Italy’s Spellbound Contemporary Ballet taps into dancers’ personalities at Chutzpah fest

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      Haunting, sculptural, and deeply human, Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s dance is often praised for its beauty.

      But to artistic director Mauro Astolfi, who cofounded the Rome-based company in 1994, that word suggests a surface allure that he simply isn’t after.

      “I’m very attracted to the possibility of the human body to create a certain aesthetic, but aesthetics, for me, comes from substance—something that can touch something very deep in the human body and the human brain,” he tells the Straight from Italy. “You can’t create aesthetics just with a nice body—the emotional, mental, and physical system has to work together.”

      When the company makes its debut here at the Chutzpah Festival, it will be with dancers—like recent Arts Umbrella alumnus Jayson Syrette—who have a polished technical ballet ability, but who have something else, too. “I always try to find people with different personalities,” Astolfi says. “I have them give me their personality through the moment. And I try to destroy what they think their limit is.”

      Spellbound Contemporary Ballet.

      The result is dance that should appeal to fans of Ballet BC and other contemporary-dance companies here in Vancouver. Astolfi himself trained with the American companies of Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham before going back to Italy after a serious injury at 30, but his style today speaks of European choreographers like Jiří Kylián and Jorma Elo—both of whom have created work for our regional ballet company. Astolfi himself cites a local bright light as a big influence.

      “You have Crystal Pite,” he says of the Vancouver choreographer behind such atmospheric pieces as Dark Matters and the recent Betroffenheit. (See story on page 15.) “I love her work and the way she presents herself. And you have a lot of fantastic new choreographers, so it’s very exciting for me to perform there.”

      Because it’s our first look at Spellbound, Astolfi plans to bring a range of short works here to show off different sides of the troupe. Among the pieces is She Is on the Ground, a playful riff on the pointlessness of male courtship rituals and the power of women in relationships. Another is the enigmatic new Hesitation Day, in which four men form tangling sculptures that stretch and pull apart, set to the punk-metal of Iceland’s Norn.

      To build the work, the choreographer depends a lot on the personality of his dancers and their interpretation of his ideas, but Astolfi bluntly states he doesn’t ask them to improvise much.

      “I’m the sort of person who likes to choreograph from the first to the last,” he says, an attribute audiences here will be able to see in the detailed finesse of his creations. “A lot of choreographers just like to sit and there is a lot of words. That is not me.”

      The Chutzpah Festival presents Spellbound Contemporary Ballet at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre from Saturday to Monday (February 27 to 29).

      Spellbound Contemporary Ballet.