Last week, Union was fortunate to host the Spellbound Contemporary Ballet as part of the Stephanie C. Davis Dance Residency.
This talented, innovative dance company comes all the way from Rome to perform in Albany as part of their second American tour.
They also gave a master class at Union, open to all dancers, and a lecture-demonstration where co-founder, Valentina Marini, spoke about the creative process that goes into each piece, as well as some of the company’s background.
Spellbound’s nine dancers were present to give their own input and to show a sampling of some of the pieces they were to perform the next day.
Before the presentation even started, I knew I was in for something great.
Just during warmups, it was clear that each dancer had a connection with his/her body that allowed them to move in ways I had never seen before.
And when they began the first excerpt from their performance, the extreme fluidity of their every motion was immediately apparent.
Marini later explained that Spellbound’s founder and choreographer, Mauro Astolfi, creates each step with many separate micro-movements, which add up to one fluid motion.
The dancers also said that transitioning to Mauro’s “language” of dance is very difficult, a few saying that when first learning from him, the exact art of his steps was so challenging that they felt it was impossible.
Yet, over time their bodies adjusted, and now Mauro’s dance style is like second-nature to them.
The technique Astolfi uses in his choreography does have its roots in ballet — the dancers straighten their legs and point their toes — but it has a much freer sense about it.
From what I saw, it has some similarities to modern dance, and it also involves a good deal of floor work. One dancer remarked that when Astolfi teaches his choreography he allows the dancers to personalize it into what feels right in their own body, which enhances the creation of the piece.
Each of Astolfi’s pieces doesn’t have a set storyline, but instead a general mood that can be interpreted in different ways, and this is part of what makes his style “contemporary.”
His dancers performed excerpts from four different pieces: a group piece called “Lost for Words,” a very intense piece danced by a quartet of men, an emotional duet and a comedic group piece, titled “She’s on the Ground.”
They were all performed with such emotion, fluidity and intimacy and connection with the other dancers, that the mood for each piece was beautifully and plainly expressed.
It seemed like the dancers were telling a story, each as their own character interacting with the others.
And most of the time, it seemed that no dancer was greater or the “main character” — they all got their own time to shine.
Mauro Astolfi founded Spellbound in 1994, when he returned to Italy after spending time in America.
While in the states, he actually learned hip-hop, elements of which are visibly incorporated into his style.
The dancers all have their own individual backgrounds in dance training, hailing from many different parts of Italy, and one from Spain.
Some of them were recruited into the troupe when Astolfi saw them dance, while others took one class with Astolfi and “fell in love” with his style, auditioning soon after.
Marini said their mission with the company is not just to create and perform dance, but also to connect with the dance community by teaching workshops and interacting with other dancers and other dance styles.
With this in mind, I can see why they came to Union to teach and inspire us and what an inspiring experience it was.
Correction, Nov. 1, 2015: An earlier version of this article misspelled Mauro Astolfi’s last name. His last name is spelled Astolfi, not Astolfie.