Atlas of Gestures/Dance 1866
Virgilio Sieni Turns Genoa into a Stage

Atlas der Gesten in Genoa
Atlas der Gesten in Genoa | Photo: Virgilio Sieni

Can a society that has lost sight of the meaning of relationships over the course of time come together once again and reshape its coexistence? To this end, Virgilio Sieni, together with the Goethe-Institut Genoa, choreographically explored Genoa.

Last year, professional dancers and 150 Genoese residents – women, men and children – were made part of the Atlante del gesto_Genova/Tanz 1866 project. Led by the choreographer Virgilio Sieni, they explored the meaning of relationships and possibilities of coexistence.
The name of the project refers to the picture atlas by the German art historian Aby Warburg, which Sieni appropriates to reveal that gestures, just like pictures, are a means for transporting our cultural traditions and social memories.
On the occasion of Warburg’s 150th birthday, Sieni makes gestures the common theme of several workshops, in which he implements choreographies tied to biblical episodes about teaching, flight, compassion and crucifixion. Together, the participants create a community of gestures. 

Choreographies for the eyes and ears

In late March, the results were presented publicly as choreographies at symbolically significant locations in the city of Genoa. Some of these choreographies cannot only be viewed, but also “listened to.” Movements are transformed into sounds using a new technology developed by Casa Paganin-InfoMus as part of the European project Horizon 2020 ICT DANE. Recipients are given the unique opportunity to “see” dance with their eyes shut. 

The city as a stage

For three days, four different choreographies were shown – some of them unique, some were repetitions. In “Facing the Eyes of Others,” Virgilio Sieni and Giuseppe Comuniello, a blind dancer, met an audience of sighted and blind citizens who were invited to actively participate in the encounter. Touches and the resulting sense of closeness produced spontaneous, unforeseen dances that created awareness for the other person. 


The choreography “Exodus” was a cycle of choreographic actions on refugees and displacement, on the journey that some people and peoples undertake to save their own lives. The project participants were stationed in different locations and gave the audiences of the different choreographies the opportunity to choose on their own. In this way, the spectators were sent on symbolic treks during which the artists always paid attention to one another. The result was an “atlas of glances, approaches, support and caring, but also of falling (down).” 

Compassion / Mother and Child, Father and Child

Based on Western tradition, which assigns the mother to her children in a very specific aspect of intimacy, pain and beauty, a dance was developed entitled “Compassion / Mother and Child, Father and Child,” which uses gestures to consider the final relationship as well as the origin of life. Five couples, consisting of mother/father and child, explored the origin of mankind at the same time. 


For “Pause,” two choreographic actions, one interpreted by an amateur chorus, the other by a group of citizens, “conversed” with one another about the subject of the crucifixion. The interpretation centred on a heavy wooden beam that symbolized a new world of solidarity (“mondo novo”).
  • Atlas der Gesten Photo: Virgilio Sieni
    Atlas der Gesten
  • Dancing in the City Photo: Virgilio Sieni
    Dancing in the City
  • During the Workshops Photo: Silvia Aresca
    During the Workshops
  • Participants of the Workshop Photo: Silvia Aresca
    Participants of the Workshop
  • Dancers of Atlas der Gesten Photo: Silvia Aresca
    Dancers of Atlas der Gesten
  • Virgilio Sieni at the Workshop Photo: Silvia Aresca
    Virgilio Sieni at the Workshop
  • Virgilio Sieni shows the Choreographie Photo: Ale Cavalli
    Virgilio Sieni shows the Choreographie

With about 1,000 visitors, the project created a community (of gestures). The participants and the Goethe-Institut Genoa are looking forward to continuing their collaborative work.