While it’s a cliche to say that love is the universal language, that truism has taken root in Chicago along colorful lines. It starts with Italian choreographer Mauro Astolfi showing the experienced dancers of River North Dance Company moves and nuances that they’ve never seen before, in preparation for a world premiere being presented Valentine’s Day weekend.
“It’s a different approach to movement, that’s for sure,” says Astolfi, 49, who hails from Rome. “The River North Company is soulful; they have a strong and energetic way of dancing. But I try to tell them that there are different ways to express energy other than just jumps. It’s about expressing themselves in a new language.”
That “new language” comes by way of a dance visionary and director of the Spellbound Dance Company, which he created in 1994 and today represents one of the leading lights in Italian choreography. Yet to get to the heart of it, understand that Astolfi’s passion for dance is a life tango of sorts: It begins with a teenage love story.
“I was 14 years old and I fell in love with an American girl from Los Angeles,” Astolfi recalls. “She was 19 or 20, and she had a scholarship to a college in Rome. She invited me to spend some time in California, and I realized that I wanted to dance. I went to L.A. and saw the American Ballet Theater, and she was driving me around the city to see dance schools. And from there, I realized that it was absolutely the thing I wanted to do.”
From there, Astolfi went to New York City, where he lived for eight years, and began a remarkable career that has seen him travel the world. Today he holds a coveted teaching spot in Rome as artistic director of the Modern-Contemporary Department at the Dance Arts Faculty.
Yet for all his years in the profession, Astolfi sounds as energetic and passionate as the teenager who fell for a beautiful girl and a lovely art form.
He sounds especially excited when discussing what the audience can expect from River North (a company with strengths in jazz) as they embrace his avant-garde flourishes: “It is for the audience to discover something new,” he says. “River North does nice and intense work because they have the ability to change and adapt to different styles. They are very open-minded and can dance to almost anything. But as for the audience, I don’t know. They have to be ready to expect something different.”
River North Dance Chicago’s Valentine’s Weekend Engagement will take place on Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. Tickets to the Harris Theater engagement are $30 to $75 and are available at harristheaterchicago.org or by calling the box office at 312-334-7777.