The actress and dancer Calderoni was sometimes called “Cal” by other children growing up in Italy in the 1980s. “Cal” is short for Calderoni, but it could also mean “Cal” as in Cal/Calliope, the main character in the novel “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.
“MDLSX”, like “Middlesex”, is the name of the solo performance by MOTUS that features Calderoni in her very first solo stage performance. Daniela Francesconi Nicolò, director and dramaturg of the performance, is one of the founders of the Italian performance group MOTUS. She couldn’t contain her laughter when she talked about Calderoni’s childhood nickname. That’s because “MDLSX” blends literary and philosophical elements with autobiographical fragments, and the double “Cal” is merely coincidental.
Serving as a point-of-reference for “MDLSX”, the 2002 bestseller “Middlesex“ by the American writer Jeffrey Eugenides tells the story of Calliope Stephanides, called Cal for short. She grows up in a third generation Greek family in Detroit. Though classified as a girl at birth, after a car crash he finds out that he is actually intersexual – and thereafter lives as a man. Now considered one of the most important books of the twenty-first century, “Middlesex” is a sprawling story about a family as well as a coming-of-age novel; it brought an issue that had been marginal into the mainstream. Daniela Francesconi Nicolò loves “Middlesex”. But there’s more: “When I started reading the book I was often reminded of Silvia.”
When Daniela Francesconi Nicolò talks about Silvia Calderoni, the three words she always uses are ambiguity, androgyny and presence. “Silvia is about presence”, she explained in an interview with Silvia Calderoni, and the words are the highest praise a director could possible give to her actress. They have worked together for ten years. That’s why Nicolò has already heard the stories of Calderoni being asked whether she was a boy or girl by her classmates, friends and even parents. Sometimes it was a joke, often it was cruel.
According to Nicolò, “MDLSX” was initiated by Calderoni. Despite the references and similarities to the novel, “MDLSX” is not an adaptation of “Middlesex”, and Calderoni does not play the role of Cal as written by Eugenides; instead, the story depicts a girl who as a child was always mistaken for a boy and is forced to confront her ambiguous female identity once she hits puberty. Nicolò and Calderoni explained that the underlying premise of their work is about not being forced to belong or to choose one’s biological gender.
At first they wanted to make use of Calderoni’s own life, yet they chose to open up the story to make it more universal. Calderoni’s performance is filled with experiences and fragments from Eugenides’s novel, as well as from texts by philosophers and scholars of queer theory such as Judith Butler and Paul B. Preciado, who criticise hetero-normative structures and inflexible notions of gender roles, as well as private home videos from the 1980s and 1990s and pop music. Pop becomes an integral part of the storyboard and Calderoni, who is also a DJ in “real life”, tells the story of her/his Cal using groups that influenced her as someone born in 1981: Placebo, Vampire Weekend, The Smiths and Dresden Dolls.