, Mr. Schiavone described nighttime operations in which mobsters wearing police uniforms supervised the burial of toxic garbage from as far away as Germany. It is believed that the Camorra, seeing its own children dying, stopped burying waste in its back yard a few years ago and is now illegally shipping it off to Eastern Europe and the Balkans.”

For more information, visit the production’s blog at https://terradeifuochilandooffires.wordpress.com or the choreographer’s website at www.biancafalco.com
'Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires', presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli, Bianca Falco.

"Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires", presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli, Bianca Falco.

Photo © & courtesy of Lee Wexler


'Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires', presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli.

"Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires", presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli.

Photo © & courtesy of Jonathan Slaff


'Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires', presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). Laura Orfanelli.

"Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires", presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). Laura Orfanelli.

Photo © & courtesy of Jonathan Slaff


Accompanying the performance of 'Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires' is a lobby display providing information about the toxic waste afflicting Campania Felix.

Accompanying the performance of "Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires" is a lobby display providing information about the toxic waste afflicting Campania Felix.

Photo © & courtesy of Jonathan Slaff


'Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires', presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli.

"Terra dei Fuochi / Land of Fires", presented by La MaMa, choreographed and directed and by Bianca Falco (Napoli, Campania - NYC) and composed by Alberto Falco (Napoli, Campania). L-R: Laura Orfanelli, Bianca Delli Priscoli.

Photo © & courtesy of Lee Wexler

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