Sunday, 20 December 2020

Meet Amedeo Giunta of the Plovdiv Opera House Ballet

Amadeo Giunta
© 2020 Amadeo Giunta 



A few weeks ago I joined KNT's Saturday online intermediate class and met a new teacher, He asked us to bear with him because it was the first time that he had taught in English.  He had no need to seek our indulgence. He had a love of dance which he communicated to us eloquently.  It came as no surprise to learn at the end of the class that he was a professional dancer. He is a member of the ballet troupe of the Plovdiv Opera House.

A few weeks later, he taught us again on the Day of Dance.  This time for a full 90 minutes.  There are many good teachers who have never been members of a company but those who have bring something very special to their classes.  I am not sure what it is but they make us want to jump that little bit higher or make a bit more of an effort at something else.  I don't know whether we jumped a fraction of an inch higher or whether our pirouettes were tighter and straighter but we definitely felt lifted by our teacher's manner.  

Immediately after the class, I contacted Karen Sant, the Principal of KNT, for the teacher's contact details so that I could ask him for this interview.  Karen sent me a short bio from which I learnt that his name was Amedeo Giunta.  I transmitted the invitation through a mutual friend and, almost immediately afterwards, I received his acceptance.

Amedeo told me that he was born in Barrafranca, a small, inland cathedral city in the province of Enna in Sicily.  He has a younger brother and two older sisters. The older of his sisters, Rosamaria, has two daughters of whom he is particularly fond. He says that the days on which his nieces were born were among the happiest of his life. He is justifiably proud of his region which is distinguished for its history, architecture, cuisine and traditions.  

He comes from a family of dancers.  His mother attended dance classes until she learned that she was pregnant with Amedeo.  Rosamaria teaches ballet to children and young people. It was she who took Amedeo to his first dance class at the tender age of 3.  He was the only boy in a class of girls.  He remembers being the centre of their attention sitting on the floor in his sister's dancing shoes. He felt at home in the studio right from the start despite being the only boy.

He studied hard under his first teacher Cettina Averna.   He describes her as almost a second mother.   After a few months of classes, he was invited to perform in public for the first time.  His piece was a Michael Jackson solo.  From that moment he knew that he was destined for the stage.

As there are no theatres near his home, Amedeo did not see ballet live on stage until his student days in Rome.  However, he had DVDs of the great classical works including Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Le Corsaire.  I asked him about his first live ballet.  It turned out to have been a dress rehearsal of Roland Petit's Coppelia.  That must have made quite an impression on Amedeo because Petit's version is particularly dramatic as can be seen from this clip in which Sergei Polunin danced Franz.  I asked Amedeo whether he was inspired by any of the artists that appeared in his DVDs. He replied:

"Of course as dancers, we all have our idols (Nureyev, Baryshnikov, and the more recents like Roberto Bolle, Carlos Acosta, Federico Bonelli, Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel) but what most inspires me is the desire to improve myself not to be like my idols, but to be the best version of myself everyday."

 He said that he took advantage of every opportunity he could get to attend workshops with the leading Italian and international masters.  

Amedeo's big break came in 2012 when he won the best soloist title in the Mentana Danza Life competition.  This is the video for the 2013 competition.  His prize included a scholarship to the MAS professional school in Milan.

Between 2013 and 2015 Amedeo trained at the Balletto di Roma School, As it is attached to the Rome Ballet and directed by the distinguished choreographer, Paola Jorio, it is very prestigious.  I asked Amedeo whether he had any favourite teachers at the Rome Ballet School. He mentioned Alexandre Stepkine who taught ballet, Mauro Murri, another of his ballet teachers and his contemporary teacher, Paolo Mangiola.  Stepkine helped him to understand how to develop the power needed for jumps and tours en l'air.  Murri showed him how to work on his body with intelligence and awareness. Mangiola opened his eyes to new possibilities of movement and to explore new ways to find expression through the human body.  

As end of term shows often provide the first opportunity for artistic directors, critics and audiences to spot up and coming dancers, I asked Amedeo about his performances at ballet school.   He mentioned, in particular, dancing  Brighella in Alexandre Stepkin’s Commedia Dell’arte.  He also had the chance to dance with the Rome Ballet. That was his first experience of working in a studio with different choreographers.  He danced in Futura, a piece by  Milena Zullo who also taught at his school.  He took part in the premiere of Tefer by Itamar Serussi Sahar a the Belgrade Dance Festival.  Other performances included Tourning by Alessandro Sciarroni and Reveals which was created by the dancers themselves.

Amedeo seems to have enjoyed his time in Rome.  I asked him what was the most important lesson that he had learned there.  He replied:

"The best advice that I received was to focus on my limits, accept them and make them my quality,"

His first job was with the Sienna Ballet (Balleto di Siena),  One of the works in the company's repertoire is entitled in English The Great Pas de Deux which includes extracts from Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty and many more.  Amedeo had the chance to dance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Diana and Acteon, and Esmeralda. He also learned some of the technical skills of staging a ballet such as lighting design and scenography. 

I asked him where he had acquired his teaching skills.  He replied that he had always assisted his sister and his first teacher Cettina Averna.  He would give classes to their students and choreograph pieces for their shows.  His bio mentions the "Snoopy School" so I asked him about that.  He told me that Cettina's classes are known as "The Snoopy School" because the sports and leisure centre where she gives her classes is named after Snoopy in Peanuts.  He is passionate about dance education not just for the talented but also for the public as a whole.  He said:

"Our mission is to make dance, culture and art more accessible to the people of our city and to destroy the prejudice that the ‘unknown’ takes within society."

That is identical to the mission of this blog and indeed Powerhouse Ballet which grew out of the blog.  I shall make it my business to keep in touch with those artists in Sicily.  Who knows? Maybe we can find a way of working together. 

As I said in the first paragraph, Amedeo is now with the Plovdiv ballet.  Plovdiv, like Manchester, is the second city of its country and it also has a long history.  It used to be known as Φιλιππούπολη because it was founded by Philip of Macedon.  Also like Manchester, Plovdiv is a big manufacturing and commercial centre with lots of theatres, concert halls and other places of entertainment, museums, universities and plenty of arts festivals.  The opera house was founded in 1953 and the auditorium now hoists operas, musicals and concerts as well as ballets.

Amedeo is very glad to be in Plovdiv:

"I enjoy every single day, emotion, show, moment. It’s amazing how much this country believes in culture and theatres, and I’m really happy to dance in such a beautiful city like Plovdiv."

While he has been there he has danced the Rat King in The Nutcracker and Magdavaya in La Bayadere.  He has also danced Siegfried in a performance of Swan Lake for children.  I asked him about roles that he would like to dance in future.  He replied  Birbanto in Le Corsaire and Rothbart in Swan Lake.

I learned that Amedeo had created some ballets of his own so I asked about them.  He replied:

"The piece that I created for State Opera Plovdiv is a pas de deux called  The Opposite Pole that talks about the attraction, relation and complementation of everything. For example, day and night are completely opposite from each other, but they compliment each other because they are attached together. It is inspired a lot by the symbol of Yin-Yang (That I actually have tattooed on my arm because it is a very special symbol that always appears in my life). It is choreographed to a beautiful music by an Italian composer, Andrea Farri and danced by myself and my colleague from State Opera Plovdiv, Mara Salvaggio. Now I am starting to choreograph a new piece for the company, under invitation by the artistic director Mariana Krancheva, with only male dancers! Which is a big challenge for me, and I cannot wait to develop it in the studio and hopefully on stage."

I guessed that Wayne McGregor might have been one of his inspirations and so it turned out.  Other favourite choreographers include Alexander Ekman, Marco Goecke, Akram Khan and Ohad Naharin.

I asked Amedeo whether he had any unfulfilled ambitions and this is what he said:

"The only ambition that I have right now is to dance all over the world, and why not create new choreographies and inspire people with them."

I asked him whether that might include the UK  "Living in the UK?" he replied,  "Why not? Who knows, maybe my next adventure is there!"

As for the future, he said that he has always loved teaching:

"So yes, later in life I would like to teach as well as choreograph in professional schools and pass all of my love for this art form to the new younger generations."
"In that case," I replied, "your students will ask you for advice,  What are you going to tell them?"

He said:

"The only advice that I want to give young aspiring dancers is to accept themselves with their limitations and their qualities and work on them. Only by working in that way, can they improve every day and maybe become someone that they never imagined to be. At least that is what happened to me. I started my career certain that the only way for me to dance was in modern or contemporary because of my body limitations for ballet; and I see now that I’m living a dream that I never even imagined, to dance in an Opera House."

How many others who have grabbed a barre can say that? 

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