BWW Review: The Kids Rock Fini Dance Festival

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BWW Review: The Kids Rock Fini Dance Festival
Antonio Fini
Rachel Neville; photographer

"Should kids be this good?" I asked my partner while gawking at Fini Dance Festival's 2019 Italian International Dance Awards performance. Each year Antonio Fini produces numerous festivals around the world in order to connect talented young dancers with greater training opportunities, professional connections, and job prospects. This year's participants put their elders on notice: we are coming for your jobs.

Running like a herd of wild horses, Fini's NYC summer school students tore across Ailey Citigroup Theater in constantly shifting patterns while executing falls to the floor, tricky partnering, and invigorating ensemble work. That they were better than they should have been sent a warm wave of appreciation through the audience. Fini is obviously doing right by his kids.

Giorgia Pia Gatto in particular was a stellar exponent of this fact. The young girl's spider inspired contortion showpiece was replete with ear-whacking kicks, legs-over-the-head back arches, and a devotion to dominating the audience with a wise-beyond-her-years artistry. Marek Pisanu was equally dynamic in his trick-laden showstopper, though his sweetly disarming ambiance helped to offset his heart-attack inducing daredevilry.

Both dancers were recently featured on Ballando On The Road, the Italian version of Dancing With The Stars, which Fini appears on as a guest judge. That these incredible dancers were so committed to astounding the audience proved unfortunate for the professionals who performed later.

Michael Mao Dance gave an under-powered performance of his orgiastically athletic Weaving, Saya Spring Dance Theater lacked vim in their tango-influenced Spark, and Alessandra Corona Performing Works' Labyrinth--which featured the Rising Star Awardee, Maria Vittoria Villa--looked like a hastily constructed maze with no point in sight.

Thank goodness then for the superstar Grahamzon, Katherine Crockett. Crockett, who is one of the great beauties in dance, spent 20-plus years as a star with The Martha Graham Dance Company. During that time, and since then, she starred alongside numerous celebrities around the world while continuing to cultivate her beguiling glamour and intense artistry. None of these facts make her a worthy choreographer. If anything they explain why the audience never lost interest during her meandering solo, "Mother of Exiles". Crockett can dance the movement equivalent of the phone book and still leave an arena enthralled. Indeed she did, which does not negate the fact that artists of her caliber deserve choreography equal to their prowess.

Jacqulyn Buglisi's excellent dancers closed the show in her transliteration of Faure's Requiem. This musical "lullaby of death" diverges from traditional requiems in that it offers a happy deliverance unto death. Buglisi has responded to that musical exuberance by constructing a sumptuous tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. This performance also served as a salute to the multi-award winning costume and set designer, A. Christina Giannini, who has worked with Buglisi for many years and also constructed Requiem's ornate costumes.

Requiem is nothing short of fabulous, but like a Caravaggio painting it can leave audiences feeling as if they have been suffocated with a lavender scented mink stole. What keeps the ballet from tipping over into excess is Buglisi's ferocious choreography, which frames its women as statuesque celestial beings or tireless rebels rending the air asunder in contrast to the music's progression. That makes it hardly ideal as gala festival fare, which brings us to the primary critique of this evening: with so much excellence on display--from incredible students to the highly entertaining dueling hosts Ornella Fado and Tabata Caldironi--the dance performances never felt appropriate for the occasion. That Giannini and Crockett were both honored by the festival--with the Lifetime Achievement in Dance and Extraordinary Dancer Award, respectively--points to an additional flaw in programming: why weren't these two powerful women commissioned to create a piece with the equally powerful Buglisi?


With the 10th edition of Italian International Dance Awards fast approaching, perhaps now is the time for Fini to address the glaring elephant in his organization: the professional choreography that he presents is rarely on the level. L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim.



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