Interview by Caroline Bertoldo: I recall Annalisa Cioffi, especially in Thierry Malandain's "Pierre de Lune, as a beautiful dancer with a powerful and glowing presence. Therefore, keen to know what she is doing now, I asked her what had happened since she left BJG in 2001. She told me that she had joined Thierry Malandain's Ballet Biarritz, where she had stayed for about 8 years.
Did you have to audition?
My first visit with Sean and Patrice to audition in Paris with a few other dancers from BJG was not a great success (Annalisa laughs). However it did give me the opportunity to study Thierry and his company at work. ! The following year I went to St Etienne, where I studied Pierre de Lune with Thierry. As a result he asked me to audition for him in Biarritz and to stay with the company for four to five days to work on some choreography. This led to me being invited to join the company as a trainee....and my adventure started.
What an incredible experience! At 19 I was the youngest member of the company. There were only 12 dancers, which meant that the relationship between choreographer and dancers was very close. Thierry was always very sympathetic when working with us. Since that time the company has grown considerably and I have found myself working with other dancers of widely differing personalities, who graduated from a classical background to working in a contemporary style. ! I fell in love instantly with Thierry's style of choreography. For some it seems neo-classical, whilst others class it as very
contemporary. But for me it is his own personal style; fluid and both light and extremely powerful. The first time I saw Pierre de Lune I was dumbstruck at the power released in the dancer. It all looked so easy....but, of course, was not! In addition each character was clearly delineated and enabled each dancer to add something special and personal to the interpretation of the piece. One did not feel like a corps de ballet, but individuals in a group, each with recognisable characteristics. Thierry's liking for groups could cause problems when a dancer was unable to dance and there was no understudy available as a replacement. Each group member would have a solo moment or appear with only one or two other dancers. This meant I danced a lot!!
In my 8th and last year I gained my Classic State Diploma and then had to stop dancing due to health problems.
What did you do next?
Since I could no longer dance professionally I returned to Italy with my diploma, where I started teaching at my mother's Dance School in Pesaro. I was also free to give a few freelance performances, freed from professional pressures
What do you teach?
Classical Dance. In addition I ran an improvement course for two years. I am still teaching.
What do you like about teaching?
What particularly struck me when I started teaching was the happy spontaneity of the children's dancing, their joy of performing, palpable as they came on stage.
When required to give over 100 performances a year professional dancers can struggle to find enthusiasm; and yet it should always be there. This determined me to convey my experience to young dancers, to show them what a beautiful art dance is. Teaching makes me happy and I will pursue it.
I am told that you have a young child.
Yes; an 8 month old boy called Alessandro. Becoming a mother is so beautiful. I watch the way he moves and crawls and visualise Contemporary Dance. For me he dances; it is like second nature (she laughs). Dancing is such a natural thing and I find this fascinating, not only from a mother's viewpoint.
What other interest do you have outside Dance?
All forms of art interest me and I like exhibits and concerts. Whilst we have much music in this region, unfortunately there are few exhibitions and very little Dance. Good Contemporary Dance carries little appeal, although foreign companies do visit occasionally. By good fortune the International Civitanova Danza Festival is held here. ! Youngsters nowadays are easily beguiled by television into thinking that appearing on it will grant them instant success and recognition. They are not attracted by the hard work and discipline of a theatre career. Much work remains to be done in building awareness of different cultural opportunities.
Do you wish to be involved in this work?
I am. We arrange theatre visits for students and have been organising a small Contemporary Dance Festival,
Hangartfest, for the past 12 years. This is an international platform for young choreographers. Young artists in residence are encouraged to present their work in public. However this is uphill work. Since we are a private school we get no support from the Town Hall and have to find our own resources. But there is still hope.
Seeing what Sean and Patrice have achieved with BJG and EDG, I aim to do something similar here.....wonderful, but practically impossible. Attitudes need to shift towards a willingness to promote Dance. Geneva has moved far in the right direction; Pesaro lags far behind.
What message would you like to give the BJG Dancers?
Follow your dreams. There is always someone who will warn you that you will not succeed; it is too difficult, or you have not got the looks! If you are really determined you will achieve. ! Dance can offer many diverse opportunities to anyone who is keen. The important thing is to dance in whatever discipline and style drives you. However tough it is, do not give up; keep putting more energy into it. ! I come from a small town in Italy. When I started in Dance School none envisaged that I would make it to BJG and onwards to Malandain and a worldwide career. Dreams do come true.....if you have a great deal of determination.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I owe Sean and Patrice a lot. It was they who introduced me to Contemporary Dance. Before that I had followed the Classical route and barely touched on Contemporary. However when I joined EDG I was total immersed (she laughs) and taught all the different styles. Every day I took Contemporary Dance classes and in addition was taught how to cope in the professional world. I was shown what it was like to work within a company; the rehearsals, the classes, the performances and much else.
They played a large part in confirming to me that this was my vocation.