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Managing Dance: Interview with Civitanova Danza Artistic Director Gilberto Santini

by Rosella Simonari

January and March 2006 -- Ancona and Civitanova Marche, Italy

Since 2002 Gilberto Santini has been the artistic director of Civitanova Danza. He collaborates with the University of Urbino as lecturer on Theatre and Performance. He writes for the magazine “Mucchio Selvaggio” and has recently published a book on contemporary Italian theatre. His commitment to developing an international festival in the birthplace of Enrico Cecchetti has produced stimulating collaborations with renowned dance companies such as the Tero Saarinen Company, Saburo Teshigawara/Karas and the Henri Oguike Dance Company. I met him on more than one occasion, and I thank him for his kindness in responding to my questions.

First of all, I would like to ask you about your experience as artistic director of Civitanova Danza at AMAT (Association of Theatrical Activities in Marche [A region in central Italy]).

It all began by chance. My educational background is rooted in theatre and literary studies. After my graduation at the University of Urbino, I completed an MA in Theatre and Performance Management at the Bocconi University in Milan. I was then asked to be director of the Sanzio Theatre in Urbino and came in contact with AMAT. I began to work there as press agent and, little by little, I grew and became artistic director of events such as Civitanova Danza. I owe a lot to AMAT as it gave me and it still gives me a lot of freedom to develop my ideas. Furthermore, it gives me a lot of support with its structural facilities, without which many of my projects would be impossible to realise.

What is the situation for dance in Marche?

If you think that ten years ago, there was a desert where now there is a small growing oasis, I would say it is very good. In other words, everything changed when the town of Civitanova Marche decided to construct a project around the figure of Enrico Cecchetti after discovering that his family was from there. For years, the case of Civitanova has remained isolated, but recently, other towns in the region have understood that dance is able to provide important outcomes and that Civitanova has become an example to follow.

That is why the presence of dance-on-theatre programmes around Marche has increased considerably. Of course, the performances are of different kinds and not always of high quality, but it is as if a path has been opened. Not secondary in this sense is the ballet season organised last year by the Muse Theatre in Ancona and the dance festival, Pergolesi Danza, which takes place in Jesi. So returning to your question, I think it is a very good situation.

We are also trying to promote dance performances in small theatres such as the one in Porto San Giorgio. I think a lot is going on in Marche. And what is most important is that the audience’s response is good. In this sense, Civitanova is developing new projects and initiatives. Marche is a region where dance is becoming a constant presence and that is a very good sign. This year is crucial to further feed this positive flux. And the question of funding is very important. AMAT is officially recognised by the Ministry of Culture to promote culture in Marche and it has benefited from some public funding with which it has promoted the dance festival in Civitanova.

It is interesting to note that in Italy most of the contemporary dance events are not occurring in big cities such as Rome, Milan or Bologna, but in smaller places like Modena, Ferrara and Civitanova.

This is a recent trend. I have not been in Milan to see a dance piece for ages. I think this is due to the fact that dance does not have a very strong presence, but, in spite of that, it gives a strong identity to the places that invest in it. The festival in Ferrara is a good example; I would say it represents one of the most interesting festivals in Europe. You can go there and see important figures such as Pina Bausch and Alessandra Ferri. The town invests a lot in dancing and it is in return highly characterised by it.

Going back to Civitanova Danza, can you tell me how it all began?

About thirteen years ago, a local undergraduate school teacher, Livia Brillarelli, found out that Civitanova was the town of origin of a famous and important ballet dancer and master, Enrico Cecchetti [she found an original manuscript by Grazioso Cecchetti, Enrico’s son, on classical dance theory]. As a consequence of this discovery, a dance festival was organised. At the beginning the organisers were very ambitious but the organisation was quite confused and badly managed, so the festival did not have much success. When AMAT took the responsibility to organise the festival, it attempted to organise some events every year so that a continuity could be established.

At one stage the festival had the fortune to benefit from a crucial figure, that of the present mayor, Erminio Marinelli, who has invested all his energies in the formulation of a cultural identity for a town like Civitanova that was previously not well defined. As a town with an important economical centre and industrial area connected to the fish and shoe markets, Civitanova did not have any relevant cultural activity. The mayor decided to get three theatrical spaces refurbished, he promoted the opening of a gallery, and he turned an old church into a space devoted to exhibitions. All this in seven years. It is a kind of miracle.

Thanks to these investments, the festival increased in importance. I began to collaborate with the festival in 1997 during a two-year collaboration with Romaeuropa Festival. This collaboration was a turning point as it set the basis for an enduring quality in choosing dance companies such as that of Michael Clark. In 2002, I became artistic director and immediately promoted the inauguration of a winter season to be organised parallel to the summer season.

What about the dance companies that have been to the festival? Can you tell me some curious events or particularly intense performances?

Among the various companies, I remember the Italian Abbondanza-Bertoni Dance Company. The festival asked the company to organise a workshop where they would work on “The Elf Spirit”, a piece originally created by Enrico Cecchetti’s father for the inauguration of the Annibal Caro Theatre in 1872. Enrico Cecchetti and his sister danced at the premiere. There is not much material available on this piece but there is a script for reference. Abbondanza-Bertoni created a piece with the contribution of various artists that ranged from comedians to singers. The piece had its debut in the same theatre where it was originally performed and I thought it was a beautiful work.

In terms of curious events, I can talk about the Tero Saarinen Company’s residency in summer 2004.  As it was a very hot summer, and they built a small swimming pool in the courtyard of the guest house where they were staying. They enjoyed themselves a lot and were a very lively group which included the dancers and also of some of their children. The most intense experience was with Saburo Teshigawara and the challenge that his piece represented for us. It was “Green”, which had its European premiere in Civitanova. The work included the employment of some animals, rabbits, cows, goats etc. It was a great experience for us and very demanding on the management side.


What about the guest house dedicated to Empress Eugenia, wife of Napoleon III?

In a way it is the last piece of the puzzle. Civitanova is a town that has put dance at the centre of its cultural identity, and I thought that it could make a substantial contribution to build a different relationship with the artists. Rather than having them come for a few days just to perform their work, I was interested in developing residencies with them. And that is why we needed a place for them to live according to their own habits. I wanted them to be part of the life of the local community.

In this sense the idea of a guest house was a better option than a hotel or a bed & breakfast…

Absolutely. And it was important for us to find this place in upper Civitanova, Civitanova Alta, with its Medieval centre and tranquillity. We refurbished a former convent into a guest house. It is fifty metres away from the Annibal Caro Theatre, which functions as rehearsal studio. Usually, companies do not have access to a theatre for more than a few days, while in this case they can live in the cosy guest house and rehearse in a theatre for one, two weeks or even longer. It is an ideal environment.

Every year, Civitanova Danza is becoming more and more a centre where new works are being created and where contemporary dance is actively sustained. In October 2004, we organised a workshop with Dixie Fun Dance Theatre, and both Tero Saarinen and Henri Oguike worked at their new pieces in the Annibal Caro Theatre while residing at the guest house. That is why I have recently renamed this project “Dance House”, as this is an environment where dancers and choreographers should feel comfortable, like with their own house. It was dedicated to Empress Eugenia de Montijo as she probably stayed there when she visited the town.

How do you see the future?

I am optimistic. As long as the system of events gains a definite structure, dance will find its own place. As I said, last year the Muse Theatre in Ancona organised a ballet season, a rare event for Marche. And there are many small theatres in the region; it could be good for them to focus on dance. It would be nice to have a series of theatres each dedicated to a kind of dance. For example, the Muse Theatre in Ancona could specialise in classical dance, the Rossini Theatre in Civitanova in contemporary dance and so on and so forth. There are a lot of energies at work. The important thing is not to let them slip away.  

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