Exclusive: An Italian Import for American Ballet

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Luca Veggetti is not a brand-name choreographer in the United States, though he’s been creating works for European and Russian companies for nearly two decades. He had a stateside coming out of sorts in 2007, when three of his dances were showcased as part of the Works & Process series at the Guggenheim, and last year he directed and choreographed a multimedia performance of Greek composer Iannis Xenakis’ opera, Oresteia, at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

Veggetti embraces the idea of total theater — a blend of music, dance, drama and visual arts — and reviewers here still seem to be on the fence about his style, which they have described as “austere”, “spare” and “restrained.”

New Yorkers can judge for themselves: Veggetti is back in the States, this time working with dance students at Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in Westchester. His new piece, set to another Xenakis score, makes its world premiere April 24 as part of Purchase Dance Corps’ spring concert this weekend and next. (If you can’t make the trek up to Purchase, stay tuned: Veggetti will be bringing this piece and others to New York City next year for a festival devoted to Xenakis.)

We caught up with Veggetti last week during rehearsals to find out about his latest project.

Flavorwire: You’ve created works for companies all over the world. How does working with the Purchase students compare?

Luca Veggetti: It’s a wonderful experience. I always enjoy working with young dancers because they are fearless in a way. It’s always a wonderful moment when I can be in a studio with dancers that are so eager and young and skilled.

FW: Can you describe the piece you’ve created for them?

LV: It deals essentially with how movement connects on every level, from how a hand movement connects to the leg movement, or how the movement of one dancer connects to the next one, and how their movement connects to the space they are in. This idea of the connection between things in general is at the core of this work … from the slightest detail to the piece as a whole. The piece has a larger cast than I am accustomed to — twelve dancers — and it brought me to a different perspective in terms of how to make a work with a larger group but still keep this idea of having very individual movements for each dancer.

FW: When you started to work with the dancers, did you already have a good idea of what these movements would be, or is your choreography more of a collaborative process?

LV: For this piece, like any other piece that I do now, I come with an outline of what the piece should develop, but not with the movements. When I was much younger and a lot more insecure and with less experience, I would walk into the studio and I would know what every dancer would do at what moment — which of course is the most boring way of doing choreography. But twenty years ago, the dancers were also different.

FW: How so?

LV: It’s a much richer world in terms of choreography now. Dancers have become, to some extent, collaborators rather than just tools for the choreographers. Technique and choreography have developed in a way where the dancers are allowed to have a greater freedom, and of course this is a great thing. It’s necessary to the development of the form. Dancers today have are allowed to have a greater creative input into the process of making choreography. I think each choreographer takes from the dancers he is working with part of his vocabulary.

FW: So how does your choreographic process work exactly?

LV: I create a situation where everyone is participating in the creation and hopefully thinking that it’s worthwhile being there, and sometimes through the creative input of the dancers, we improve and develop choreographic ideas together. We always start from somewhere that comes from me, but then it might be a phrase or a particular solution that someone suggests. And of course it is a lot richer that way. If any creative artist knew where he was going, there would be no point in going there. What interests me more than anything else is absolutely the process of creating the piece rather than the finished product.

FW: Did you choreograph this piece to the music, or is it a case where the two exist independently of one another?

LV: I never choreograph on the music, regardless of what the music is. I tend to choreograph in silence… and then put the two things together and find a way through there. The movement and music always exist in some kind of free polyphony… so each one has its own voice, but they don’t depend on each other. A dialogue is kept alive by the fact that no movement is pinned to a particular sound. It’s kind of like the way Cunningham and Cage worked, but they agreed on a strict rhythmic structure beforehand, and I don’t.

FW: Do you think it’s more difficult for the dancers this way?

LV: Quite the contrary. It’s easier to find freedom in the movement when you’re not pinned to the music. When you decide your own timing to some extent, then of course you have a greater freedom in movement. When you’re not confined to [moving to the music], you just dance your phrases. It keeps your movement alive and keeps the relation to the sound alive also.

FW: Did you always know that when you stopped performing you would become a choreographer?

LV: I knew from an early stage that eventually I would like to do that. I liked dancing, but I didn’t shed tears when I stopped. So it was just a transition and I was lucky enough to have the possibility of trying to make choreography.

FW: You’ve been working as a freelancer for many years. Have you ever thought about having a company of your own?

LV: Of course, it’s a dream for any choreographer… but we are in a world where to start from scratch is so difficult and you spend most of your time and energy dealing with issues that have nothing to do with making dances. Of course in Europe we are in a very different system, the arts being state-funded one hundred percent. So that implies an involvement a political system that does not interest me at all. Here of course is completely the reverse. You have to fund raise in order to exist, and that system I’m not so familiar with yet. So it’s a mixture of all of these elements that prevents me. But in the abstract, yes. And I would say I’d like to have an experimental theater dance group rather than just a traditional company, which would be of no interest to me. Something that involves working with all the elements of theater, music and dance would be certainly a wonderful idea.