Protein was founded in 1997 by Italian Luca Silvestrini and Swiss Bettina Strickler, who attended the Laban Centre (now Trinity Laban) together as students. Beginning with their bilingual duet Duel in 1998, they created a series of high energy, accessible professional stage works, each one relishing a different aspect of contemporary life: confessional television (Portrait with Group and Duck, 1998), psychoanalysis (On the Couch, 2000), booze culture (Publife, 2002) and social Darwinism (The Banquet, 2003). Continuing as sole Artistic Director after Bettina’s departure from the company in 2004, Luca tackled consumerism (Big Sale, 2005) and obsession with body image (B for Body, 2006), which won Luca Silvestrini the Audience Vote in The Place Prize 2006 and led to the full-length Dear Body, 2008/09.
Protein has toured throughout the United Kingdom and internationally, with performances in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Germany, Croatia, Malta, Czech Republic, Holland, Canada and the USA.
LOL (lots of love), 2010, inspired by the culture of online relationships, was part of the British Council Showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe and subsequently toured to the Middle East, Croatia, Russia, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Colombia, Thailand and India.
LOL (lots of love) was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at Theatre Awards UK 2011; and Best Modern Choreography and Outstanding Female Performance (Modern) at the National Dance Awards 2011, when Protein was awarded Best Independent Company.
Border Tales, 2013-14, explored the experiences of migrants and multi-cultural living in the UK. Featuring a live score and performed in-the-round, the show was performed for the longest run The Place has ever presented - three weeks - and two of those weeks sold out. In 2016 the show appeared on BBC Worldwide as part of an ‘Identity Day’, broadcast to millions of people around the world.
Protein’s most recent show, May Contain Food,examines our complex relationship with food. A collaboration with composer Orlando Gough, the audience is sat at tables while being waited on by the performers, bringing the show ever closer to those watching and even including them in it. In 2016 the show was selected and adapted to be a part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, a pioneering project designed to stimulate the making of dance for rural areas.
As well as creating stage works, Luca has also made several outdoor, site-sensitive pieces, the most recent being Windows in Progress, staged in the shop windows of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House. This was commissioned by the Royal Opera House for Deloitte Ignite 2014 and seen by nearly 7000 over 19 performances.
(In)visible Dancing, an emergent, participatory performance combining the idea of a 'flashmob' with a show that is performed and developed over a period of one or two weeks, has been presented to major festival in the UK, Ireland, Italy and been seen by over 100,000 people since 2010.
Protein is Company in Residence at Greenwich Dance and a Yorkshire Dance Partner, and in 2012 it became a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England.
Luca Silvestrini’s concern for the human condition and his drive to communicate contemporary dance to a wider public has led to Protein carving out new territory in which to develop, present and experience dance theatre.
Protein has created several projects for large cross-generational casts. Most influentially, Alfresco (2005) established Protein’s reputation for this work nationally and internationally, leading to commissions in Athens (Stavrodomi, 2007), Valencienne (Valfresco, 2007), London (Crossroads, 2011), Barcelona (Cruilles, 2011), Turin (Dimore 2012), Kinosaki, Japan (Crossroads 2015) and Wadebrige, Cornwall (Generate 2016) .
At the same time, Protein has developed dance participation packages for schools and colleges that help to enhance students’ understanding of the company's work and meet the needs of the National Curriculum for dance and performing arts. With East London Dance, Protein created its dance film Start to Finish, which involved 150 schoolchildren, the development of which led to the creation of an educational CD Rom that enabled teachers to link dance to the 2012 Olympics.
Luca's ongoing contribution to participatory dance has also included Big Dance Class, 2006, which involved the record-breaking simultaneous participation of 8,962 people all around the country; LIFT's Eat London, 2007; 8 Steps for 08 for Liverpool City of Culture, 2008; and Big World Dance, 2010, Protein's largest ever Big Dance event for Trafalgar Square in London.
Equally challenging and also immensely rewarding has been Protein’s Real Life Real Dance programme, starting in 2006 with I Woz ‘Ere 2, a performance-led project involving young people excluded from mainstream education in collaboration with arts organisations and Pupil Referral Units in London, Birmingham, Swindon and Swanley. Everything Stopped (2006), a documentary commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation, has promoted Protein's approach to dance and increased its international profile. After I Woz 'Ere 2, in 2015-16 the company created XOXO, based on LOL (lots of love), engaging with students and their families in projects in north London, Greenwich and Bournemouth/Poole.
Real Life Real Dance also includes creative dance projects with young children in hospital, which started in 2008 with a residency at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London and documented in Roswitha Chesher's film Dancing Hospital. Protein revisited the hospital for projects in October 2012 and again in February 2013.
In 2015, a new strand of Real Life Real Dance was introduced, inspired by the research and development process of Border Tales, creating work with and for refugees over a three week intensive period. Entitled Here and There was developed with learners from Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants and was presented at the Place during Summer 2015.