A Look Behind the Curtain - Urbino Project 2015
Dancers from age 3 to 29 spend half the year preparing for their big night on stage.
URBINO, Italy – It is a week before the big dance recital at the Teatro Sanzio in Urbino. All 150 dancers at the school, called A.S.D. Gymnasium, are practicing intensively for the show’s two debut performances. The busy studio is filled with various costumes, props and determined students with one goal in mind: to put on an amazing show.
In contrast to the modern rehearsal studio, the Teatro Sanzio is one of this ancient city’s most elegant spaces. It was completed in 1853 and maintains the authentic look of an opera house. The seats are lined with soft red velvet and are placed in a semi-circular fashion around the stage. The main crystal chandelier draws your attention to the ceiling, which displays an intricate mural painted by 19th century artist Raffaele Antonioli of Gubbio. Soon, this theatre will be filled with 400 eager parents and guests awaiting their child’s big moment.
The dance school has introduced the playful innocence of youth to this old Renaissance city. Usually, Urbino’s streets are filled with reclusive university students and older locals whose families have been here for generations. But on the two nights of the performance the city is filled with joyous families and energetic children.
Bianca Maria Berardi, the studio’s director, has been preparing for this since the last performance a year ago in June. She works on the choreography throughout the summer and fall and begins teaching it to the students in January.
This year’s show is based on a fairytale theme. The performance is two and a half hours long, weaving together several classic tales such as Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. The show includes children of all ages, both girls and boys, starting as young as 3 years old. The performance encompasses various styles of dance including hip-hop, contemporary, classical and jazz.
Berardi’s assistant, Valentina Mangani, 29, has been dancing at the studio for 11 years. She teaches the hip-hop choreography and performs in the show, playing Alice in the Alice in Wonderland dance.
“This year is particularly difficult,” Mangani says, “because every tale has a protagonist, who is usually one of the adults, who has to teach the dance to all of the kids.”
The A.S.D. Gymnasium is one of four dance schools where Berardi teaches. This is the largest, with 150 students, followed by “Chorus,” which has 90 dancers. The other two, both named Gisele, are much smaller.
For Bianca Maria Berardi, giving every child the opportunity to dance is a top priority.
“Bianca is force of nature,” Mangani says. “Not only does she teach, but she also makes the costumes for everybody for all the schools she has.”
Berardi notes that usually dance is an art form for wealthier people, so hand-making all the costumes allows more children to be able to dance.
Agnese Garbugli, age 14, has been dancing at the A.S.D. Gymnasium her whole life.
She says Berardi is fabulous. “I feel so comfortable dancing with her.” Agnese says the days leading up to the performance are always the most nerve-racking because there is a lot of pressure to perform well in front of such a large crowd.
The final performance is now only a day away and the students are finishing up their final rehearsals in the theater. The Teatro Sanzio offers a steep “raked” stage, a difficult change from the studio that makes these final practices crucial. Berardi and Mangani anxiously watch as their dancers work through the routine one last time.
June 11. The day is finally here. Families and friends gather around the old Sanzio Theater conversing and enjoying a glass wine before taking their seats. All of Berardi’s time inventing choreography, directing the dancers, and making the costumes has come down to this night.
The curtain opens and the audience is taken through a fairytale adventure filled with princesses, villains, evil stepsisters and all seven dwarfs. The recorded music varies from familiar Disney tunes, to current hip-hop music (some of which includes explicit language apparently having little meaning to the Italian audience and their innocently smiling children on stage). Everyone in the theater is having a great time as the performance continues.
When the last fairytale ends, all the dancers gather on stage and hold hands for the final bow. The audience roars with applause. As the final curtain slowly drapes to a close, all the dancers cheer and rejoice together. The performance was a great success and Berardi, Mangani, and all the dancers are proud of their hard work and dedication.