Monday, June 25, 2012

Sylvie Guillem in Venice - The 8th International Contemporary Dance Festival

Sylvie Guillem - Photo La Biennale
(Venice, Italy) The renowned French dancer, Sylvie Guillem, thanked the renowned Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, when Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, and Ismael Ivo, Director of the Venice International Contemporary Dance Festival presented her with the Golden Lion here in Venice on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Sala delle Colonne in Ca' Giustinian, La Biennale headquarters.

Ismael Ivo, Sylvie Guillem, Paolo Baratta Photo: ©La Biennale
Nureyev discovered Guillem when he was the Director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Guillem said, "Nureyev was a miracle." She said she had a passion to do everything, try everything, and that Rudolph had the same spirit. When the Paris Opera Ballet would not let her have what she wanted, she told them she would leave. They said, "Where will you go? This is dance." They refused to budge, so she left with nothing and went to the Royal Ballet in London. She said she did not have a strategy: "I am instantaeous." She said that in France, yes, they had the technique, but in London it was more about the story, the theatre, and building a character, and that "there was more life inside the dance." From Wikipedia:

In 1983 Guillem won the gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition, which later in the year earned her her first solo role, dancing the Queen of the Driads in Rudolf Nureyev's staging of Don Quixote.[1] In December 1984, after her performance in Nureyev's Swan Lake, she became the Paris Opera Ballet's youngest-ever étoile, the company's top-ranking female dancer.[1] In 1987 she performed the lead role in William Forsythe's contemporary ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. In 1988 she was given the title role in a production of Giselle staged by the Royal Ballet to celebrate Nureyev's 50th birthday. Her performance was a success, and in the following year she left Paris for London, to become a freelance performer and one of the Royal Ballet's principal guest artists.[1] Her desire to work independently from a company gained her the nickname Mademoiselle Non.[2]
Nureyev, of course, was one of the most exceptional dancers of all time, full of passion and dare. His spirit wanted freedom so much that it inspired him to dramatically defect from the Soviet Union. Free spirits make totalitarian governments go crazy, and those governments will do everything they can to try to destroy the artists. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you what it feels like to be targeted by a totalitarian government -- my particular government happens to be the USA, but they are basically all the same -- it feels like one student vs. four tanks in Tienanmen Square.

Originally a Soviet citizen, Nureyev defected to the West in 1961, despite KGB efforts to stop him.[1] According to KGB archives studied by Peter Watson, Nikita Khrushchev personally signed an order to have Nureyev killed.[2]

Nureyev was just a dancer, for goodness sake. He was not a terrorist. He was not plotting to overthrow the government. He was jumping high, with grace. That the Soviet Union would order Nureyev to be assassinated because he was a free spirit... it is insanity. That Nureyev was able to perform under such circumstances demonstrates how resilient the human spirit can be.

Here is a clip from a PBS promo for GREAT PERFORMANCES: Nureyev - The Russian Years to remind us just how dynamic Nureyev was, and how much joy and power the unbridled human spirit can have. Just watch how the divine creative energy can express itself inside the human body:

Nureyev was Guillem's mentor, recognizing a kindred spirit. At the Golden Lion ceremony, I recognized the free spirit inside Guillem myself, and was delighted to hear her speak candidly and honestly -- in Italian, not French. Once again I was reminded about how different truth sounds, no matter what language we speak. In today's world, we are surrounded by so much dishonesty and outright lies that when we hear the truth, we recognize it immediately. It is like a cold shower, refreshing, that shocks you awake.

Photo: Bill Cooper ©La Biennale
Guillem said she didn't like being part of a group and did not spend much time in a corps de ballet because it was too rigid. If you wanted to rise within the company, you must do this, this, this. At the end of the year every ballerina must take an exam in front of the jury and the audience, and the reaction was silence. When asked what advice she had for young dancers, she said: "Don't compromise," but warned it was not an easy path. 

A young dancer in the audience asked Guillem if there had ever been a time that she didn't feel like going on stage, and, if so, what did Guillem do about it? Guillem thought, and said, yes, there was a time when she was in Washington and had to dance Swan Lake and did she didn't feel like it. She forced herself to do it anyway, and it was very, very difficult. Afterwards, she made a promise to herself that if she ever felt like she didn't want to go on stage again, she would not go on stage. "After that, every time I have gone on stage is because I want to!"

I am certainly glad that Sylvie Guillem felt like going on stage on Friday night at the Malibran Theatre. At age 47, she exemplifies how enduring the creative spirit can be. She called the evening 6,000 Miles Away in support of the people of Japan who suffered the devastating effects of the tsunami while she was working with the American choreographer, William Forsythe, in London. The title also sums up her belief that you do not have to be physically near to someone to admire and like them. The evening began with 27'52" by the Czech choreographer, Jiri Kilian, performed by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak with a new composition by Dirk P. Haubrich. Then Guillem, along with Massimo Murru, dazzled the audience with Rearray by Forsythe, with music by David Morrow. The evening concluded with the magical Bye by the Swedish choreographer, Mats Ek, danced to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven -- Sonata per pianoforte n32, Op.111, arranged by Ivo Pogorelich. The audience was enchanted, demanding curtain call after curtain call. 

Here is a brief interview, with Guillem speaking in Italian, which also includes some glimpses of the Golden Lion ceremony, and her performance on stage. She starts off saying that she is a very timid person, and that the stage is a world apart, a world where time is not the same, and space is not the same. She concludes by saying that she had the good fortune to begin very young, when she was just a child, to make mistakes and learn, like a game, and continues with that same energy up to today. Sylvie Guillem's 6000 Miles Away was made possible with the support of Rolex, one of the rare companies on this planet that still recognizes and supports genuine talent, in collaboration with La Fenice.

Thanks to Ismael Ivo, the Director of La Biennale Dance, that childlike, joyful creative energy emanates throughout the entire dance festival, as it does from the man himself. Since January, when the students of Arsenale della Danza began their master classes, sharing their progress with the public -- the line to enter the theatre literally went around the block; it was standing-room-only, often you had to arrive by 5:15 for the 6:00pm performance or you could not get in -- the entire community has participated in watching them grow. And then, to watch them perform Ivo's newest creation, Biblioteca del corpo (Library of the Body) on opening night! The students were discovering their own unique voice, like individual books, yet part of a great library. Arsenale della Danza is certainly one corps de ballet that encourages artistic freedom and individual creative expression.

Ismael Ivo Photo: La Biennale
The Biennale of Venice 8th International Contemporary Dance Festival concluded with a truly unique premiere by Flemish choreographer Wim Vandekeybus and his Ultma Vez company entitled Booty Looting. It was inspired by the German Fluxus artist, Joseph Beuys' 1974 performance piece I Like America and America Likes Me, when Beuys traveled to New York City by ambulance, and spent three days in a room in the René Block Gallery wrapped in felt, together with a wild coyote. 

So you can get a feel of just how magical the venue itself is, below are some images from the Arsenale last night, alone with phantoms of the past.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Arsenale 1

Arsenale 2
Arsenale 3

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tornado in Venice - The Aftermath

 Photo: Davide Toffanin Servizio Videocomunicazione for the Comune di Venezia
(Venice, Italy) That is the ACTV ticket office down by Sant' Elena, without its roof, blown off by the tornado yesterday. That ticket office is located directly in front of the vaporetto stop where the number 42 motoscofo was docked as we clung on to the railing while the tornado sweep over us. As you can see, we had to hold on tight. In case you missed it, here is the link to my post from yesterday:

Tornado in Venice - Eyewitness Report - Cat, You're Not in Kansas Anymore

The tornado cut a swath of destruction through the trees at Sant' Elena, which is past Giardini where La Biennale takes place. A tree fell on the wall of the stadium. Today, clean up had already been started.

Photo: Davide Toffanin Servizio Videocomunicazione for the Comune di Venezia
Over on Certosa, trees were uprooted, tables and chairs at the restaurant were tossed into a jumble. I went out there this afternoon, and, again, things were slowly being put back into order, though there were many trees that had been destroyed.

Photo: Davide Toffanin Servizio Videocomunicazione for the Comune di Venezia
I have not had a chance to go to the island of Sant' Erasmo, which is where much of Venice's local fruit and vegetables comes from, but the damage was severe. Six or seven houses had their roofs blown off, and there was damage to the crops. I believe I am correctly identifying the photo of the little truck below as the one that sells local fruit and vegetables from the back of the pickup, parked near the tip of the island.

Photo: Davide Toffanin Servizio Videocomunicazione for the Comune di Venezia
It is really a miracle that no one was killed or seriously hurt. I keep thinking what would have happened if the tornado had hit one of the huge cranes located all throughout Venice, since many buildings are currently under reconstruction.

Photo: Davide Toffanin Servizio Videocomunicazione for the Comune di Venezia
From what I've seen, the Comune is doing an excellent job in restoring things to order. It is commendable how professionally and swiftly everyone reacted, preventing any serious harm to the people of Venice.

Today, June 13, OurAmazingPlanet has an interesting story by Andrea Mustain:

Videos Show Rare Tornado Striking Venice

 ...The tornado, or "tromba d'aria" (trumpet of the air) in Italian, ripped roofs from houses, uprooted trees, largely destroyed at least one park, and left dozens of boats piled in a jumble as though lifted by an invisible hand, according to local media reports. ...

Here's another story about the damage from a June 13th story in The Telegraph by Nick Squires (Even though the caption on the original photo says there are gondolos in that boat pile-up, I don't see any.):

Venice assesses damage after tornado strike


This is the dramatic moment a powerful tornado ripped across Venice's lagoon, flattening trees, tearing off roofs and devastating a medieval cloister.

...Dozens of boats were overturned and a group of 15 sailing students were trapped inside a boat house after its entrance was blocked by a fallen tree.
The tornado swept in from the Adriatic Sea, passing over the long strip of land known as the Lido, where the Venice Film Festival is held.
Photographs and amateur video showed the sky turning an ominous dark grey as the tornado drilled its way across the shallow lagoon. ...

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tornado in Venice - Eyewitness Report - Cat, You're Not in Kansas Anymore

Tornado in Venice
(Venice, Italy) Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I got hit by the tornado in Venice today. This morning, I was on the motoscafo, Line 42, hauling a carrello (hand-cart) full of documents, my computer, and some other stuff. It was heavy.

At the San Pietro stop, it was sunny. About a minute or two later, as we made our way to Certosa, hail started falling. By the time we rounded the bend to Sant' Elena, we were smack in the middle of a tornado. It takes nine minutes to get to Sant' Elena from San Pietro. That is a sudden change of weather.
At first, I was oblivious. I had lugged my carrello down the steps and was sitting outside with my back facing forward, so I couldn't see the lagoon. The boat stopped at Sant' Elena. Then it did not move. A man started hollering for everyone to get off. At first, I thought he was a tour guide yelling at his group. His voice became very serious. "Get off NOW. Get off NOW. Everyone get off the boat RIGHT NOW! Tromba d'aria! Tromba d'aria! TORNADO!!!"

Tornado in Venice
Whenever tragedy strikes, time always seems to go in slow motion. Everyone started rushing off the boat. The seriousness of the situation still hadn't really registered in my mind. But when I saw everyone start to panic, I thought I'd better get off the boat. Actually, first I thought I should stay on the boat because it might be safer, so there were a few moments when I hesitated as to the best course of action. Then I decided to get off the boat... mostly because it was a boat, and I vaguely remembered that a bunch of people died back when a boat flipped over during a tornado by Sant' Elena... (I just checked and it was on September 11, 1970 -- 21 people died when a motoscofo by Sant' Elena got sucked up in the air, plus another 12 on land.)

My carrello got jammed by some steel panels on the floor of the boat. "Aiuto! Help!" I hollered. But everyone was galloping off the boat. Somehow I unwedged the carrello and lugged it up the steps. There was no way all my documents, and my computer -- containing a project I have been working on for several years to bring down the Evil Empire -- were going to end up in the Land of Oz.

Most of the people were off the boat and into the vaporetto stop. But as I got to the sliding gate at the top of the boat, the tornado came down right on top of us. There was a woman in front of me, grabbing onto the railing. I wrapped my arm around her, and grabbed hold of the railing, my other hand clutching the carrello. An ACTV employee squatted down on the floor of the boat, gripping onto the railing. My hair whipped around my face. Rain splattered. My umbrella got sucked up and disappeared. The wind was so powerful, it was hard to keep a grip.

I thought: "This is probably a life or death situation!" WE COULD NOT MOVE OFF THE BOAT because the wind was so strong. So we held on tight and rode it out. A man inside the Sant' Elena vaporetto stop, young and fit, extended a hand to the woman in front of me, like God reaching out to Michelangelo in a tempest, but the distance was too great and the wind was too strong. Finally, he managed to grasp the woman's hand, and hauled her off the boat. Then he grabbed my hand, and yanked me, and my carrello, off, too.

That was my second tornado, and I have to say, it really gets the adrenaline running. It was quite a thrill. My first tornado was in Croatia, which is another story.

Later on in the day, I went back down past Sant' Elena, and saw that the trees had been knocked down, boats turned over; it was a disaster.

From ANSA:

Tornado strikes Venice, narrowly misses center

Dozens of boats overturned, serious crop damage

12 June, 19:39

(ANSA) - Venice, June 12 - A dramatic funnel cloud sweptover Venice on Tuesday and narrowly missed the center of town,striking instead the outskirts and uprooting trees andoverturning dozens of boats.
Witnesses first reported the dark waterspout approachingfrom Lido island at the extreme east end of the lagoon beforeencroaching closer to the historic center.
The twister brought down a wall at the Venezia soccerstadium, damaged the Morosini naval academy and ruined a rowingclubhouse.
Click to read the ANSA report.
From YouTube:

Here is the link to the Venetian Cat - Venice Blog follow-up to this story:

Tornado in Venice - The Aftermath

UPDATE - July 9, 2015 - To read about the recent tornardo in Dolo just outside Venice, click HERE to go to the Independent.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Giorgia Boscolo and Conversations with a Gondolier

Giorgia Boscolo
(Venice, Italy) After nearly a millenium, the exclusive male world of the gondolieri has accepted a woman as one of their own. On May 11, 2012, I took the traghetto over to San Tomà and met Giorgia Boscolo, who became Venice's first female gondolier in 2010. The daughter of a gondolier, Giorgia is continuing the tradition. She's vibrant and friendly, greating passengers with a warm buon giorno, which is refreshing. When I asked her how it felt to be surrounded by so many men, the mother of two said, "I grew up with them, so it is like having hundreds of uncles."

From the Daily Mail:

"...Boscolo has dismissed critics who have questioned whether women would be strong enough to control the large boats.

'Childbirth is much more difficult,' she said."

That reminded me of the article that I had written back in 2010, thanks to Gina Misiroglu of Red Room -- an author's website -- putting me in touch with the Gadling/AOL people. I realized that I now have the right to reprint it on Venetian Cat - Venice Blog. In exchange for writing the article, Red Room agreed to donate $100 to my favorite charity, which is Drawing Dreams Foundation; you can see their logo over there in the left sidebar:

 Helen Keller-

Lyla, Age 7, LA
Drawing Dreams is a Berkeley, California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides art supplies and Pop Cap interactive video games to hospitalized children through children's hospitals' Child Life and Artist-in-Residence programs.

In support of our mission, talented children and more than thirteen hundred professional artists from seventy one countries participate in Drawing Dreams. You can view their art in Drawing Dreams' website's Children-Helping-Children and Artists-Helping-Children galleries.

Our goal is to be able to maintain a sustainable supply line to these twenty-two children's hospitals and other children's hospitals across the country, and to inspire artists everywhere to donate their talent and time at local children's hospitals.

Here's the article from Gadling/American Online:

Conversations with a Gondolier

The sleek, black gondola is Venice's most well-known symbol. Hand-crafted down to the smallest detail, this ancient method of transportation is often viewed as a try-before-you-die experience for tourists. But what about the man behind the oar?

Today, there are 425 gondoliers who ply the waters of the Venetian lagoon, and, contrary to appearances, they are not just pretty faces with great bodies. Competition for the medieval occupation is fierce, and licenses are limited. If selected, gondoliers go through intensive training for about a year, studying the history, architecture, landmarks and lagoon system of Venice, in addition to English, French and Venetian languages -- not to mention the practical method of learning how to master the difficult boats that are sometimes compared to "fillies."

The gondolier stands facing the bow, holding a long, single oar. He rows one stroke forward, then a backward stroke, performing a graceful ballet. The gondola is asymmetrical, the left side longer than the right, so that it doesn't veer to the left on the forward stroke. To qualify for this extraordinary job, gondoliers must also spend a period of time as an apprentice, and pass a comprehensive exam.

Simon, tanned, blond and handsome, Venetian-born and -bred, has been rowing a gondola for about ten years. "It was hard and difficult at first, until I understood the work. Now, I love it. It is a beautiful job that allows me to be free. The gondola you see is just a tiny piece of Venice's history, a story that starts back in the year 421. It is a story that is 1500 years old. People escaped here from the mainland, fleeing from invaders. They settled first on the island of Torcello. The gondola evolved over the centuries as a way to travel around the waters of the lagoon and the canals. It is a boat designed specifically to fit its environment."

All gondolas are black by law, but every gondola is unique - different colored tapestries, various embellishments - reflecting the personality of the gondolier.
Simon must have done well on his comprehensive exam. He explained that the gondoliers belong to different cooperatives. When asked if there was competition between the co-ops, he grinned and said, "Competition is inherent in all men." Gondoliers stand up because if they sat down and rowed backwards, they wouldn't be able to see anything. Like the gondola itself, the singular method of rowing is a skill that has developed over time. And yes, gondoliers have a daily routine. "We arrive in the morning and clean the boats, just like a shop. Wash the wood, mop the floor. Then we wait for people to walk by. The work comes to us." Some gondoliers christen their boats with names like "Sofia" and "Dogaressa; others travel incognito. All gondolas are black by law, but every gondola is unique -- different colored tapestries, various embellishments -- reflecting the personality of the gondolier.

When asked what section of Venice he lived in, Simon frowned. "I don't live in Venice anymore. Now I live in Mestre, on the mainland. They pushed all the Venetians out to Mestre. Mestre is not Venice. It is impossible for the average Venetian to buy a house in Venice. People who have rented for years are being forced out of their homes. Everything is so expensive, and is being bought by foreigners. It is a serious problem. There were about 120,000 people living here back in the '80s, now we are down to a little more than 59,000 residents. Venetians are like American Indians, and Venice is our Indian reservation. To live here, you must love this city because so many sacrifices must be made."

A gondolier forced to live in Mestre, on solid ground? What about their historic reputation: that all gondoliers are wealthy, and spend their free time smoking, playing cards and seducing female tourists? Other gondoliers joined the conversation and confirmed what Simon said. "Business is down. Tourists arrive here and expect to have a Las Vegas gondola ride," said the tall, dark and elegant Stefano. "The only reason I have a house in Venice is because I bought it back in the 1980s when I worked in a hardware store. It took me ten years to earn the money. Today it would be impossible." Massimo confirmed, "We are the last spoke on the wheel. Tourists arrive in Venice. They must have a room at a hotel. They must eat. For some, a gondola ride is mandatory, but for many, when times are tough, it is something they can do without." Another gondolier chimed in: "There is a deliberate attempt to drive Venetians out of Venice. It's a real war."

So much for the economic recovery. You know times are tough when the gondoliers are having trouble getting their oars wet.

Cat Bauer has lived in Venice, Italy since 1998. A former contributor to the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, she is the author of Harley, Like a Person and Harley's Ninth. Read her blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | JonRawlinson; RamblingTraveler]

NOTE: I'll have to check in with the gondoliers and see if their economic situation has improved since the summer of 2010.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog