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.
Here we are wrapping up week one of the Danza in Arte a Pietrasanta Festival in Italy! Even a single week has required endless energy from the Troy University dance students, who work tirelessly and still find time to play in Pietrasanta and Tuscany. Jet lagged and exhausted, on Sunday we took a bus from Milan to the small artists’ town hosting the DAP Festival. We conquered our first challenge within the first half hour of arriving: rolling our suitcases up the steep hill to the elegantly simple convent where we stay. The girls sleep in two large dorm rooms, while the boys are next door. We share the rooms with a beloved staff member of the festival, Greta, and fellow dancers, which means exciting opportunities for making friends and learning Italian and Russian language and culture.
The dancers immediately began classes on Monday. From 8:45 to 13:15, TROY students take classes in advanced ballet, contemporary/modern, Gyrokenesis and Pilates from guest artists, who serve as instructors and performers at the festival. Ashley Pettit (C’17) adores Fatima, the ballet instructor, whom she describes as “funny, witty, and a little snarky, but fabulous.” Thomas Johansen and Sebastian Kloborg are also favorite instructors and beautiful dancers.
After classes, the dance students take a break for lunch, a wonderful chance to try the different cafes and restaurants that fill the town. The food has enraptured us: the warm pasta and delicious sauces, the strong coffee, the simple and delightful sandwiches. Then the dancers go back to work at afternoon rehearsals in various performances spaces. At dinner, we all gather at Croce Verde, a restaurant where a man affectionately referred to as “Papa” serves us even more delicious, two-course meals with a cheerfully carefree demeanor.
Performances at night allow the dancers (students and guest artists) to showcase their work for the town and festival participants. TROY students have had two opportunities to perform so far. Kenzie Haynes and Ryan Wagstaff had their choreography performed one night at the Nall “Peace Frame,” an elaborately decorated door frame that book-ends a street filled with hanging umbrellas. A large crowd gathered during pre-show tech, and as the students danced, the audience cheered enthusiastically while taking photographs and videos, and one could even see a few children on the edge of the audience who looked ready to jump in and join. By the end, the TROY students and fellow performers received echoing applause that filled the town.
Their second performance took place at La Pontile, the pier on the beach. Wagstaff presented his work again after Taylor Bagley’s piece had its festival premiere. Their energy and enthusiasm while performing infects the audience, as evident in the wide eyes, bright smiles, and the crowd’s tendency to move towards the dancers. After each performance, on-lookers and people from the festival have come up to the TROY dancers to congratulate them on their pieces.
Next week, two guest artists will have their choreography performed by students to close out the festival. The choreographers, Sebastian Kloborg and Thang Dao, host auditions and select their dancers. Thang Dao arrives on Monday to cast his piece, but Kloborg chose five of the TROY students to perform in his piece: A’Lexus Crooms, Kenzie Haynes, Ryan Wagstaff, Emma Shepard and Taylor Bagley. Haynes came back to the convent Saturday evening with happy reports about how much she and her fellow dancers enjoyed working with Kloborg. She described rehearsal as if it wasn’t work, but a fulfilling experience. This bodes well for what week number two will bring!
While the festival absorbs most of our energy and attention, we still have moments and days when we have breaks. Pietrasanta offers several cafes where one can lounge and drink espresso, boutiques that range from rustic to modern, art galleries where local visual artists exhibit their work, and, most importantly, the glorious safe havens of Italian ice cream, gelaterias. The town is small enough that one can easily take a lap around the main area, meaning that even in the short time between classes and rehearsals, festival participants can take a break with refreshing food or an invigorating dose of Italian culture. Pietrasanta is a beautiful, thriving town filled with creative minds and kind people who want to share and collaborate.
The town’s ideal location and convenient train station means that students can take excursions out into Tuscany. Over the weekend, a group of TROY dancers took a day trip to Pisa, posing with the famous Leaning Tower, followed by a day in Florence. The theatre students ventured to Lucca, Florence, and on Sunday, we will take on Rome. Our research takes us to different towns in order to explore potential venues for future TROY students to study art, architecture, archeology, music, and theatre, but it helps that the cities are easy to love and hard to leave. Their reactions to new places, the new language in their ears, new and interesting food, and new people are some of the best parts about the trip. Not only do they practice their craft, but Italy has a completely different culture that opens their eyes to new possibilities in the world.
So here’s to sugar sinking a cappucino’s foam, the scorching sun that leaves us drained but thankful for the cold, the bright colors of Italy’s architecture watching over us, the art that surrounds us, and the hope that many more adventures will happen in the coming days.