Keith Ferrone, co-artistic director of the long-running Florence Dance Festival, sounds like a giddy teenager when he speaks about this year’s month-long edition. Such ebullience from a festival veteran is never a given: steady enthusiasm and a sense of childlike wonder are arguably what have propelled Florence Dance Festival forward through the years.
The showcase turns 29 this year, and Ferrone, together with co-director Marga Nativo, has been at the helm from the start. For both, the goosebumps haven’t gone away: if anything, they’ve only gotten more pronounced as the festival ends its eight-year run in the Bargello and uproots to the Grand Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, where it will host 25 performances from July 3 to August 2.
Over coffee, Ferrone gleefully recounts a recent late night spent filming the promo video for “Novella Classica”, the theme for the new edition. Dancers dressed as Marvel Comics-styled incarnations of the Three Graces flitted through the darkened complex. Cameras trailed them from all angles. Every sound, every fresco detail was amplified after hours. Ferrone and the team had a field day.
He’s sure audiences will feel the same: “When we walk in to the stage area in the reopened Grand Cloister”—closed to the public since 1920 and now converted into a 450-seat arena for the festival—“we’re all going to be like little kids discovering a secret garden, going ” wow!“
“Childhood” is long over for the festival itself, yet the Novella Classica theme sets a particularly youthful tone this year. Marga Nativo’s commitment to fostering the development of young dancers has always been a festival cornerstone, but bringing some age-defying dynamism into Santa Maria Novella is an added aim for 2018. The invitation to move to the massive Florentine stronghold, Ferrone notes, came from Mayor Dario Nardella, who needed to “baptize” the reopened space with an inaugural cultural initiative.
Since its inception, the festival has quietly shaped new identities for once-stagnant local spaces in need of revival. If history is any indication, the Grand Cloister move is a strategic seed-planting of sorts, a way of priming the space to take on a new role as a cultural stage. It joins good company: early editions of Florence Dance Festival were held in the Cascine, which just welcomed 200,000 international visitors and A-list music titans for Firenze Rocks. Others were staged in piazza Santissima Annunziata, which went on to see a multimillion euro renovation of the Innocenti Museum, become a summer cinema hub and has now been the MusArt Festival backdrop for three years running.
The international and multi-genre program will of course have a hand in this, too. Ferrone points to the Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Company gala night (July 9) as a highlight. Jones will receive the Mercurio Volante prize for his era-defining contributions to the dance world.
Another high point will be the kickoff, an Open Day event (July 3) modeled after the 2016 “Santa Maria Novella Day” which unveiled the expanded complex to the general public. But for the Florence Dance Festival version, crowds will be drawn in not just for the chapels and cloisters, but for free-entry dance lessons, spontaneous performances in all manner of spaces, flash mobs and music.
Music is central to another program peak: a July 27 event with the Michael Clark Company, whose frontman Ferrone cheekily calls the “rock & roll bad boy” of today’s dance scene. Patti Smith and David Bowie classics are staples in Clark’s punk-tinged, design-heavy productions.
But back to Ferrone’s signature spirit of childlike wonder. It’s not something he can bottle up and distribute, but he and Nativo have come as close as anyone can to guaranteeing that audiences will catch it. After the Clark show, they’re organizing an open-air dance floor-disco in the cloister, lasting through the late hours and promising several surprises. In the spirit of the Novella Classica superheroes, Ferrone says, they’re looking to “save art, save dance, save Santa Maria Novella.”
Those “Marvel” muses would be proud.