“Two cultures touch and share the beauty of art.” This was the tag line for the Italian International Dance Festival. The very first ever held in the US, the Festival hoped to be a touchstone for professional dance in Italy and America. I can tell you that it succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. The Festival was held on March 22 at the Julia Richman Theater in NYC.
The Festival was the idea of a small group of dance-centric visionaries who call themselves TAG: T for Tabata Caldironi, a professional dancer and Italian TV hostess; A for Antonio Pio Fini, a professional dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of the Festival; and G for Gianluca Blandi, a professional dancer, choreographer and producer.
This same group spearheads the Festival’s companion event, the Alto Jonio Dance Festival (AJD) held annually in Calabria, Italy. This means that the winner of the Festival’s Emerging Choreographer Competition, Diasuke Omiya, will perform his work at AJD in Italy in July 2013.
One of the emotional highpoints of the Festival was the performance of Noa Guy and Antonio Pio Fini. Noa Guy is a composer, musician and vocalist who 17 years ago came to New York from Israel for one week and has never been able to return. During that fateful week, she was in a near fatal car crash that left her in a coma. When she awoke, her injuries required years of rehabilitation. Brain trauma left her with epilepsy and deafness in one ear. With serious equilibrium problems and without feeling from the knee down in one leg, she walks only with the help of forearm crutches.
What in the world is she doing on stage at a dance festival? Noa met Antonio at Movement Salon on 3rd Avenue, where they worked together on her healing. They created a series of movements that allow Noa to things she cannot otherwise do: jump, climb, be suspended upside down, twist and turn. Eventually they turned these movements into a performance.
Noa walks onto the stage with her crutches, lets them fall to the floor and takes Antonio’s hands. From there, she soars and spins to the music while Antonio, on whom she depends for stability and strength, adjusts to every nuance of her movement. As much as they practice, each time they dance is an improvisation. As described so eloquently by the Host, Tabata Caldironi, “Noa can’t walk. But with Antonio, she can dance.”
“A Heart For Art Lifetime Achievement Award” was given to Luigi Facciuto, known by everyone as “Luigi”. A first-generation Italian American, Luigi danced from a very early age until a car accident left him paralyzed and comatose in his 20’s. He eventually emerged from his injuries by developing his own movement technique which became what the world knows as Jazz Dance. Luigi performed in over 40 Hollywood films including Singin’ In the Rain. Gene Kelly was his mentor. He worked with the likes of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Danny Kaye. Over time, he moved to NYC and opened Luigi’s Jazz Centre, where he still teaches and inspires every day. Among other accomplishments, Luigi was known for having the most students performing on Broadway than any other teacher in the city.
Part of Luigi’s mission is to rehabilitate dancers with serious injuries, such as Ben Vereen. Ben worked with Luigi after a car wreck left him unable to perform. “Luigi got me dancing again,” says Vereen. “Italy has given America many wonderful things. But the best thing Italy ever gave America was Luigi.” Ben accompanied Luigi to the Festival’s Artists’ Reception and helped us celebrate Luigi’s 80th birthday.
“A Heart For Art Extraordinary Dancer Award” was given to Alessandra Ferri. Born in Milan and a student of Teatro alla Scala, she joined London’s Royal Ballet Theater. After performing at the Met in 1982, Mikhail Baryshnikov invited her to join him at the American Ballet Theater. She became Principal Dancer and remained with the company for 28 years. She was named Permanent Guest Artist at La Scala in Milan and retired in 2007. Since then, she has collaborated on many creative projects, including a short film with Sting called Prelude.
“A Heart For Art Bridge Award” was given to Elena Albano, a native of Milan and a renowned teacher of the Martha Graham technique. Albano studied at the Martha Graham School and the Alvin Ailey School in NYC and the National Center for Contemporary Dance National Ballet in Mexico. She has taught the Martha Graham Technique at Teatro Carcano in Milan since 1990. Along the way, she also managed to graduate in Medicine and Surgery and is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist. Albano bridges not only medicine and dance through understanding and challenging the human body, but she also bridges the US and Italy by bringing dance to each culture.
“A Heart For Art Ambassador Award” was given to Sasa’ Di Donna. Di Donna trained in American Jazz Dance and has had a long career in dance and choreography on Italian television. He brings his love of Jazz to his many choreography projects in his native Milan as well as Morocco, London, Dubai and South Africa.
Each award winner received a custom made piece of jewelry from Franco Pianegonda. His creations are worn by celebrities like Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and Ivana Trump.
The Festival performances included:
U Mundu Balla, choreography by Nicola Iervasi, performed by Talent Unlimited High School students, music by QuartAumenta.
Kyrie – part of a larger piece, Requiem, created in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birthday. Choreography by Michael Mao, performed by Antonio Pio Fini & Kristin Draucker.
Bright – choreography and performance by Diasuke Omiya, Emerging Choreographer Competition Winner.
Solitude –choreography by Luigi, performed by his student Jessica Black, music by Duke Ellington.
La Pelle Sotto L’Abito – choreography by Alex Atzewi, performed by Alex Atzewi Dance Company.
Quando Io Non Sono – choreography by Elena Albano, performed by Sefania Coloru and Vera Paganin music by Stefano Ianne.
Tripudium – choreography by Antonella Perazzo, performed by Caliince Dance of Pauline Legras music by Gianluca Perazzo.
Abbalamu Cu Ventu – choreography by Mare Nostrum Elements, Kevin Albert and Nicola Iervasi, performed by Suzanne Beahrs, Ada Cacciatore, Eduardo Hermanson, Laurence Martin, Samantha McLoughlin, Collin Ranf, Sabrina Shapiro, Joshua Yarbrough, music by QuartAumenta.
Le Lavandaie – choreography by Mare Nostrum Elements, Anabella Lenzu, performed by Eva Hansson, Cheryl Orsini, traditional Tarantella music arranged by Joseph Church.
Dancing with Noa – choreography and performance by Noa Guy and Antonio Pio Fini, music Claudio Monteverdi.
Moment to Moment – choreography by Ellen Tharp, performed by Staten Island Ballet, music by Anna Moffo singing Rachmaninoff.
New York, New York – choreography by Luigi, performed by his student Ericka Black, sung by Liza Minnelli, who is another Luigi student.
The generous sponsors who made this event so special include:
Gourmet Cooking & Living
La Cucina Italiana Magazine