A magazine photograph of a renovated cave room in Basilicata, Italy, intrigued me. Every cell of my being knew I had to be there. All obstacles dissolved and in no time at all, I was transported from my home in the Hudson Valley of New York to the southern Italian town of Matera.
I have followed that call for over 15 years, making pilgrimages to Matera to retreat into what I call earth wombs, caves that were once sea beds, with shells and fossilized sponges embedded in the curved limestone walls. This locale has cradled me in the breath, sound and movement explorations of Continuum – a biological awareness practice based on the fluid nature of all life.
Matera has nourished my soul in transrational, inexplicable ways. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being a troglodyte settlement in harmonious relationship with the environment, as well as the 2019 European Capital of Culture, Matera has been continuously inhabited since Neanderthal times with a history of providing refuge for spiritual seekers.
I wanted to transmit my experience of being there – of wandering the shepherd’s paths on the steep, thyme-scented hillsides, of sheltering in ancient, frescoed cave churches known as rupestri with my fingertips touching the furrows of long ago pilgrims’ carved crosses in the cave walls. The vastness of the Murgia plateau under the strong Mediterranean sun, the fields of asphodels in springtime flower, the falcons swooping and diving in the ever-present wind currents – all of this and more I had absorbed and wanted to share with others.
As a dancer, my own sensed experience was my place of beginning. Like other artists, investigators and shamans, I know things by becoming them. A creative collaborator once wrote that in another time and place, I would be a temple dancer. The limestone caves and landscape of Matera – sacred places of refuge, discovery and sustenance – resonated for me as the temple for this dancer. An American by birth, with grandparents of southern Italian heritage, I embarked on conveying to others the healing this locale offered me, the inspiration for communitas I found there, and the deep sense of home I discovered in Matera – all of which grew into Materadancescapes.
In this endeavor, I have been assisted by many along the way. Watermark Arts Creative Director and heartfelt collaborator Prue Jeffries traveled with me to Matera, along with her trusty drone “Stella” and video equipment. With an intrepid sense of adventure, she has filmed and documented my journey, along with her own perceptive and artful eye for nature in this compelling landscape. Spending days with footage, the Materadancescapes film collection has come into form under her loving attention.
A number of people native to Matera have served as loving guides to this land of cave churches. Damiano Scalcione was the first person to generously welcome me to Matera, and has continued to do so with every visit. Claudia DiPerna, along with her husband Michele Cenzone, opened my eyes to many of the cultural features of Matera. Michele Cappiello and Maria Teresa Barbaro graciously and kindly offered their vast knowledge of the local nature, history and culture. Paolo Montagna, Director CEA, made arrangements for us to film in Parco Murgia where Chiaroscuro was created at the San Falcione location. Francesco Catucci hosted us for the filming of In the Heart of the Cave. Since my first visit to Matera, Antonio Panetta of Locanda di San Martino, along with the devoted staff, has provided me with a gorgeous location for visits and workshops and made me feel at home. Each of these individuals has gone way beyond themselves to support me while I am in Matera. I treasure them as friends of my heart, fellow pilgrims in the journey of life.
Elaine Colandrea, February 2020