Full Steam Ahead: TROY students embrace second week in at the DAP Festival

June 30, 2017

Marion Givhan is on site with the Troy University Department of Theatre and Dance in Pietrasanta, Italy, as students take part in the DAP Festival. Read Part One of Marion’s coverage here.

One would think that living in the southern United States would provide ample experience with handling hot, humid, and generally difficult weather. Heat in Italy is a new sensation. It sits on the skin until the entire body radiates with warmth. The type of clothing does not matter, as they will soak with sweat no matter what. TROY students have used the following methods to cope with this phenomenon: sitting directly in front of the convent’s dormitory fan, drinking copious amounts of cold water bought from markets or given by Papa at Croce Verde, taking a cold shower two or three – or why not four? – times a day, or sitting still and accepting the hot fate.

I joke to a degree, and the fortunate part is that Pietrasanta is beautiful no matter the weather. On Wednesday afternoon, as dance students rehearsed the Rosa Parks piece, thunder started to echo off the mountain and through the town, warning of the coming rain. The grey sky opened up and rain pelted down. I marveled at it while Greta frantically sped around the convent to close all the windows, and the dancers ended rehearsal to seek refuge in the convent common room. Though short-lived, it was the first proper rain we had experienced in Pietrasanta, and it had a beautiful, reassuring quality to it. Not to mention it gave us the first afternoon where we felt cool, 70 degree air. It was a sweet, brief relief.

Sunset over Pietrasanta.

Sunset over Pietrasanta.

Kicking off the week, the TROY dance students continued classes in contemporary/modern, ballet, Gyrokenesis, and Pilates, and added more rehearsals to their schedule. The arrival of Thang Dao, a dance instructor and choreographer who has experience in ballet, modern, and contemporary, meant that he could cast his piece on Monday. He chose five TROY students to perform in his new choreographic work, amongst other dancers: McCall Donoho, Ashley Pettit, Josette LoScalzo, Neely Aaron, and Madison Antinazi. For the next few days, they’ll have rehearsal to prepare for the final “Gran Gala” performance that will close the festival on Saturday evening. Also on Monday, some of the TROY students had their opportunity to visit Pisa, where they took photos with the Leaning Tower. The highlights include Ryan Wagstaff lifting Kenzie Haynes into the air, in proper dancer fashion, so her leg lined up with the tower.

TROY had more representation arrive in Pietrasanta: the man himself, Dr. Hawkins. Tori Lee Averett and her theatre students met with Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins on Tuesday in order to discuss the students’ findings regarding potential university partnerships and places where TROY students could study in Tuscany and beyond. While Troy University is actively fostering a relationship with the University of Pisa, the theatre students also found opportunities for artistic exploration through the University of Florence and the Accademia dell’Arte, a commedia dell’arte and physical theatre school in Arezzo, Tuscany. There are many opportunities available here for Troy Abroad, and the theatre students have enjoyed the learning process of seeking out these possibilities and unearthing their potential for the future.

Tuesday also brought the second intermediate level drama class that Averett teaches at the festival with the assistance of Catilin Hicks, Patrick Jaskson, and yours truly, Marion Givhan. Throughout the past week, the younger students have smiled and waved enthusiastically to us whenever we cross paths, and we were thrilled when we saw the gym flood with students yet again. This week, Averett challenged them to expand on the lessons of play, thinking and feeling, and allowing one’s body to express meaning through acting and dance. We introduced them to new exercises that compelled them to work as an ensemble and think creatively. A highlight of the class included Jackson and a young Italian boy named Charles, who worked together on an exercise to create a small dance sequence centered around an object. Laughs echoed off the gym walls as they staged a comedic pantomime fight over a donut, represented by a yellow hula hoop.

TROY dance students pose together in Pietrasanta.

TROY dance students pose together in Pietrasanta.

My perspective on dance has changed over the past week and a half by teaching with Averett and watching the performances. Another group of guest artists performed Tuesday night at the community theatre, showcasing pieces by Genny Matt Prodancers, Sigge Modigh, Thomas Johansen, and two ballet dancers from Ballet Austin. I was captivated the entire night. These dancers exemplify how to portray emotion and thoughts through their choreography, and the key to their success lies in that skill. I will never forget the image of Thomas dressed in all black, holding a rapier, dancing with his partner, Tamara Fragale, as her persona attempted to escape from the rope that confined her. The feeling their dance left in me echoed in my chest for a long time after we left the theatre. Neely Aaron believes this was her favorite piece, though she also loved how the last dancer, Gennaro Guadagnuolo, incorporated the space of the church into his choreography.

Gearing up for their own performances on Thursday and Saturday night, the TROY students feel the exhaustion creeping in. According to Ashley Pettit, classes have escalated in difficulty during the second week of the festival, but Josette LoScalzo says that she does not know whether it’s because “our bodies are still adapting, we’re dancing in so many different styles, or we’re just feeling the exhaustion.” They’re loving the opportunities for improving their craft, as Pettit also says, “Holy smokes, rehearsals have been so much fun.” Ballet class has proven difficult, but engaging, and they had the chance to take a “no gravity” dance class, as well. McCall Donoho says, “We had to do so many peitt allegros in Sebastian’s class, but he’s beautiful, so it’s okay.”

On Thursday night, the TROY students perform their original choreography in the Teatro Communale for international audiences – pieces developed at home in Troy to bring the the DAP Festival. The premiered pieces include a duet between Kenzie Haynes and Emma Shepard called Remembrances, choreographed by TROY faculty Dominique Angel; Ashley Pettit’s contemporary piece, Currents; and the Rosa Parks piece – Rosa in Sepia, 7053-2017 – choreographed by Professor Averett and the students. We are all excited and ready to see how the dancers’ work over the last two weeks will manifest in their performances.