“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” This is one of my favorite quotes from the Diary of Anna Frank, which I read after my visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It wasn’t the book that you start on a Sunday afternoon and finish by the evening. It took me over a month to finish. It was simply too heavy and too surrealistic to someone, who grew up in an era of peace, freedom and in the global village, as they say.
Anna Frank died 70 years ago. Yet, she is around us ever since. Wherever we turn her life is revisited by all medium of arts. In 2014, an Italian-based company approached Anna’s journey from a rather unusual perspective and as we talk with Walter Matteini, Director and Choreographer of the imPerfect Dancers Company, and Bruno Valentino Perillo, Artistic Director of R.E.D International Dance Arts, we understand that revisiting is necessary, and it is just as much needed for the audience as it is for the artists.
Before we start talking about Anne Frank, Words from the Shadows as a production, I needed to understand the role of Bruno, whom I not only know as a great dancer and with whom I spent weeks in Italy as a ballet student back in 2000, but who also connected me with the Walter Matteini and made this interview happen.
Bruno Valentino P: Well in the case, my figure is, as I always say, an absolute 360 degrees role. You know how much dance is my love, and since I found my other passion in managing anything related to dance, I became an artistic coordinator. And today, I put together the promotions of the works and the productions of the imPerfect Dancers Company, help them to get the exposure they seek and deserve. I continue to grow with them, and believe me, there’s plenty to do, my dream is to make them known worldwide not only because they are fantastic but also because their message in everything they create is simply something extraordinary.
A4I: The company is based in Italy. How did Anne Frank get to Israel?
BVP: One of my roles as Artistic Coordinator at the imPerfect Dancers Company is to continuously seek and reach out to contacts with other artists. So we had the plan to bring Anne Frank, Words from the Shadows to Israel and I just needed to find the right people who could help us. With the help of Vito Conversano, my fantastic dancer friend in Israel, we decided to send all what we had about the piece to Ido Tadmor, the Artistic Director of The Israel Ballet. He answered me in 2 days saying that he was very impressed. Then he put me in contact with Shaul Gur the producer/ manager of the International Spring Festival in Rishon LeZion. This is how our adventure in Israel started and we are absolutely humbled by both Ido and Shaul and that they made this possible for us.
And with this I turn to Walter Matteini, the creator of this ‘something extraordinary‘ that travels around the word with praise, to get an in-depth about the production and to get answers to my ‘why’s.
A4I: Why did you and Ina Broeckx, your co-partner as Artistic Director and choreographer, touch such a sensitive topic as Anne Frank?
Walter Matteini: The role of an artist is not only to entertain. But also to push people to reflect on what is around them, and to guide them into a conversation, so they share their opinions and their feelings. The main goal of art is to teach, provoke and evoke questions about the meaning of life.
A4I: So how do you choose your dance themes?
WM: Our company, and just as you see with Anne Frank, takes inspiration from history and literature. But we also consider other factors like the topic’s cultural depth, the potential leverage to play around and bring something original and modern to the audience, and, of course, the artistic interest and the emotions they evoke. And then add to it the importance of the music. Our work, as we start translating our ideas into movements, always start with the music. And all these together guide us to our sole purpose as dancers: and that is to convey emotions.
A4I: Why do you think it is important to revisit and make a tribute to Anne Frank?
WM: The Diary of Anne Frank invites us to reflect on the dark period in our history, as seen through the eyes of a teenager. It warns us of the danger of intolerance. And this is still relevant today. We are still disturbed by anything that deviates from our own opinions as to what is ‘good’, or ‘normal’. As Primo Levi, an Italian-Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor once said: ‘To understand is impossible, but to know is necessary and to remember is a duty.’
A4I: Was everyone in the company happy with this choice of theme?
WM: Yes, they all were immediately enthusiastic and very curious. It was great to see this.
A4I: What was the most challenging part of setting up the whole production?
WM: The process has been very intense and deep with many heartbreaking moments; especially on a psychological level.
Besides the movements, we put a lot of emphasizing and focus on the feelings experienced by the characters; their fears, their hopes and their fleeting moments of joy. It was a deep work.
A4I: Did you come across any challenges because you were producing a powerful Jewish theme? How did the audience receive it?
WM: So far we haven’t encountered any uncomfortable challenges in this sense. And to date, we only have positive feedbacks from the public also. Many have, actually, waited outside the theater to thank us and say how much they wish everyone would see this production. This makes us very happy and pushes us to continue.
A4I: So the audience loves it, and you also get fantastic reviews wherever you go with Anne Frank. Why is this piece so successful?
WM: The production speaks about emotions and feelings that are common to all of us. Dance and thus the dancers have the ability to communicate beyond age, nationality and any ethnic backgrounds. It is a universal language that everyone can understand. It touches us deeply; it has an immediate and violent impact on our souls. This is why it is embraced wherever we tour.
A4I: You used a very unusual approach to Anne’s story. The main role is not Anne but rather, if I should name someone, her father. How is the choreography builds up the Diary and what’s happened?
WM: There is not one main role in the piece; all characters have the same importance here.
The production revolves around the memories of Otto Frank and not around the narrated events of the Diary. Throughout the dance, Otto Frank discovers a side of Anne’s personality that he did not anticipate or foresee coming. He relives the time when they went into hiding and the tragic events that followed.
The original Diary stops a few days before their capture. In our production, however, the characters continue to tell their story; the deportation by train, their stay in the concentration camp. And yes, perhaps, this is unusual.
A4I: What does it mean exactly that you made the piece in a way to encourage community participation?
WM: Yes, the production was created in a way that there will be an option to include any local community’s choir or musician playing the violin or any instrument of choice. This was an intention to involve communities and collaborate to create a physical and emotional connection between the members of the Jewish community, the audience, and the dancers.
At our premier, in Pisa on 10 May 2014 we had the honor to welcome the choir of the Jewish Community of Livorno. And for 2016, for the occasion of the Memorial Day, we will be collaborating with the Choir of the Jewish Community of Rome. We’re very proud of these joints works, they open another door for dialogue and help us understand each other’s culture and art better.
A4I: You named yourself as the imPerfect Dancers Company, but all reviews and what we have been talking about are pointing towards a perfect dance company. So how is this exactly? Why is the name?
WM: ‘True perfection lies in imperfection’, this is our motto. As human beings, we all start from imperfection. Yet, we are also constantly striving for the unattainable, and that is the individual and collective perfection. And this is the same for dancers. In a company each dancers have their own imperfections that make them unique, yet absolutely perfect. It is this paradox that is encompassed in our company’s name.
A4I: What is the explicit choreographic language that distinguishes you from other contemporary companies?
WM: Our 4-word answer is: energetic, emotional, receptive and motivated. And these are just a few words that characterize the work of our Company and our dancers. I would say that our choreographic language is intensely physical and athletic. And we strive to couple it with our endless quest to explore and understand the human soul in all its different facets. Our ultimate mission is to create an emotional connection with the audience, so our work is built around this.
A4I: What should we know about the dancers and the company itself?
WM: The company is made of 8 dancers, 4 men, and 4 women, from 6 different nationalities. Together with Ina Broeckx we are continuously working towards bringing in creativity, expanding our repertoire and yes, often, we use rather courageous artistic tools. We want to create sensitive and compelling performances with an artistic boldness. Since our foundation, in 2009, we have been recognized by the global artistic landscape and earned our own, unique place there. We had the pleasure to tour through Canada, the USA, Colombia, Uruguay, Tanzania, throughout the major countries in Europe and then, of course, this year in Israel.
A4I: When and where can we see Anne Frank next?
WM: The next performances of Anne Frank, Words from the Shadows are held in Italy. It would be difficult to give you all the details, so it’s easier to invite you to have a look at our website: http://www.imperfectdancers.com, and you can find our Calendar, behind-the-scenes pictures, videos and more about us, as dancers.