Florence is a city of movement—a city of dance. From the Renaissance sculptures and frescos that adorn churches and piazzas featuring men and women in elegant positions of comportment, to the Italian use of gesture and the intricate, cobble-stoned street maneuverings of car, moped and pedestrian, Florence is rich in choreographic possibilities. So perhaps it’s not surprising to learn of Florence’s vibrant dance community or that the city is host to the Florence Dance Festival, an annual, month-long event celebrating dance through performances by well renowned local and international companies. Now in it’s 16th year, the festival has featured the New York-based Merce Cunningham, David Parsons and Stephen Petronio Dance Companies, the French choreographer Pascal Rioult, and more avant-garde performances by Molissa Fenley and Jennifer Muller, to name just some of the 300-odd companies and choreographers who have performed as part of the festival. The brainchild of Keith Ferrone and his wife ballerina Marga Nativo, who also serve as co- Artistic Directors of the Florence Dance Company, this year’s festival brings together a range of movement vocabularies and cultures: cutting edge work from Canada, the contemporary ballet of San Francisco-based Smuin Ballet and the Florence Dance Company, and the hip-hop inspired work of Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris Puremovement. This confluence of dance vocabularies, which will descend on the Teatro Romano di Fiesole (June 19 through July 28), is not only an opportunity for Florentines and tourists alike to view important work by both established and emerging contemporary choreographers, but is also a venture for cultural and artistic exchange.
Florence is a point of departure and finality,” explains Ferrone when discussing the role of the city in the festival. So it’s fitting that the festival’s program of performances launches with work by the Florence Dance Company. The Company will perform Ferrone’s Excaliber Stories and, later during the festival’s line-up, Scenes du Ballet. In a sunlit rehearsal studio in the Oltrarno neighborhood, costume designer, Artistic Directors and guest, watched the second movement of Scènes du Ballet. Titled “Alzatevi, andiamo” (translated roughly as “You raise yourselves, we go!”), this lyrical work re-imagines the Agony of Christ and is filled with both literal and metaphoric imagery. Arms stretch out—open, loose, yet all encompassing. There is an ease and effortlessness to the movement that bespeaks redemption and absolution. Dancers recline on the floor, heads tilt in exaggerated epaulement, and the Christ-figure, always present, seems to hover above the others on a higher visual plane. At one point, a lone female figure rises on half-point and balances for moments at a time—her stasis elicits constancy and she seems to embody faith itself.
Canada is represented by two performances in this year’s festival: Montreal-based Louise Lecavalier’s Cobalt Rouge, the renegade dancer and choreographer’s first full-length work after her departure from La La La Human Steps, and CAS Public presents Artistic Director Helene Blackburn’s Barbablu, a work based on the Charles Perrault folk tale, Blue Beard. London’s Rambert Dance Company performs Dark Elegies, one of Antony Tudor’s most famous ballets set to the music of Gustav Mahler. The American dance companies performing this year offer works inspired by American popular music; the Smuin Ballet will perform to Gershwin and Sinatra and the Philadelphia-based Rennie Harris Puremovement concludes the festival with such repertory works as P-Funk, Groove Collective and Dru Minyard, all bridge modern and hip-hop dance in Harris’s signature choreographic style.
Ferrone hopes that the festival helps to influence a new generation of dancers and dance patrons, and creates, in some small way, an appreciation for dance and the arts in general—a goal shared by the company, dance centre and school. After sixteen years, one might say Ferrone is close to his goal.
Florence Dance Festival,
June 19 through July 28, 2005,
Teatro Romano di Fiesole,