the art of reinvention

Natalia Giro’s Renaissance 

At a young age, she had the foresight to demand more than what the classics could offer: her background in opera evolved into pop; and theatre became cinema. She traded Italy for France, stepping into the skin of the mature artist she is today.

An artist graced by the muses is easily spotted. They have a certain frantic energy to them, as if constantly driven by an inner inspiration to create. Natalia possesses this. She is never without an idea to share, or a comment to make. She speaks spontaneously; her words are fresh. There’s something at once inviting and intimidating about her. She draws you in completely. You want to laugh with her; ride her same frequency. But she’s also very efficient. Like she’s being timed somewhere off in the wings of the stage of reality. There’s this multiplicity, as if she is in more than one place at once, and yet, she never appears distracted or distant. It’s a skill. One that she reveals is her credo for success.

Natalia has relished in quite a bit of freedom throughout her career, in part due to her chameleon-like ability to adapt: ‘I don’t really belong anywhere … I take on the colors of the place and I feel at home. It’s the easiest way to survive.’ And when it comes to the arts, it is indeed about learning to survive. Like in an unpredictable storm, one must be ready to take on any challenge. Sometimes the weather comes from without, other times from within.

Surviving in today’s gig economy: They don’t call them starving artists for nothing!

Natalia has a knack for landing gigs; and several at once if possible. ‘I definitely don’t have this kind of security that my childhood friend has—she’s married and her kids are 20 years old already! Everyone asks me: do you want to have kids, do you want to get married … I live like a precarious artist, but I chose my freedom.’ Increasingly today, those of us who don’t have ‘stable’ jobs have come together in what has been called the ‘gig economy’. It isn’t the first time in history that individuals have opted for freelance or short-term work, but this economy is growing; and largely due to technology. The muses may fill you with bright inspiration, but they don’t have the cash to pay your rent while you figure out what to make of it. With the advent of social media and other digital platforms, it is true that many young adults have turned to the arts and entertainment industries for personal and—if they’re lucky—professional fulfillment: makeup tutorials, song covers, film reviews, talk shows, etc. But while they do represent a majority of the ‘gig economy’, the more traditional (and generally older) artists—those whose careers weren’t born on the Internet—know this to be a necessary lifestyle and commitment with significant consequences. 

Times are changing.

‘Today, you just wake up and decide to become an actor because you’re bored with your current profession. I say: No! I’ve been doing this since I was 15, and it’s difficult.’ The ‘gig economy’ has another significant consequence on the concept of a career: a new belief that anyone can do anything, which pervades much of Western culture. Yet this practice tends to divide us on the so-called ‘path to success’. On the one hand there are those who will take on odd jobs and exploit additional talents. On the other, individuals who will invest relentlessly into a single dream. And those who alternate their approach; ‘that’s what your twenties are for…’ or a mid-life crisis. 

‘Do a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.’ 

In another life, Natalia could have been working in the Golden Age of Hollywood; singing, dancing, and acting all at once. ‘I’m a singing actress or acting singer. I think both, together, are so organic.’ And she certainly has the poise and demeanor for that kind of star power. Yet, ironically, today’s stars aren’t the multidisciplinary artists who have learned to master the gig economy. In both music and acting, the most recognized professionals have usually dedicated themselves entirely to a single discipline—even though they may diversify once established. Natalia herself began her study of the arts in a very traditional setting, one that didn’t necessarily recognize contemporary artistic versatility. Up until the age of 15 she had studied opera in her birthplace of Poland. While she claims to have always had a passion for theater, it was not until the age of 23 that she would move to Italy in pursuit of the stage. ‘I understood that if I wanted to do music and acting together, I needed to switch to pop culture.’

An unexpected turn of events: The remaking of an artist.

Fifteen years later, with a great deal of professional experience already behind her, Natalia received a terrifying diagnosis: a tumor on her vocal chords. She was going to lose her voice—her most valuable instrument. It is a scary prospect for any professional of the stage. In fact, it has become quite commonplace for artists, and in particular musicians, to buy an insurance policy for a specific body part. But, this is a practice of wealthy celebrities. Natalia’s voice is not insured. She went through with a 5-hour long invasive surgery, and for three months, she could not utter a word. But the muses seemed to like this new arrangement, for they inspired her to go live in an ashram. Natalia doesn’t have much to say about her personal journey during this time. The silence seems to persist even now in her recollections. What she does take from this moment in her life, is the physical practice of yoga. At a time when she could not express herself otherwise, her mind found solace in physical movement and strength. And today, she has integrated yoga poses and breathing exercises in her children’s music classes (yes, a gig that sustains her commitment to her art).

After a journey in silence, Natalia left her adopted country of Italy to move to France. Somewhat similarly, she spent some time again without a ‘voice’. She didn’t speak any French, but her lack of vocabulary is arguably what pushed her towards work in the advertisement industry. ‘Here I’m in plenty of advertisement agencies. I didn’t even think to look for acting agencies when I arrived. I wanted to learn the language first.’ It is almost as if she chose her silence once again to retreat within herself and be born again more talented.

A phoenix rising: The path to directorship.

Today, Natalia speaks French fluently and plans on editing a new show reel with her most recent endeavors in French film and television. Recently, she played in Jonathan Littel’s rendition of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea for the Opéra de Paris entitled, Le Couronnement (2019). In it, she interprets the role of the Roman emperor’s playful mistress, Poppée. ‘It was really difficult as a film, because for the first time in my life I was acting in a silent film. They really just directed me to do the minimum; enough to show what was happening.’ Again, it seems the muses rejoiced in this new found silence; and so did Natalia, for her acting through physical posture and movement alone echoed elements of her yoga practice. Something which has given her a stronger presence and perhaps more confidence to take on an important off-screen role as film director. It is not a move that is without precedent. Many actresses have walked off stage to take a seat behind the cameras. This past summer, Natalia followed in their footsteps with her her own short film, Substitution (2020). 

‘I wrote the scenario with a friend of mine. It’s very creepy, psychological, and fantastical all at once. The three characters are based on mythology. I’ve transposed their story to that of a bourgeois family. I play Démé, goddess of fertility, but I have made her into something of a demon. She’s pregnant with a sort of demigod that she cannot give birth to. She must find a substitute womb.’ As Démé, Natalia commands the scenes in which her character appears. Perhaps more impressively, it is a film acted entirely in French. A language the actress masters beautifully, with a hint of an accent from a past life. 

At the end of a particularly tumultuous year, Natalia—like many artists—faces the challenge of finding novel ways to reinvent herself in an art she has been perfecting for the better part of her life. Perhaps her inspiration will come this time not from the muses, but from the mug that sits on a counter in her narrow kitchen: sois pas sad, sois sexy et mysterious (don’t be sad, be sexy and mysterious).

Photos courtesy of Natalia Giro

Based on an interview conducted by the author

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