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Urban Tale's Second City In The Sky

Through light projections and choreographed dancing these “vertical performers” create an alternate reality.

Imagine a world where gravity is flipped on its side and people travel not by streets and sidewalks, but up and through the sky. This is the world created by Urban Tale, a city specific show created by the “vertical performers” company Cafelulé.

Urban Tale is a performing and visual arts show that combines elements of dance, light art, video projection, live music, and cinema into an otherworldly experience that uses vertical space as its stage.

Cafelulé, a 15 person group of artists, musicians, and dancers from across disciplines, introduced Urban Tale to the public in May in a breathtaking performance that used the 86 meter tall bell tower of the Cathedral of Modena in Italy--the Torre della Ghirlandina--as its stage. The performers glided and jumped along the wall of the historic building as live music and stories-tall video projections supplied a dynamic backdrop, changing the context of the performance second by second.

Check out the video below:

In this inaugural performance, the dancers moved up, down and across the towering vertical plane with ease, at one moment scrambling up the walls of the bell tower like a charging battalion, then the next, falling and floating like gravity-defying skydivers. Behind their movements, the walls of the buildings served as a screen for hypnotic projections depicting everything from bustling cityscapes to constellation maps. The effect was jaw-droppingly surreal.

Urban Tale is an exploration of the intersection of human, machine, and public space, a perspective shifting performance that challenges the audience to reconsider how they view and experience the immediate world around them. Through the performance, Cafelulé explains, “technology becomes an actor," an integral part in the telling of the tale of the transformation of an “intelligent, interactive and invisible city.” Public space takes on a bold, new purpose and life through the performance; and in so doing, new layers of meaning are added to these everyday places and buildings.

Technology and performance are inextricably intertwined in Urban Tale - each dependent on and complementary to the other. According to Cafelulé, the hope is to bring technology out from behind the curtain - to “bring [it] to the stage and not leave it behind the scenes but give it a body and life, making it an actor capable of interpreting a feeling, of expressing and provoking an emotion.” 

Technology is not only critical to the production of the show; it is integral to how the performance is documented and experienced by virtual audiences as well. As Marco Boarino, Cafelulé’s Artistic Director, explains: “Every city [that Urban Tale performs in is] shot from above by flying drones equipped with HD cameras, in order to discover them from an unusual perspective, preserving its memory from the sky. The shooting is an integral part of the show - it interacts with the performers, making every repeat performance unique and personal.”

Technology, it is Marco’s hope, is also humanized through the performance and serves as a truly integral part of the experience and magic of the show. “Technologies determine the rhythm of our lives,” explains Marco. “Let’s imagine them as recent creatures. The last arrived in the city. They meet human beings, with which they start building and remodeling it, giving it a new shape… For this purpose, we employ technology as an Actor and not as a tool.”

Marco explains Urban Tale as a truly “multidisciplinary, transmedial and collective show” - a performative story about “the encounter of human beings bound with technological relationships and digital eyes searching for human relationships.” Marco also emphasizes the show’s inherently participatory nature - and the mission of Urban Tale to push its audience to connect with their city in a new, highly personal (yet public) way. As Marco sees it, “every city becomes a protagonist of the exhibition.”

And as Urban Tale grows, the experience will feature a different voice of “the protagonist” depending on which city it is being performed in. Marco explains: “We want to preserve direct contact with each audience, in order to stimulate a deeper emotional relation… For this reason the [narrator] changes from performance to performance, integrating into the cast a local actress who will [narrate] in the language of the host country, therefore increasing the sense of 'closeness' with the city and its inhabitants.”

It is Cafelulé’s hope that Urban Tale will not only be brought to cities all around the world, but that audiences (real and online) will take part in the construction and direction of the Urban Tale experience. How? Through a digital library comprised of audience-generated photos and documentation of the Urban Tale performances - and of other “unexpected and unusual” moments and places in their cities. In this way, Urban Tale serves not just as a fantastic spectacle, but a testament to “the possibility of living an everyday place from another point of view,” explains Marco. 

All images courtesy of Cafelulé Danza and Rolando Paolo Guerzoni.

Urban Tale