NYU The Season, ART in the garden

The Season at Villa La Pietra

Kim Chi Ha
June 4, 2009

Sticky hot summers in Florence are often' equated with crowds of people and endless lines. However, an escape does exist beyond the humid city center. Away from the crowded streets, nestled in the hills of via Bolognese we find Villa La Pietra, a reminder that Florence's heart-rending beauty exists beyond the Ponte Vecchio.  

La Pietra is home to New York University's (NYU) Florence program and the 57-acre estate, hidden beyond wrought iron gates, is home to The Season, an exciting cultural program that brings together artists and public intellectuals from different disciplines to create and present new works-all against the backdrop of the city of Florence.

Now in its fifth year, the summer program held in the fully restored gardens of La Pietra hosts debut performances from world-renowned actors, musicians and writers, as well as NYU graduate students.The stage is provided by the villa's gardens, with their statue-filled décor, fountains dotted with lily pads, intimate vegetable garden lined with lemon trees, wild orchids in bloom, and views overlooking the Duomo below.

As La Pietra's director, Ellyn Toscano, noted, in the 1930s, the gardens were used as a space to perform, create and celebrate. A garden represents origins, and, fittingly, every evening at the Season at La Pietra, the audience witnesses debut performances. ‘These extremely theatrical spaces used to be rooms for celebration, and our idea was to restore that sense of celebration,' said Toscano, ‘with the creation of something entirely new, for only one night, in these gardens.'

Exploring themes from journalism to jazz to poetry film and more, The Season boasts a rich calendar of events from June 11 to July 8. On June 15, ‘Journalism in Jeopardy,' features E.L. Doctrow in conversation with award-winning author and former editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, about the future of journalism. The Continuum Company from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts performs Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on June 20; the production debuts in Florence then travels to New York to be performed in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a part of the city's Parks Foundation's Theatre Festival.

New this year is an afternoon of poetry. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa will be joined by Stanley Moss, Walter Murch, Eugene Ostashevsky and Peter Vermeersch for a conversation and reading followed by tea and a musical interlude, all before the much-awaited evening performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream.    

The events are located in various areas of the garden. For example, Midsummer will be performed in the Teatrino. A big band jazz concert is slated for the Seconda Vasca, and ‘A Conversation about Non-Fiction,' featuring Rachel Cohen, Walter Murch, Victor Navasky, E.L. Doctorow and Lawrence Weschler, will be held in the Sala da Ballo. Each space is chosen to complement the event, and over the course of The Season audience members will have moved through all the different rooms of the garden.

Other events on the schedule are entirely new performances created and produced by the artists in residence at La Pietra, with an emphasis on fostering dialogue between artists and the audience. ‘In New York City, these artists will live next door to each other and never pause to interact, but here we give them time and space and they return to the essence of the craft,' said Toscano. Not only does the audience enjoy the fruits of collaboration among writers, actors and musicians, but the intimate setting and nature of the performances allow for a greater understanding of the artists' work, and even direct conversation.

A practical note: given the intimate nature of many of the venues, reservations are required and can be made by emailing lapietra.reply@nyu.edu or calling 055/5007253.

 

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