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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Global theatre sanctuary sprouts deep in the heart of Tuscany

Posted: 07 May 2014 01:35 AM PDT

A theatre centre in an off-the-beaten path corner of Tuscany, Italy, has become a creative hub for thespians from around the world, offering residencies for established drama professionals and courses for aspiring actors.

The Funaro complex in Pistoia includes former blacksmith and carpenter workshops turned into apartments, two 100-seat theatres and a cafeteria which acts as the main social centre. The Funaro can host 12 artists at a time and usually residents come with their families.

"I needed a shelter that was also full of life," said Cristiana Morganti, a dancer and choreographer from the late Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal in Germany, who has recently finished a one-month residency. "It's like a convent here. It's calm but is also very invigorating on a human level because it has classes full of children and people of all ages," she said.

Resident artists Kenji Takagi and Cristiana Morganti at Il Funaro, in Pistoia. 

Morganti has been working on the storyline and choreography for her latest contemporary work Jessica and Me, which will be premiering in the nearby theatre of Reggio Emilia in October.

As an Italian performer who has made her entire career abroad, Morganti said she was  that Italy had managed to create a place like the Funaro, complaining that many of her dancer compatriots are forced to do "three jobs at the same time" just to survive. "This shows there is hope, that there are little hubs that work even as they aim for quality," she said.

In the centre's corridors, sounds of "Ha, Hi, Ho!" ring out as students take part in an exercise, batting the vocals to one another, arms thrashing.

Luisa Bardelli, an 18-year-old fascinated by the theatre world, has enrolled in one of Francesca Giaconi's courses which sees her competing with classmates to perform an improvised 'monkey jive'. "I love the ambiance here, the way of teaching. Francesca puts a lot of passion into it. In other courses, we worked most on our voices, it was boring. Here we work on improvisation and the body," she said.

Dream come to life

The idea for the complex began during a theatre workshop in Pistoia where actors Francesca Giaconi and her friend Lisa Cantini, teenagers at the time, met Antonella Carrara and Mirella Corso as well as Neumann, who encouraged them to create "an incubator of projects".

Funaro founders (from left): Francesca Giaconi, Mirella Corso, Antonella Carrara and Lisa Cantini. 

Founded in 2003, it moved to its current premises five years ago with the help of Frenchman Jean Guy Lecat, a set designer for famous director Peter Brook, and Colombian playwright Enrique Vargas, creator of the Theatre of the Senses in Barcelona.

"When I think about it, it was crazy!" Cantini said. "Pistoia is a small town. You really have to want to come here. From the start our idea was to bring the world to Pistoia and project Pistoia in the world. What started as a dream, an ambition, is coming to life."

The centre also includes the archives of Andres Neumann – an esteemed Bolivian-born international theatre producer who organises cultural events and is one of the sponsors of the theatre.

As well as workshops in theatre, the Funaro offers classes on circus arts and creative writing. French award-winning writer Daniel Pennac has stayed at the centre twice, and was so at ease in the family atmosphere that he walked around barefoot.

French writer Daniel Pennac addressing an audience in one of Funaro's two intimate theatres. 

Organisers say the Funaro has helped bring more visitors to Pistoia, a pretty mediaeval town of around 90,000 inhabitants not on main tourist routes. "It's created a revival in recent years, with the opening of new boutiques and restaurants," Cantini said.

But the thespian said her greatest satisfaction was to see young theatre aficionados and industry veterans sitting down together. Experienced theatre professionals "really appreciate teaching even the youngest students", Cantini said.

But the future of the centre is in doubt because the cost of classes only pays for some activities and the salaries of a handful of permanent staff – not the residencies which bring well-known names or a planned extension to welcome even more actors.

The foundation's president Carrara said the aim is to make the budget independent of private donations. She hoped the Funaro could "walk on its own two feet, maybe with support from the state in recognition of the public service that we offer". – AFP/RelaxNews

Qatar, the land where conservative money fell in love with modern art

Posted: 07 May 2014 01:30 AM PDT

Energy-rich Qatar is gaining a foothold on the global cultural scene by lavishing billions of dollars on renowned artworks, but some could prove controversial in the deeply conservative Gulf monarchy.

Damien Hirst's Miraculous Journey – a group of 14 bronze foetus sculptures – makes an unlikely addition to the landscape of Doha, installed in front of a medical centre on the outskirts of the capital. Out in the middle of the desert, a large abstract sculpture by American artist Richard Serra rises up from the sand.

The deep-pocketed emirate, which has massive natural gas reserves, is pursuing world-famous art with the same vigour it has brought to attracting international sporting events, including football's 2022 World Cup.

Sheikha Al-Mayassa, a sister of emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has led the push for art, and recently inaugurated Serra's East-west/West-east – four 15m-high steel plates in the desert, reachable only by off-road vehicle.

Serra's 7 – a monumental work of seven 24-metre-high steel plates – rises up from a pier extending into Doha's harbour from the park of the Museum of Islamic Art, which was designed by the famed architect I.M. Pei. The towering sculpture was inspired by a minaret in Afghanistan and portrays the spiritual and scientific significance of the number seven in Islamic culture, according to the museum.

Richard Serra's sculpture 7 stands on a purpose-built pier in Doha's harbour next to the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in 2008.

"Being able to build 7 and being able to build the piece in the desert at this scale is like meeting the Medicis in the 15th century," said Serra, referring to the Florentine family's patronage of Renaissance artists. "Those kinds of opportunities are rarely given to an individual. In my country, art comes after football and entertainment," he added.

Sheikha Al-Mayassa, who heads the Qatar Museums Authority, is well-known in the art world thanks to the large sums she has spent on acquiring masterpieces. Last year, London's Art Review magazine called her the most influential personality in the field of contemporary art, saying she spends about a billion dollars on artwork every year.

The QMA declined to confirm the figure, just as it has not disclosed the cost of several works, including Paul Cezanne's The Card Players, which is said have fetched a record US$250mil ().

The authority has invited top architects to design five museums for the capital. Pei, the celebrated Chinese-born American architect behind the Louvre Pyramid, designed the Museum of Islamic Art with Cairo's mediaeval Ibn Tulun Mosque in mind, while France's Jean Nouvel has been asked to design the National Museum of Qatar.

In 2010 the emirate established the first museum devoted to modern Arab art. "To choose these incredible artists, and to choose great architects and create the Museum of Islamic Art... That really takes a vision," said Jean-Paul Engelen, director of QMA's public art division.

The avant-garde vision of Sheikha Al-Mayassa sometimes appears to be on a collision course with the emirate's deeply conservative populace.

In October, the QMA had to remove a statue of the infamous headbutt of French footballer Zinedine Zidan against Italian Marco Materazzi after it was installed on the Doha sea front.

The five-metre sculpture by artist Adel Abdessemed triggered a wave of complaints on social media networks, with many viewing it as a violation of Islam. Conservative interpretations of Islam forbid the portrayal of the human form, equating it with idolatry.

Tareq al-Jaidah, director of the Katara Art Centre, says it may take time for Qataris to fully embrace the government's grand artistic vision. "It is something new and people have yet to be introduced to it. Let's take our time, let's not rush it," he said. – AFP/RelaxNews


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