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Alberto Spadolini - dancer, painter and a lot more
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Author:  Rosella [ Fri Jun 16, 2006 3:06 am ]
Post subject:  Alberto Spadolini - dancer, painter and a lot more

Born in 1907 in Ancona, a city in central Italy, he moved to Paris to work as decorator with Paul Colin and by pure chance he became a powerful dancer, had a tumultuous love affair with Josephine Baker, was praised by Paul Valery and Jean Cocteau and it seems that he was the first to dance the famous "Bolero" by Ravel.

This previously unknown figure is being rediscovered by his nephew, Marco Travaglini, who in 1978 found a box of documents about his uncle who had never mentioned his life as dancer in Paris to his relatives. Since that discovery, Travaglini has researched in Paris and Italy information about his uncle and his incredible life. Painting was a constant in Spadolini's life and one of his favourite subjects was ballet and, in particular, Romanitc Ballet.

He was also set designer, actor, journalist, singer, restorer and illustrator...Travaglini has organised some exhibitions on Spadolini, one in Riccione in 2005 and one currently ongoing in Mondaino, near Riccione. He is planning to organise a big exhibition next Autumn in Fermo where his family, Spadolini included, comes from.

Author:  Rosella [ Sat Jun 17, 2006 8:01 am ]
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The rediscovering of this figure has the flavour of a fable and the attraction of an adventure into the glamorous and glittering world of Parisian music-halls of the 1930s.

Spadolini's dance was of a primitivist kind, with a percussive drive, he would usally dance naked with only a pair of pants, his body was very athletic and muscular. Maybe for this reason he was called 'the naked dancer'.

Author:  Rosella [ Sun Jul 02, 2006 4:55 am ]
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I made a quick search on Spadolini and Ravel's Bolero and it seems that he danced it in concert performances. So he was not the first to dance it, at least not in Nijinska's 1928 ballet.
Nevertheless, he danced it in front of Ravel himself who was vary pleased with his performance. Bolero became one of his most successful pieces and according to Anton Giulio Bagaglia he danced it six thousand times!

Author:  Rosella [ Tue Jul 04, 2006 10:34 am ]
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Here is the link to an important exibition celebrating Josephine Baker:

I wonder whether there is any trace of her professional and probable private relationship with Alberto Spadolini. Has anyone gone?

Author:  Rosella [ Sat Jul 08, 2006 10:18 am ]
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The year 2006 marks the anniversary of Josephine Baker’s birth and Mondaino, a small village in central Italy near Riccione, celebrated this anniversary in June in an unusual manner, by unveiling the figure who at the beginning of the 1930s represented her partner, on stage and, possibly, in her life. Alberto Spadolini (1907-1972) was a great dancer within the Parisian music-hall environment, he often choreographed his pieces, was also a figurative painter, decorator, restorer, actor, singer and occasionally writer. His was a very eclectic figure and his life emerges as an adventurous story whose many pieces still remains hidden.

The rediscovery of Spadolini’s career has been done by his nephew, Marco Travaglini, who in 1978, found a box of documents, posters, newspaper articles and musical sheets belonging to his uncle who had passed away a few years before. He found this treasure in his aunts’ attic as he was helping them to move house. A marvellous world was opened to him and since then, Travaglini has begun a research, both in Italy and France, to discover more about him. He traced the steps of the beginning of his career as dancer through magazine articles such as “Vedettes”. He collected the material about him and Baker, and kept on searching for more pieces of this mosaic. Incredibly, Spadolini had never mentioned his past as dancer to his relatives and when from Paris he visited them in Italy, he would only show his other artistic sides, that of painter, decorator and restorer.

This fact is quite interesting and worth a reflection. Why did he never talk about his career at the Paris Casino and about his tours in France, in Europe and in the United States? We can find a possible answer in the attitude and mentality his relatives may have had towards dance. Maybe he knew that they would misunderstand him and see it as a depraved thing to do rather than a successful position. Dancing in itself was probably not seen as a worthy occupation, dancing in the music-hall for a man was considered even worse. And this is a kind of paradox for an Italian region like Marche, a region linked to two eminent male figures belonging to dance history, namely Renaissance dance master Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro and internationally renowned ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti.

In the small exhibition in Mondaino, apart from some beautiful illustrations portraying Josephine Baker, such as the coloured one by Federico Fellini, there were black and white photographs presenting Spadolini in some of his dance pieces. One featured him in a high jump with a leg straight up and the other bent, his costume resembling that of a Greek figure. Another presented him in all the splendour of his naked athletic body, showing his profile and a pose with a leg slightly bent and the other straight and with a pointed foot. Because in his most famous shows he usually danced with succinct costumes, he came to be known as ‘the naked dancer’ and in one of Baker’s memoirs compiled by André Rivollet, the writer confirms this stating that: “On Christmas Eve I was invited at Vésinet, for dinner…Everything was white in Josephine’s house…there was a group of her friends: those from the Paris Casino, dancer Spadolini for the occasion dressed!”.

His dance style was quite powerful, at times acrobatic, but unfortunately we do not have much record left. There is a scene from the 1936 French film “Marinella”, where he performs one of his famous solo pieces. He is naked except for a pair of pants and he stands on a stage in the circular shape of a big drum, he rotates his arms and beats his bare feet on the floor, recalling the flamenco zapateado. It is a thrilling piece of primitivist kind, full of rhythm and speed. Anton Giulio Bragaglia refers to Spadolini’s dancing as ‘aereodance’, thus recalling the Futurist approach to movement. The Futurists too exalted speed in their notion of dance and Spadolini may have been influence by their aesthetics to create his style. Bragaglia was the creator of the Teatro degli Indipendenti (theatre of the independent artists) in Rome, a place where the Italian avant-garde met and discussed new ideas about art, theatre and literature. Among the artists and writers, there were Prampolini, Balla, Marinetti and Pirandello. Spadolini had left his hometown, Ancona, to go to Rome and study as painter. After debuting in the studio of Vatican painter Gian Battista Conti, he joined the Bragaglia group and began to expose his work and create his own set design pieces. From the paintings we know of, some of which were exposed in the Mondaino exhibition, he was not very influenced by the Futurist aesthetics. He liked painting the natural landscapes of Marche, with its nice hills and countryside, towns such as Ancona, and dancers. He was a figurative painter who was more inspired by Ventian artist Canaletto rather than Futurist painter Balla.

Interestingly he created a whole series of paintings inspired by ballet, with fluctuating ballerinas in white long tutus surrounded by curtains whose shades of light and darkness followed those of the costumes. This topic is very significant with respect to the kind of dancing he performed. He was a music-hall dancer but from his paintings it seems that his aspiration or his ideal of dance was ballet, and, precisely, Romantic ballet. This tension may be important to understand his commitment to dance and his spiritual approach to movement. Spadolini was a fervent Catholic, at 19 he painted a beautiful portrait of San Francis, which is now kept in the Church of Bradford in the United States. In an interview he affirmed: “with my dancing I intend to express my love for the sun, beauty, life in all its aspects and also a religious feeling that I consider as guide and support”.

Some friends recall that before creating his dance pieces, he would sit on an armchair listening to music as if to find the proper concentration. His career as dancer began after he moved to Paris at the beginning of the 1930s. He had found a work at famous illustrator Paul Colin’s studio and was working with Colin’s group at the decorations of a dance-hall in Villefranche-sur-mer, when the orchestra began rehearsing the second rhapsody by Liszt. He began dancing what was defined “a savage dancing”, everybody seemed hypnotised by his sense of rhythm and the impresario of the place immediately hired him to dance at the Eldorado Casino in Nice. Spadolini, never having danced in front of an audience before, did not have a costume and he managed to turn a white sheet into a Greek-like costume.

As Bagaglia himself stated, the beginnings were difficult as Spadolini suffered from the jealousy of other dancers who had studied for years and could not accept his role as star who had come from nowhere to steal their place. Still Spadolini endured, he danced his solo pieces with force and energy. A few years after his debut, he took ballet classes with Alexander Volinin, Pavlova’s partner who had opened a school in Paris in 1925, so that his fierce style acquired the discipline and refinement of technique.

His encounter with Josephine Baker was as magical as his debut in the dance world and it is recounted by the Flemish magazine “De Dag”. She was looking for a new partner in her shows and when she saw Spadolini performing, she chose him to dance with her at the Paris Casino. As some newspapers articles ironically underlined, Baker was looking for a dancer and she had found a painter. Between 1932 and 1935 Spado’, as he was called, and Baker performed together in several shows such as “La Joie de Paris”, “Hawaii” and “Créole”. According to some reports from Spadolini’s relatives and friends, with Baker he also had a tumultuous love affair which came to an end probably because of professional problems between them.

If on the one hand Baker was much more famous than Spadolini, his dancing, especially in his solo, was always very much appreciated so that newspaper reports began to often highlight his quality in spite of hers. As Legrand-Chabrier in the “L’Intransigent” affirmed in 1933, “the glory of Josephine Baker does not overshadow him at all”. Their last show together was probably in 1935 at the Prince Edward Theatre in London. Baker was criticised while Spadolini was highly praised. She did not like it as a fragment from a French paper titled “Jealousy” states. They broke up and Baker never wanted to dance with him again. They made peace only in 1947 thanks to the mediation of Prince Ruspoli and to a gamble he made with Spadolini. On his part, Spadolini, as his long time friend Alex Wolfson reported, was very shaken by the event:

“Alberto came back home like a fury and he locked himself in his studio. I heard noises of broken glasses and objects thrown away. When I managed to enter, the room looked like a battle ground: there were broken records, destroyed books, the beautiful Spado’s portrait of the black Venus with its golden frame, irremediably gone!”

Spadolini destroyed all the objects that reminded him of Baker, included a series of photographs. The only thing Wolfson could save was a photograph of Spadolini and Baker in “Hawaii” even though when Spadolini gave it to him it was already partially tore and Baker’s face had been cut away. Nevertheless Spadolini’s success continued both as dancer and painter. Wherever he was touring he was also trying to find a place where to exhibit his paintings and even when he no longer danced he continued exposing his work. We have a record of an exhibition he organised in Bruxelles at the Galerie Rubens in 1955, titled “La Danse”, probably featuring his dance series paintings.

Spadolini did not only perform primitivist kinds of dances, he was quite influenced by Spanish dancing too and his most renowned performance in this sense is the one set to the “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. After it was presented in 1928 as a ballet choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, the “Bolero” was often employed in concert performances and Spadolini excelled in this so much that Ravel himself said that Spado’s choreography was “in harmony with the music of the Bolero”. He also danced together with flamenco dancer Nati Morales and collaborated with Django Reinhardt and Carmen Amaya for the creation of a documentary on the origin of Gypsy music called “Nous les gitans”.

There are still many parts of this puzzle called Spadolini that remain hidden and questions that should be more deeply addressed. For example, the tension between his energetic dance style and his paintings of ballerinas and countryside. Or how his experience at the Teatro degli Indipendenti in Rome affected his dance pieces if it did at all. Was he influenced by Futurism and its focus on speed and rhythm in his dancing? What was his role as an Italian immigrant dancing primitivist dance? What was his relationship with the Avant-Gardes?

Marco Travaglini’s search for more and more news on his uncle continues and thanks to the discovery of the box of documents and to an impoetant exhibition he organised in Riccione in 2005, he received a medal from the former President of the Italian Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Author:  Rosella [ Sat Feb 10, 2007 6:53 am ]
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Events to celebrate the figure of Spadolini seem to be multiplicating due to the anniversay of his birth in 2007:

- on December 2006 there has been a conference entitled "Il mistero del Bolero-Spadò - Alberto Spadolini, una vita di tutti i colori" [The Bolero-Spadò mystery - Alberto Spadolini, a life of many colours], held in Porto San Giorgio (Fermo), a place Spadolini was used to go during the summer holidays;

- in a few days a website dedicated to him should be activated;

- a monograph is probably going to be published before or during the summer 2007; Marco Travaglini, nephew and biographer of Spadolini has been writing it for a few years.

- in August a big exhibition wil be organised in collaboration with the town of Porto San Giorgio (Fermo) and it wil be held probably in different locations of the town;

Author:  Rosella [ Thu Apr 19, 2007 4:23 pm ]
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The website dedicated to Spadolini has been activated:

Most of it is in Italian but there is a brief essay by Andrea Harris in English:

Also on May 3rd 2007 there will be a conference dedicated to him, organised by myself and held at the University of Macerata. The title is "La riscoperta di Alberto Spadolini: la vita, la danza, la pittura" [The rediscovery of Alberto Spadolini: his life, his dancing, his painting].

Author:  Rosella [ Sat Sep 29, 2007 4:28 am ]
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Sala Imperatori, Porto San Giorgio (Fermo), Italy, 10 and 15 August 2007

Alberto Spadolini (1907-1972) was a very versatile artist and during his life he travelled and toured to many places in Europe and in the United States. He was a famous music-hall dancer in the 1930s and 1940s and he became an affirmed painter in the 1950s and 1960s. No wonder that the exhibition to celebrate the centenary of his birth was called “Bolero-Spado’: una vita di tutti i colori” [a life of all colours]. Bolero-Spado’ refers to the dancer’s signature piece set to Ravel’s famous composition and to the nickname his friends gave him, Spado’. The subtitle recalls the title of one of Josephine Baker’s autobiographies (she wrote more than one!), "Une vie de toutes les couleurs" (1935) and it is particularly suitable for Spadolini who also danced with Baker at the beginning of the 1930s. This exhibition was curated by Marco Travaglini, nephew of the artist, in collaboration with the town of Porto San Giorgio and it run from August 10th to September 9th.

The poster for the exhibition features the painter-dancer in one of his most fascinating photographs, standing naked with his chest out and his arms to highlight its sculptural shape. It is a photo from the 1930s when Spado’ reached fame as a primtivist dancer. In this sense he resembles a contemporary ballet dancer who made a kind of scandal by dancing semi-naked in the latest production of Zeffirelli’s “Aida”, Roberto Bolle. As an étolie of the La Scala Ballet, Bolle does not usually appear in his underwear, but in the “Aida” he embodied an Ethiopian slave and his costume was a tiny thong, an ornamental large jewel-like object placed on his chest plus some feathers on his head. In both cases we have the explicit display of a male athletic body through dance.

While travelling by train to reach Porto San Giorgio, where the exhibition is and where Spadolini used to go on holidays, I think about his adventurous life and as the train marches on, it feels like travelling back through time to the 1930s when his career as dancer began. And as I enter the Sala Imperatori I do find myself immersed into the glittery and exciting world of the Parisian music-hall. In the large room along the perimeter there are eleven black and white photographs, one caricature of Spado’ and Baker, three of his illustrations and eighteen of his paintings; in the centre there are many programmes from different performances, postcards, other photos, music sheets, books and other memorabilia. In spite of all these beautiful and evocative objects, the first thing that attracts my attention is one of the original costumes Spadolini wore in his version of the “Bolero”. It was a present by Carmelo Petix, a friend of Spadolini. It is made of a black sequin shirt opened in the front, a leather belt and a pair of black sequin trousers with some fringes at the end. I can almost imagine Spadolini in his flamenco style performance, his posture, his braceo [flamenco arm movement], his intense attitude.

And, among the photos, there are a couple presenting Spadolini in a Spanish costume, one of which resembles the above mentioned one. According to Travaglini this photo was taken during the shooting of a documentary called “Nous les gitans”(1951) dedicated to gypsy culture. In other photos Spadolini dances semi-naked in his pants, like the two by S. Enkelman’s Atelier or the one by Condé Nast where he wears a pair of maculated underwear and he resembles the Tarzan figure which was so popular at the time. Thanks to these images and to performances which partially survived in films like “Marinella” (1936), he came to be called ‘the naked dancer’. Another photo by Joe Pasen presents him in a powerful jump, with a leg bent and the other straight up. He wears a white Greek-like drapery, a Greek-style wig and a pair of sandals. This photo was taken in the 1940s but it recalls Spadolini’ very first appearance on stage. It was at the Eldorado Casino in Nice on April 9th 1932. Apparently, the impresario had seen him dancing while working at the decoration of a ballroom and had immediately decided to hire him. However, Spadolini did not have any costume and he decided to use a white sheet as Greek-style drapery. As the above mentioned photo underlines, he probably recurred to this imagery again in his future dances. Significantly this image has also been chosen as the cover of the elegant exhibition catalogue. Other photos include a couple showing Spadolini and Liane Daydé, étoile of the Opéra Ballet. She ‘plays’ the roles of the ballet dancer, he is the painter who is going to capture her moving image. These are very beautiful photos and a perfect way to move to his paintings where dance often plays a central role.

Interestingly in fact he began painting a series of works dedicated to ballet towards the end of the 1940s, when his dancing career was drawing to an end. In the exhibition there are eight paintings dedicated to dance. Most of them present a group of ballet dancers in white long tutus, set against a neutral background of drapery that resembles the curtain of a theatre. These are very different ballerinas from those depicted by Edgar Degas, who placed them in realist settings, like theatre stages and ballet studios. However, in both cases the light and chromatic focus resides in the tutu, which becomes blue, violet, green and many other colours, especially in Degas. In Spadolini maybe there is more interest in representing movement, like in “Gruppo danzante” [dancing group] (1950s), an approach he might have learnt from the Futurists painters he met during his formative years in Rome in the 1920s.

Other paintings deal with countrysides, towns and cities Spadolini lived in, like Ancona, his native town and Paris, his adopted home. There is also a beautiful portrait of his mother, Ida Romagnoli, quite austere and intense. In the centre of the room, there are other interesting documents, taken from what Travaglini has called the Bolero-Soado’ Archive, an archive originally consisting of material personally selected by Spadolini and curiously left in a box in the attic of his aunts in Fermo. To this material Travaglini has, in the course of many years, added other pieces found around the world. The journey through time then continues thanks to leaflets of exhibitions Spadolini had in as different places as Luxemburg, Paris, Bruxelles and Rome. There are also other photographs, postcards, programmes notes of revues at the Casino De Paris and the Folies Bergere, books and a record of Baker’s famous song “J’ai deux amours”.

Emerging from the eclectic world of Alberto Spadolini, I understand that it was not just a question of success and glitter, but also of deep commitment to a professional approach to dancing and painting as is clear from the intensity and dedication he showed in his artistic achievements.

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