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2023 Fini Dance Festival and Italian International Dance Awards

A dance variety show with an awards ceremony and videos.

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Antonio Fini in Ted Shawn’s “The Cosmic Dance of Siva,” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Fini Dance Festival, a one-performance mixed bag climaxing with the presentation of The Italian International Dance Awards to four deserving artists, was an Ed Sullivan-esque visit to what’s happening when Italy and the United States exchange artistic visions.  It all came together on the stage of the Ailey Citicorp Theater.

The program ranged from dedicated amateurs performing energetic Hip Hop to an excellent interpretation of a solo from Swan Lake and a dark modern dance performed to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

A scene from Antonio Fini’s “Fini Dance New York Summer Students” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

Two of Antonio Fini’s works began the program, both danced by his students.  The first was “Fini Dance Dance Hip Hop,” a robust interpretation of the popular dance form which came from the streets.  The second work was “Fini Dance New York Summer Students” in a modern dance work to Vivaldi.  The large cast formed stage-filling circles that broke off into solos, duets and trios, arms softly undulating over balletic leg steps, all wearing cool white costumes by Fini and Stacy Yoshioka.

Sensuality raised its shiny head in “Ballando on the Road,” featuring two hunky, bare-chested men wrapping themselves around each other to a Celine Dion song.  Ermanno Rava and Cristian Prebibaj were participants in Dancing With the Stars Italy.  The very short duet was choreographed by the two men and Yoshita Sakuraba.

Danzainsieme Study Company of Treviso in a scene from Victoria Sogn’s “Oltrepassare,” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

“Oltrepassare,” a work performed by members of the Danzainsieme Study Company of Treviso, was choreographed by Victoria Sogn to harsh sounding music by Max Richter and Johann Dust.  The cast of five, clad in formal two-piece black outfits seemed to be attached to each other by some gravitational pull as they leaned off each other, performed low lifts and emotional arm reaches.  This was a community of lost souls.

Melania Liotta from the Now Dance Movement from the Tirana Dance Festival was the solo performer in and choreographer of “Mediterranean” to Vivaldi.  The work was confused in intention and didn’t quite gel.  A fine dancer, she dipped into deep plies, rolled on the floor…but why?

Jennifer Muller/The Works in Muller’s “Miserere Nóbis,” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

Jennifer Muller, the respected modern dance choreographer and José Limón acolyte, sadly passed away in March.  Her troupe, Jennifer Muller/The Works appropriately performed one of her darkest works, “Miserere Nóbis” to Samuel Barber’s sad Adagio for Strings.  At first the nine dancers, in chic black costumes, were gathered upstage left.  One by one, they journeyed down the diagonal, a journey that never lightened up, returning the cast to the safety of the group for security and support. Muller’s movement palette was slow and dignified, performed by talented dancers who communicated a sense of loss.

“Ascending from the Underworld,” choreographed and costumed by Javier Dzul, director of Dzul Dance, provided a bit of Cirque du Soleil to the proceedings.  A long pink cloth hanging from the upper reaches of the stage became a device for the bare-chested Dzul to roll in acrobatically, legs askew.  He performed other feats of derring-do while the other three dancers (Itzkan Barbosa, Federico Garcia and Andrea Dusel-Foil) moved about the stage. One reached up to Dzul who lifted her up.  It all appeared to be a metaphor for leaving sadness for more glorious climes.

Javier Dzul and Andrea Dusel-Foil in Dzul’s “Ascending from the Underworld,” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

Fini performed a work which might just become his theme: “The Cosmic Dance of Siva,” choreographed by the modern dance legend Ted Shawn in 1926 to honor the Hindu culture.  A revival commissioned by Audrey Ross, “Siva” was modeled after Hindu statues.  It required balance and meditative calm.  Fini, dressed in a colorful costume designed by Stacy Yoshioka, moved to Lily Strickland Anderson’s evocative music and was the very vision of Siva.

The National Ballet of Kosovo contributed a folksy duet, “Migration,” choreographed by Fini for Aulonë Nuhiu and Fatmir Smani wearing Shemsi Avdiu’s simple costumes evoking the people of Kosovo.  There was a yearning quality to the movements and the two dancers interacted with each other in reaches, lifts and falls to the stage.

National Ballet of Kosovo’s principal dancers Fatmir Smani and Aulonë Nuhiu in Fini’s “Migration,” performed as part of 2023 Fini Dance Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

The Award Ceremony included a dance work pertinent to each beneficiary.

A Rising Star Award was given to Luigi Crispino, a young, impressive Italian ballet dancer who performed a pensive solo from Swan Lake.  The choreography involved slow, controlled balances and a demonstration of impeccable line.  Crispino needs seasoning, but he was impressive.

The second Rising Star Award was given to another Italian dancer, Marzia Memoli who performed Martha Graham’s “Deep Song,” her response to the troubled world of 1937.  Memoli was simply wonderful, dressed in Graham’s long dress with its white and black strips.  A bench provided a mourning site and, when turned on its end, a shelter.  The clanging score by Henry Cowell was closely supported by Graham’s percussive, dramatic choreography.  When Memoli revealed that this was the first time she performed the work it made her performance seem all the more remarkable for her total immersion in the emotions of this anti-war piece.

The Extraordinary Dancer Award went to the marvelous drag ballerina, Jonathan Mendez whose Dying Swan, in the guise of Palomina Carrera, was hilarious with feathers floating off her tutu and campy looks and gestures.  It also has to be said that Mendez’s point technique was impeccable.

Presenter Antonio Fini, Janet Eilber, Director of the Martha Graham Company, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and host Tabata Caldironi at the 2023 Fini Dance Festival Festival at the Ailey Citicorp Theater (Photo credit: Wendy Wild)

Janet Eilber, Director of the Martha Graham Company, received a very deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.  After a moving video tribute displaying her incredible dance talents, she gave a sweet acceptance speech, her modesty serving to make her even more remarkable.

The program was hosted and awards distributed by Fini and the lovely Tabata Caldironi.

Fini Dance Festival (August 31, 2023)

Ailey Citicorp Theater, 405 West 55th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.finidance.nyc

Running time:  two hours without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (553 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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