Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Interview: Roberto Campanella, Artistic Director of ProArteDanza

The Tin Celebration
It has to do with that transitional phase in your life where the balance is so precarious that you can go in a million directions - the good ones, the bad ones.
by Ramya Jegatheesan, senior contributor
rehearsal photos by Ramya Jegatheesan

Born and raised in Rome, Roberto Campanella trained at the Scuola Italiana di Danza Contemporanea. In 1985, he joined the Compagnia Italiana di Danza Contemporanea and later joined the prestigious Aterballetto. In 1993 he joined The National Ballet of Canada where he was soon promoted to soloist and was cast in many classical and contemporary roles. Campanella choreographs predominantly for ProArteDanza, which he founded in 2004, although he also choreographs a wide variety of commissioned works for companies at home and abroad. He is now a sought-after guest teacher for companies such as The National Ballet of Canada and Stuttgart Ballet as well as companies in Italy, Korea and Japan. In 2001, Campanella was nominated for the Bonnie Bird Choreography Award in London. In 2007, he received the Fellowship Initiative Award from the New York Choreographic Institute, an affiliate of the New York City Ballet, and in 2008, Campanella’s first full-length work Alice in Wonderland premiered at Ballet Augsburg in Germany. He was awarded the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Choreography with co-choreographer Robert Glumbek for … in between…, which premiered at ProArteDanza’s Season 2010.

Artistic Director Roberto Campanella speaks to us frankly about ProArteDanza’s 10 year anniversary, the challenges of running a dance company, and what audiences can expect to see in the near future. 

CHARPO: You’re celebrating your 10th anniversary. How does it feel to get to 10 years?

CAMPANELLA: We launched the company in 2004, but we were already working collectively and doing shows and choreography. So at some point we decided to give it a name rather than it just being us. The mother of my children, Joanna Ivey, is also the founder of this company. On her insistence, we decided to go ahead and start this contemporary ballet dance company, and it’s definitely a venture, as you know in the arts and especially dance, it is constant battles and fights in order to get the little money that you can get in order to do what we do best, which is dance. 

So I would say what we’re celebrating are all those people who never lost the enthusiasm and support, including the artists of course, because we have a loyal group of dancers who have been with us for a long time. To me, it is celebrating all the enthusiasm and support from these people because they never, even at the worst possible time, lost track of what we wanted to achieve. So 10 years to me is looking back and saying thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

We’re celebrating with two pieces. The first part of the show is a piece that Robert Glumbek and I co-choreographed. We have been co-choreographing for 17 or 18 years together so we have a huge body of work together and, of course, as individual choreographers. This one is … in between…  It has to do with that transitional phase in your life where the balance is so precarious that you can go in a million directions - the good ones, the bad ones. There is a lot of uncertainty and precariousness. I guess this is where we found ourselves after 10 years: the big leap. 

…in between… symbolized to me Robert and I finding the proper language together, which is a choreographic language of its own. It is different from when we are alone choreographing. We were also acknowledged and recognized by our peers through getting a Dora Mavor Moore Award with this piece. The second part of the show is a retrospective so we picked and chose excerpts of works (my work, work together with Robert Glumbek, and Kevin O’Day and Guillaume Côté). They are little excerpts here and there to celebrate what our past was in terms of the body of work. It is a 40 minute piece interspersed with videos that segue with video of the original cast doing it in rehearsals years back.

CHARPO:  How do two choreographers find a common language in dance? 

CAMPANELLA: When I was at the National Ballet, I remember seeing a show where Robert was involved and doing some contemporary work. Just looking at him perform, I felt that he and I, on an energy level, could be a good match. I remember turning to my then wife, Joanne, and saying you know I really want to do a project with him. He introduced me to the contemporary scene here in Toronto locally, and that’s how it all started because, as you know, in dance there is one choreographer only who tends to be the almighty god whereas with us it was just an evolution of our relationship of working together organically. We started creating together, and it is like a marriage. It is a give and take. There are moments of tension. You test it. After so many years, we found a system to overcome conflict and tension and whatever else, but I would say it all happened organically just through working together as much as we could and working at things and trying to understand each other and where the other one was at at that particular moment. 

And it’s funny because you see us work together and create together, and we don’t even talk that much anymore. We just come in and we know exactly what to do. We prepare vigorously. We have conversations before we get into the studio. 

Now in the studio we don’t even ask each other. We know exactly what the other one likes or does not like. But we are talking about a 20-year relationship. It is one of those things that you build, but it does not mean that I co-choreograph with other people because I can only do it with him, and I am pretty sure it is the same for him. For sure, we’ve had some other experiences, but we feel really comfortable working together. 

CHARPO:  How did you come up with the name ProArteDanza?  

CAMPANELLA:  What we wanted to do really was the simplest thing; we are trained for so many years to get on stage and dance. So what we do best is dance. It is movement. That’s what we’re trained for. We didn’t want this to be our company - the company of one choreographer or two choreographers - even though by default sometimes it is, and I say by default because it's cheaper for us to hire ourselves. But this is a repertory company and what we wanted to do is just for the art of dance, and that’s what ProArteDanza means -- just for the art of dance. 

CHARPO:  For people who are not familiar with dance, but are contemplating seeing a show, what would you tell them? How should they approach dance? 

CAMPANELLA: There is one barrier for all the performing arts and the new audience - intimidation. We need to break the barrier of not feeling intimidated coming to the theatre. There is nothing to be intimidated by because when you come in and you sit down, you can actually relax and experience the phenomenon in front of your eyes. 

Western civilization has this top-heavy mentality where they have to categorize and understand everything. When it comes to contemporary dance, it is the moment of escaping from being top-heavy, meaning you are not forced to understand. No one is asking you to understand. What’s great about dance is the visceral connection you have with the audience. Dance is an impressionistic art form, so when you sit down, it is the moment where you actually strip down all of the rational you and try to connect with the most visceral, most passionate you. In a company like ours, where the motto of ProArteDanza is passion in performance, I can guarantee you that that connection is going to be there because no passion for the artist on stage means no performance for us. Robert and I feel strongly that once you get on stage you must have that kind of human visceral connection with the audience otherwise we don’t go there. So if you come see a ProArteDanza performance, I can guarantee that you will have that kind of human connection with the art form that you have in front of your eyes. That I can personally guarantee you, otherwise I’ll give you your money back. (cont'd)

CHARPO:  Are you happy with where you are now? Have you achieved what you wanted?  

CAMPANELLA: No. Not yet. I don’t think we ever will. We’re almost there, but not really. We need support and more funds in order for us to get there. The vision of the company is having two big seasons at home (the spring and the fall at least), touring, and a summer program, the culmination of which is a performance. Then we hire an apprentice from the program and head into our fall season. 

We want to get to the point where we can offer our dancers at least 35 weeks, but we still can’t. The problem with hiring people in chunks is that it is hard to keep the great dancers, the great choreographers out there unless you have certainty. They have to fill the time. So our biggest frustration is that we still do not have what we call a permanent company. Offering a minimum of 35 weeks is the least we can do and we haven’t achieved that. But that’s what we’re pushing for and having our own home. I think it’s necessary. 

At this point, for our next big jump into our next decade, we really do need a home. ProArteDanza needs a home. It feels disconnected. Like being homeless. It’s the same kind of idea. You need to have a reference, an identity within the walls of where you work. You need for things to happen under one roof not several roofs all over the place.  It is not just stressful, it is completely disconnected. I’ve also worked in Europe, and ideally you have everything under one roof -- the rehearsals, the shop to build the set, the storage room where you keep all your costumes, and maybe a place where the costumes can be built. Everybody wants that, but we just keep our fingers crossed that we generate enthusiasm to keep on planning ahead so that in the next two or three years we will actually have our own place. We’re working on it. 

CHARPO:  How does the contemporary dance scene in Europe compare to the scene here? 

CAMPANELLA: I think here we’re a little bit behind. Here, I would say, in English Canada, there’s a lot of experimental work, but you experiment and you experiment to get somewhere. 

What’s great about it is the desire and the ambition to move forward, but there is only so much you can do with very little money. Whereas in Europe, in my days, we were fully funded by the government, 100 per cent. So the artistic director could actually be an artistic director and not a bureaucrat like you are in North America where you have to get your ass out there to find the money. 

Rather than being in the studio, rather than being the artistic guidance of the company,  I spend so much time only thinking about finding the money. The government gives us only maybe 30 per cent of the overall budget. What about the other 70 per cent? You have to go find it. There’s only so much I can do in terms of artistic guidance and moving the company artistically forward, and I’m not the only one. I know I’m not the only one. It always feels like they are 15-20 years ahead of us.

CHARPO:  What kind of audiences do you find come to watch ProArteDanza perform? 

CAMPANELLA: All types of audiences. When we have performances, I’m so thrilled and excited to see what we call the grey hair audience as well as the  young. We seem to be able to reach that big range of age, and we are pretty lucky that a small-sized contemporary dance company like ours can actually generate so much attendance during our shows. We perform at the Fleck, a 446 seat theatre. It’s a lot to fill per show. But we seem to be doing pretty well with that. So we are very very lucky. We all feel privileged that we generate so much interest in coming to see our shows.

CHARPO: How do you generate that interest? 

CAMPANELLA:  I wish there was a format that I knew, but I don’t. For sure, we have a strong vision and we’re not wishy-washy about it. This is what we are. It’s a dancy-dance show done by mature artists. I’m not talking about age mature, I’m talking about really surrounding ourselves with people who take this art form beyond executing the steps well. And I think once you come and see one of our shows, you realize there is that kind of open conversation all the time that you as the audience feel truly included and not alienated. 

We definitely make the audience feel like they are there with us. Our choreography is meant to be incredibly physically demanding so being a repertory company you present  3 or 4 pieces in an evening. So of course there is a piece you like better and another one you don’t like at all. But one thing I can guarantee is that people will appreciate that these guys, through the physically demanding approach that they bring to the work, are expressing at their limits and beyond what they have to say to you the audience while you’re there. It’s about inclusion. If you want to come and see a dance show, this is the dance show in the city that you have to come and see. Whether you are a new audience member or a dance fan audience, whether you are five-years-old or 95, this is the dance show in Toronto to see. And I know it sounds arrogant and cocky, but if I don’t believe in it then who else is going to believe in it? (cont'd)

CHARPO:  Can you give us a teaser? 

CAMPANELLA: Well, let me just tell you that in the retrospective for example, there is a solo, choreography by Robert Glumbek, performed by Anisa Tejpar, and excerpts from Subsistence, it’s a bigger piece that Anise ran for the first time last Friday. It’s a 5-1/2 minute piece, and I thought she was going to die by the end of it. You have to give so much internally that at a human level you’re drained by the end. She was so drained at an emotional and physical level that she could barely stand on both her feet. She started crying. It’s that demanding. It’s athletically demanding and it is artistically demanding so that’s the little hint that I can give you. 

Oct 1 - 4

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