Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let's Dance! L'Arsenale della Danza - Body in Progress

Ismael Ivo
(Venice, Italy) Ismael Ivo, the Director of the Dance sector of La Biennale, is the man swirling in blue. Those of you who read the Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog sidebars will know that Ismael was recently awarded the Republic of Brazil's highest cultural honor, the Ordem do Merito Cultural Brasil, the first time an interpreter of contemporary dance has been so recognized. I gave Ismael a cyber hug back then in December. On Friday, January 14, I had the pleasure of giving him a real hug at the press conference for Arsenale della Danza at Ca' Giustinian, Biennale di Venezia headquarters. 

Arsenale della Danza means "Arsenal of the Dance," or "Dance Arsenal." It is a company of twenty-four young dancers that have arrived here in Venice to begin their master classes, which started on January 17 and run through May 15, 2011. The dance students come from all over the world -- 12 from Italy; the other 12 are from the USA, Canada, Sweden, Greece, Russia, plus five from Brazil -- and are the results of auditions last year in Venice, Italy, Vienna, Austria and San Paolo, Brazil. 

Dance Arsenal is a play on words because the group takes its name from the ancient compound where the Venetians used to build their boats, the Arsenale
The Arsenal by Francesco Guardi
From Wikipedia:
Construction of the Arsenal began around 1104, during Venice's republican era.[1][2] It was the largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution,[3] spanning an area of about 45 ha (110 acres), or about fifteen percent of Venice.[1] ...

...By the 16th century, the Arsenal had become the most powerful and efficient shipbuilding enterprise in the world. Not only did it supply ships, rigging, and other nautical supplies, it was also a major munitions depot for the Venetian navy and was capable of outfitting and producing a fully equipped merchant or naval vessel in less than one day.

This is in stark contrast to the rest of Europe, where the production of a similar sized vessel could often take months. This amazing production capacity was a result of the massive amounts of people that the Arsenal employed, almost 16,000, and the streamlining of production within the Arsenal itself. ...

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the Arsenal was its employment of the moving assembly line. The galley itself, through the use of a canal, was moved along during its stages of construction, allowing the galley to be brought to the materials and workers, instead of the materials and workers going to the galley itself. This remarkable feature of the Venetian Arsenal was not seen again until the early 20th century when Henry Ford "invented" the modern assembly line.[12]

Today, the Arsenale has morphed into a playground for artists and their international audiences. This is where La Biennale art and architecture exhibitions take place. Other spaces inside the enormous complex have been transformed into theaters for dance, music and theatrical productions. Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, an amazing space secreted far away from civilization, reached by a long, leisurely walk through the ghosts and phantoms of the ancient shipyard, is where Arsenale della Danza holds its master classes. This is the third edition of the program, and this year's theme is Body in progress.

There were some young dancers at the press conference on Friday, and it was thrilling to see that Ismael had actually manifested them right into Ca' Giustinian, La Biennale headquarters. When I first wrote about the auditions back in May, 2010 (click HERE to read Oxygen - Finally a Breath of Air!), the students were still in the ether. Now they are here in the flesh, with very cool hair. 

Ivo says, "We can imagine the body as a unique orchestra that must play every part, exactly like the different musical instruments correspond to the full range of motion. But when the body-orchestra begins to tune its instrument to prepare for a symphony -- here is where experience is needed to prepare for a task so high. This is the moment when the dancer needs to know how to find the space and have the power to dispose of it, experimenting and honing skills that have already been acquired."

Ismael Ivo will choreograph a New Creation, which will be performed on May 11 and 13 at the Malibran Theatre. Ivo's creations are eagerly anticipated, and it becomes nearly impossible to get a seat, so plan ahead. This year, for the first time, Ivo's New Creation will go on the road, and will be at Teatro Verdi in Padova on May 17; Teatro Comunale in Vicenza on May 19; Teatro Comunale in Belluno on May 21; and Teatro Comunale in Treviso on May 24. It will also be at the Teatro Social in Rovigo on a date to be determined.

Paolo Baratta, Venetian of the Year
Paolo Baratta, the President of the Venice Biennale, was also at the press conference. On Sunday, January 17, 2011, he was formally presented with the "Venetian of the Year" award for the year 2010, and it could not have gone to a more deserving individual. You don't have to be Venetian to receive this immense honor, but you do have to work selflessly, determinedly and against all odds for the good of Venice. The recognition is awarded by the Association Settemari in collaboration with the Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, and it is now in its thirty-second edition.  The vote was unanimous for Paolo Baratta for the following reasons:

"For having established and spread widely, with noble determination, the centuries-old presence of La Biennale in the life and urban fabric of the city, returning buildings and prestigious places, finally healed, to the community, and suggesting, with a far-reaching strategic vision, the destiny of Venice as a privileged global forum of art and culture. " 
The ceremony was held in the Halls of Apollinee Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, in Campo San Fantin.

Paolo Baratta made the following statement:

"I thank the Venetian friends who have honored me with this award, and with so flattering a motivation. I am particularly pleased because it is also indirectly a hug on the part of Venetians DOC to the Biennale, fully including it as a vital energy for the ambitious future of a city that lives up to its past. "

Paolo Baratta 
President of the Venice Biennale 

There are so few real Venetians left in Venice that those who are here are referred to as Venetian "DOC." "DOC" stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which is a designation Italian wine gets for authenticity and quality. So we call a real Venetian, "Venetian DOC."

I have worked with La Biennale for more than ten years. I have watched Paolo Baratta at the center of this magical, mystical nebula filled with art, imagination, and creativity, whose vibrant energy wakes up old buildings and abandoned spaces around Venice. Contemporary thought mixed into an ancient labyrinth creates a dynamic that does not exist anywhere else on earth. Creators and innovators arrive from all corners of the planet, meeting kindred spirits full of vision and hope. Venice's destiny: a magnet for enlightened thinkers.

Schedule for Biennale 2011

Arsenale della Danza   -  January 17 to May 15
Carnevale dei ragazzi   -  February 26 to March 8
Arti Visive                   -  June 4 to November 27
Cinema                       -  August 31 to September 10
Musica                        -  September 24 to October 1
Teatro                         -  October 10 to October 16

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat- The Venice Blog

Friday, January 7, 2011

On the 12th Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to Me -- Befana!

(Venice, Italy) The holidays are officially over now in Venice, finishing up yesterday with the Epiphany -- La Befana -- the Twelfth Day of Christmas -- one of my favorite holidays. And one of my favorite aristocrats organized a Befana dinner with some of my favorite Venetian witches at the table, complete with cackling strega centerpiece, so we did manage to have a bit of festivity here in the lagoon.

From ANSA:

(ANSA) - Rome, January 6 - The gift-bearing 'Befana' witch delighted children all over Italy on Thursday with her annual appearance on the Catholic church's feast of the Epiphany. The Befana is the mythic old witch who is said to fly into children's homes on her broom during the night between January 5 and 6, filling stockings with sweets and small presents for good kids, and lumps of coal for naughty ones. Click HERE to read the entire article.

Here is the Venetian Cat - Venice Blog from January 7, 2009,

Befana Regata and Epiphany

The Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, on January 6th is a national holiday in Italy. It is also the day of the La Befana, a witch who hands out candy and gifts for good children, and coal for bad children, similar to Santa Claus.

In Venice, the holiday has morphed into something truly unique. During the Regata delle Befane, male Venetian rowers dress in drag as female witches, and have a little regata, or race. The finish line is below my apartment, so I usually have a Befana party to close the holiday season. No one ever seems to know, exactly, what time the race starts or finishes. Some posters from the Comune said to go over to the fish market at 11:30AM for hot mulled wine and sweets, so I thought 11AM would be a good time for the party. It turned out it was too late. Note to self: the Befana regata celebration starts at 10AM!

A Venetian chorus started singing Venetian songs at the foot of the Rialto Bridge at about 10AM, so I called the documentary filmmaker Anny Cararro and told her to come earlier because she wanted to shoot some footage. We started getting all teary-eyed listening to the songs. For me, the Befana regata is one of the most Venetian holidays because the Venetians really run the show. The acoustics are very particular at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, and the voices of the chorus soared over the Grand Canal, echoing off the palazzi and skipping across the water. An enormous stocking is hung from the top of the Rialto Bridge, and with the men rowing frantically dressed as women... well, you can only imagine.

One year, I spent La Befana in the Veneto on the mainland, and out there they burned her image, sort of like a scarecrow/witch, in a huge bonfire. She then resurrected into human form and handed out sweets or coal, and then later the children went in and sat on her lap while the adults munched on traditional sweets and drank hot mulled wine.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, or the Epiphany is celebrated to commemorate the day the Three Magi arrived with their gifts for the infant Jesus. How did a witch get involved with that?

According to Wikipedia, La Befana may have pagan origins, and since many Christian holidays and images can trace their origins back before the Church got involved, I am putting my money on that theory. La Befana feels pagan:

A popular belief is that her name derives from the festival of Epiphany, but there is evidence to suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina. In the book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John J. Blunt (John Murray, 1823), the author says:

"This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year's gifts, 'Strenae,' from which, indeed, she derived her name. (D. Augustin. de Civit. Dei, lib. iv. c. 16.) Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. (Ov. Fast. i. 185.) Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character" (Vide Rosini, ed. Dempster. lib. i. c.13, de Dea Strenia}. – page 120

To read the entire article, click HERE.

In any event, I would like to thank my guests for their excellent conversation and generosity in creating a spectacular table. Each person contributed something, so we had lasagna, salad, mushrooms, cheeses and plenty of fine wine, panettone and chocolates!

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year 2011 - Venice, Italy

(Venice, Italy) We have arrived into the Year 2011. Let's hope that the Wise Ones get everything balanced this year. Here's to creation, not destruction; honesty, not lies; fairness, not manipulation, and strong encouragement mixed with gentle restraint.

Happy New Year,