Monday night's opening of a quadruple bill at Florence's Teatro Comunale was cancelled at the last moment, though a warning had been issued previously.
A protest in Rome, against the cuts in the arts, organised by trade unions, was set for 10 June, a Monday, when usually Italian theatres are closed. However, as MaggioDanza had programmed an evening of dance that Monday – including William Forsythe's Steptext with Sylvie Guillem – there was a good chance that it wouldn't go on. Pleasingly, almost all the theatre workers, including the dancers, returned from Rome in time for curtain up… except for the two sound technicians.
MaggioDanza is threatened by imminent closure, and tensions were already running high. The company's director, Francesco Ventriglia, wanted the evening to go ahead anyway, but the union representative Pierangelo Preziosa, a dancer with the company for 18 years, reminded him that this couldn't be done; only the sound techies can touch the audio equipment.
Whatever happened next between Ventriglia and Preziosa is unclear, but tempers were lost, a furious Guillem joined in with the shouting, police were called in, and Preziosa ended up being checked over in hospital.
He told the Firenze Post,
I'm 40-years-old, so I'm certainly no newbie. I've been here for 18 years. I've given my all for MaggioDanza. How am I today? Shaken… sad…
My colleagues were barely able to restrain Ventriglia from lunging at me… he used aggressive language that was offensive to my professionalism: both for me personally and towards my role as a union representative. Then I found myself in the emergency room…
Reading between the lines, it seems that the name-calling got a little out of hand, Preziosa was wounded psychologically, and all the frustration and stress that the company has borne during the last weeks poured out. This is a time when thousands are losing their jobs, and newspapers report desperate people doing desperate things each day: the poor workers at MaggioDanza are just a microcosm of Italy as it is now.
The decision to close the company was because it is losing too much money. It may be possible to save MaggioDanza in some way, but it is obvious that restructuring and efficiency issues need to be addressed radically. When you have one of ballet's top box-office draws in a world-famous city full of tourists for only three performances and you can't sell out the theatre, something must be wrong.
The theatre plan reproduced here shows the number of seats available (in colour) for tonight's performance, at just 20 minutes before the start. In a 1,800 seat theatre, with ridiculously low pricing (maximum €40), 1,012 are still available.
I have been in Florence for the last couple of days and I haven't seen one poster or flyer advertising the programme, and Sylvie Guillem's presence, in hotels, restaurants or on the streets, and there's been minimal newspaper coverage. Didn't anyone notice that the theatre was empty, or didn't anyone care? Who, at the end, is responsable: the management, the press office, the ballet director, or the dancers themselves? Why not: if I was performing constantly to a semi-empty theatre I might be a little worried that one day there would be no more money to fill my wage packet, and ask what was going on… and demand answers.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.