Sunday, September 30, 2012

Alto Jonio Dance 2012

What do NYC’s Martha Graham School, Peridance Capezio Center, Steps on Broadway, Essence of Italy, Key West’s Modern Dance, Milan’s Centro Studi Coreografici Carcano and Calabria’s AAJ-TV have in common?  We all joined forces to sponsor Alto Jonio Dance 2012 Festival (AJD 2012) in Villapiana, Calabria, Italy

AJD 2012 was an international, week-long dance school and competition held at the end of July in Calabria’s seaside town of Villapiana.  It brought together high-caliber choreographers, performers and students from around the world.  Antonio Pio Fini, a professional dancer and Villapiana native who splits his time between Italy and Manhattan, envisioned a dance event that would invigorate the local state of the art.  Calling upon contacts made throughout his career, Fini brought together a wide array of professionals to teach multiple dance styles.  From NYC, Michael Mao of Michael Mao Dance Company, Megumi Nakayama, hip hop choreographer, and Nicola Iervasi, Artistic Director of Mare Nostrum Elements; from Philadelphia, Christopher Fleming of Ballet Fleming; from Japan, Rebecca Imaizumi, hip hop choreographer; from Milan, Elena Albano, choreographer and teacher of Martha Graham technique; from Turin, Davide Accossato, tap dance teacher and from nearby Lattarico, Gianlucca Blandi taught Pilates while also serving as AJD’s Producer. 

Students chose from a wide variety of movement styles, including ballet, hip hop, tarantella, Pilates, yoga, Martha Graham technique, modern, repertory, Latin and tap.  The students were from the local area plus Milan and Vienna.  For many of them, this was the first time they would be exposed to such a variety of styles taught by such accomplished teachers.  As the week progressed, the students became more of a family; taking classes, sharing meals, going to the beach and enduring the heat (it was about 113 degrees Fahrenheit).  When the competition arrived on July 31, they enthusiastically cheered each other on from the stands.  Among the scholarship winners were Stefania Coloru, who will study for a semester at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York and Marco Belsito who will study at the Centro Studi Coreografici "Teatro Carcano" in Milan.

The night of the competition was hosted by Milan TV broadcasters Tabata Caldironi and Francesco Mogol.  The audience was treated to beautiful performances by AJD winners from prior years: Filipo Stabile, who was the 2011 winner from Villapiana and Jonathan Campbell, the winner of the 2011 Emerging Choreographer award in NYC.   Campbell, along with Austin Diaz, performed the works that won the 2011 prize along with a stunning new composition.

Michael Mao received an award honoring his outstanding career and contributions to the world of dance. Nicola Iervasi joined the stage along with his Mare Nostrum Elements dancers for a joyous tarantella, to the celebratory rhythms of QuartAumentata, a Calabrian musical group who just signed with Sony Classical.

The winner of the Prize for Choreographic Composition, Antonella Perazzo (center) hugs Artistic Director Antonio Pio Fini, to his right, Gianlucca Blandi, Producer.

Response of the town of Villapiana

Villapiana is the small seaside town where AJD’s Artistic Director, Antonio Pio Fini, was raised.  Although surely a wonderful place to grow up, it has limited opportunities for anyone dreaming of a career in dance.  Fini wanted to present the next generation of dancers in his town with better experiences, so he created this summer school and competition.

The town responded by warmly welcoming the teachers, students, journalists and tourists who arrived for AJD 2012.  A poetry contest was held for local school students, the winner being Rosa Maria Galluzzi for her entry, “La Danza” (The Dance).  She received her award on stage, along with her proud parents, on the night of the AJD competition. 

Rosa Maria is the daughter of Celestina and Vincenzo, owners of Hotel Celestina where I had the good fortune to stay.  It has a two-star rating but it acts like a three-star.  The rooms are spacious and full of light, with comfortable beds and modern, large bathrooms. Celestina and Vincenzo are the kind of warm, hospitable people that you hope to meet to meet in a small, foreign place. 

A continental breakfast is included at Il Pirata, a festive cafĂ© at the end of the street.  Il Pirata was built by Celestina’s father, who calls himself the Pirate of Gelato.  (He also built the hotel and named it for his daughter.)  I sampled as many gelato flavors as possible during my stay and I want to return and try them again. And again.

The hotel is within walking distance of the dance studio, grocery stores, restaurants and the beach.  Our chosen beach was Lido Verde, which provided lounges and umbrellas, changing rooms and showers.  We ate many lunches and dinners at Lido Verde, which served luscious spaghetti al mare with lemon and olive oil (one of my favorites).  I enjoyed all of the fish dishes, which were simply prepared with fresh fish caught nearby.  My personal favorite was a thick slice of sword fish drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh parsley.  Lido Verde also serves its own selection of wines that went perfectly with lunch and dinner.

Villapiana threw a party for the staff and dancers of AJD in the town square on a crystal clear moonlit night.  Organized by Mayor Roberto Rizzuto and Cultural Attache’ Felicia Favale, the piazza was closed to all vehicle traffic while tables were spread with homemade local dishes of pork, eggplant, artichokes and beans, wine and desserts.  Delicious aromas filled the air.  Local families reached into their personal histories and brought out the handiwork that thrived in Villapiana in the past: delicately detailed needlework.  Bed linens and table cloths painstakingly embellished by the women from prior generations were proudly brought out to be admired and appreciated by this group of foreign visitors.  A young girl, dressed in the traditional Villapianese costume of centuries ago agreed to pose with me for a photograph.

Soon, the music started.  Young men who are local musicians played the frame drum and fisarmonica, inviting us all to dance to the rhythms of the tarantellas and pizzicas that rang for centuries in this region.  The next surprise was Antonio Fini performing his ritualistic fire dance on the cool piazza pavement.  I’ve watched him perform these fluid movements with flaming metal bolas on multiple New York stages, but the spontaneity and earthiness of this performance was truly special.  Antonio was joined by Gianlucca Blandi who, up to this moment, had been practicing with only unlit bolas.  He chose this night to be his fiery debut.  The combination of both dancers created a spectacle of strength and wonder.

It seemed to me that this is where all of the dances were meant to be done; in the dark, hot summer air.  Everything around us was ancient; the moon, the piazza, the songs.  We all danced, some barefoot, some not, under the beneficent light of the full moon.  In the midst of it all, my wonderful friend Tabata Caldironi danced up to me and said, “This is a perfect southern night.  Don’t ever forget this.”  Believe me, I never will.

To learn more and to join us for AJD 2013, visit