Seattle Culture

When Bad Meat is a Good Thing

Choreographer Alice Gosti’s work dives deep

By Rachel Gallaher January 3, 2024

This is Concrete II was a five-hour, site responsive performance created in the historical Georgetown Steam Plant.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Over the clear, hot Labor Day weekend, as hordes of people streamed to Seattle Center for the return of the Bumbershoot art and music festival, what looked like a small football team clad in red jerseys, black gym shorts, and helmets made its way around the campus, pausing to form huddles, fall into synchronized abstract movement, and raise each other in lifts.

For those watching, it quickly became clear that the group wasn’t a sports team but rather some kind of performance troupe dancing along the footpaths, under the white arches of the Pacific Science Center, and in Memorial Stadium’s concrete breezeways. The bright red jerseys were all emblazoned, front and back, with the same word: MALACARNE.

“It translates from Italian to ‘bad meat,’” says dancer and choreographer Alice Gosti, who formed the experimental dance and performance group with the same name in 2017. “During Mussolini’s regime, if a woman didn’t conform to the fascist ideals of how to be in society — we’re talking about women who couldn’t or didn’t want to have children, women who wanted to be intellectuals, women who were deemed too masculine — she was often institutionalized by the state and labeled malacarne.”

For Gosti, born and raised in Perugia, Italy, the name feels fitting, as much of her work — and the ensemble of dancers she collaborates with — pushes against societal norms. Known for her site-responsive pieces (Gosti rarely performs on or creates for the traditional theatre-based stage) and her dedication to female, nonbinary, transgender, immigrant, and BIPOC performers, Gosti has made MALACARNE’s mission, as stated on its website, “to coauthor transformative performance ritual that fights reductive ideas regarding class, sexuality, gender, ability, and ethnicity.”

“The work we have been doing is committed to the specificity of a site,” Gosti says, “as an exchange between the outside and the inside world based on a specific geographical location. In art history, ‘site-specific’ has a very defined set of values and aesthetics, and we add more to that by looking at the history of a place or site and the communities involved with that site.”

MALACARNE was a hit at Bumbershoot last September.

Photo by James Harnois

This includes acknowledging displaced and indigenous people, investigating how different bodies were treated/allowed in places throughout history, and how changing political and social systems impacted who could and could not be in a space and how they could show up. Taken against the predominantly white patriarchal systems that have dominated society ad infinitum, a group of creatives who doesn’t fit into that narrow mold but arrives somewhere ready to take up space and assert its presence is a bold act in and of itself.

In April 2022, MALACARNE returned to in-person performance with this is concrete II, a five-hour immersive show at the Georgetown Steam Plant (attendees could come, go, and wander the venue as they pleased) that touched on the idea of the price of human “progress” and the paradox of technologies that become obsolete.

“Given the history of the steam plant and what it represents,” Gosti says, “then working with female, trans, and nonbinary bodies — there is this layer of asking, ‘What does it mean for us to be in those spaces?’”

Gosti is no stranger to this question — it has confronted her for most of her dance career, which means most of her life. Raised in Perugia by an American mother and Italian father (her parents are the installation and performance art duo SANDFORD&GOSTI), Gosti started ballet class at age 3. The program was “old school,” an introduction to classical ballet in which the teachers were not afraid to use corporal punishment.

“The first time they hit me, my mother immediately said, ‘This isn’t working for us,’” Gosti recalls.

Gosti’s mother found another dance school run by two women from Naples. It focused on a broader scope of dance. There was ballet, but also choreography, improvisation, and modern dance. “I was hooked,” Gosti recalls. “From middle school through high school, I spent more time at the studio than home.” The first time a piece of her choreographed work was showcased, she was just 16 years old.

After graduating high school, she auditioned and was accepted to several European conservatories. Sensing that the atmosphere in these more traditional settings — conforming to the way things have always been — would not serve her, she opted to go to America.

In 2004, Gosti enrolled at the University of Washington. Her mother grew up in this area, and Gosti had taken summer workshops at Cornish College of the Arts and Velocity Dance Center while visiting family. She planned to study dance for four years, then move to a larger city in the United States or return to Europe.

My Armors is an installation and wearable art piece.

Photo by James Harnois

“I had no plans to stay,” Gosti recalls, noting that she was in a long-distance relationship with someone back home and felt very homesick. Gradually, she started connecting with other dancers and people in the creative community. Once her relationship ended, Gosti realized she could go or stay anywhere. And then an opportunity fell into her lap.

Adam Sekuler, former program director at Northwest Film Forum, asked Gosti if she would participate in the “Live at the Film Forum” series featuring dance, film, and music. The two had met through On the Board’s “12 Minutes Max” performance lab for new and experimental works, after which Sekuler started following Gosti’s career.

The piece Gosti presented, Spaghetti Co.: Something Just Happened at 1:19 pm, looked at the relationships between families and food — and involved three dancers in white costumes interacting with a  cartoon-like pile of spaghetti with red sauce (and each other) in humorous, at times tender, and thought-provoking ways.

“In the early 2010s, I became aware of (Alice) and her work,” says Kaitlin McCarthy, a local dance artist, teacher, writer, and MALACARNE performer. “I was drawn to the theatricality of her work that was at once intense and also playful. Alice is a captivating performer — grounded, precise, intentional. She understands pacing. She knows how to draw you into an experience without being overtly dramatic or performative.”

From her Spaghetti Co. piece, which clocked in at around one hour, Gosti started experimenting with durational work — performances that lasted multiple hours, allowing viewers to control the length of time they experienced a work. In 2012, artist Amanda Manitach, who was at the time a curator at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery, gave Gosti the gallery for two weeks and essentially said, “Do whatever you want.” The result, the Yellow Fish // Epic Durational Performance Festival, featured a variety of long-duration (up to 48 hours) live works conceived for nontraditional performance spaces.

“With durational work, time is your medium, not movement, not music,” Gosti says. “I think taking things out of a theatre was also a big turning point for me. The moment I went to site-responsive work, my imagination expanded — it blew up.”

Gosti, who in 2021, received the prestigious Princess Grace Choreography Honoraria Award, led the Yellow Fish festival for nearly five years before passing the baton to focus on her own creations, which have become more complex over the years, happening in locations including Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Fort Worden Historical State Park, the W.T. Preston (the last functioning “sternwheeler” boat in Puget Sound), and the Inscape Arts and Cultural Center.

Nearly 20 years after planning to leave Seattle, Gosti has not only found her footing in Seattle’s dance scene, she has deeply influenced it.

Each place is chosen for specific reasons, with attention to its history, politics, and cultural relevance — and the understanding that all dancers and audience members bring their layered histories and experiences to the site.

“The body carries experiences around race, ethnicities, gender, class, culture,” Gosti says. “The body is a social and cultural tool. The body holds memory. Movement becomes a tool for understanding, questioning, and processing. Dance is a place where that experience can take place in a shared, communal way. I invite my collaborators to add and include their memories and personal stories. I think of this as a way in which their body is in direct relationship with the work. And how that is a huge influence in how an audience connects, and the experience of their own body they might have.”

Nearly 20 years after planning to leave Seattle, Gosti — who is working on an ambitious piece (in collaboration with MALACARNE and the community focused nonprofit organization Path with Art) titled, the sky is the same color everywhere or on the rapture of being alive, a five-hour durational site-responsive dance that will take place in Seattle next spring — has not only found her footing in the city’s dance scene, she has deeply influenced it.

“Alice has established an aesthetic that anyone with even peripheral knowledge of Seattle dance would recognize,” McCarthy says. “Jumpsuits, lines of people, repeated durational movements, and her ‘machines,’ which are massively complicated, human Rube Goldberg-esqe puzzles of precise cause-and-effect.

“Alice is known for five-hour, site-specific spectacles, which are large-scale collaborations with musical groups and the architecture we are dancing on. You have to have a lot of vision and hustle to make something that ambitious happen.

Follow Us

Longtime Seattle Artist Mary Ann Peters Opens Show at the Frye 

Longtime Seattle Artist Mary Ann Peters Opens Show at the Frye 

Peters’ first solo museum show is a testament to her decades-long career

After more than 30 years of active involvement in Seattle’s art scene, Mary Ann Peters finally has her first solo museum show...

The First Sculptor of Seattle

The First Sculptor of Seattle

James Wehn's work can still be seen all over the city

My first encounter with the work of James Wehn occurred in the 1980s during a family trip to the Seattle Center. At some point that day we found ourselves walking around in the nearby Belltown neighborhood when someone in the group pointed to a statue of Chief Seattle. The 400-pound bronze statue sits at Tilikum…

Unmatched Ingenuity

Unmatched Ingenuity

Edwin Fountain’s artistic innovations can be seen all over south Seattle

This tree is dead — Seattle Parks and Recreation had decapitated it — but to Edwin Fountain, it is a canvas. A piece of marble. A sculpture waiting to emerge. I ask him what it’s going to be. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’m waiting for it to tell me.”

Healing in Motion

Healing in Motion

Dance artist Lavinia Vago explores the power of movement through the art of dance

For millennia, movement has been an integral part of the human experience...