Chiara Bersani: L’Animale review – pay attention to every tiny detail

So little happens in Chiara Bersani’s performance L’Animale, and yet she makes you pay attention to every tiny detail of it. It might just be the rasp of her breath, the quivering echo of her voice hanging in the otherwise silent air, or the light catching on individual sequins of her dress.

The setting helps with the sense of gravity. This show is part of London international festival of theatre, which runs a project putting performances inside historic buildings in the City, here the Grand Hall of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. It’s a building of grandeur and seriousness with its vast marble columns and Lady Justice looking down on us. Beneath the ceiling’s majestic dome sits a small octagonal platform, and on it lies Bersani, facing away from the audience.

At first she’s utterly still, then we catch the sound of her breath, her shoulder starts to gently rock with each inhale. Italian artist Bersani is 98cm tall and has the brittle bone condition osteogenesis imperfecta. Every one of her movements is considered, deliberate and carefully slow.

Bersani’s last performance in London, Seeking Unicorns, took place at the National Gallery and had her up close with the audience, gazing at us wide eyed, bewitching us. Here she’s distant, turned away, and yet somehow still conjures a huge amount of presence. She’s a master at forging something from almost nothing; the hush and stillness of the room is charged.

L’Animale is inspired by the Dying Swan. It’s as if we’re observing this creature in the wild. Her voice rings out in a repeated call, her swan song, and escalates into something tenderly devastating. We hear the hiccup in her voice, the sound of loss and being lost, before she disappears. It’s the brief spark of life: fleeting, strange, precious.

The Guardian