MEET THE CO-DIRECTORS & FOUNDERS: HANNAH BAUMGARTEN & DIEGO SALTERINI OF DANCE NOW! MIAMI
Miami Dances features insight into traditional and nontraditional dance programs, performers and choreographers. Dance Now founders Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini tell us about their journey as dancers, choreographers and dance company managers. They also tell us about their special friendship and working partnership.
ABC: What is your background?
HB: Ireceived a B.F.A. from the
DS: In my native
ABC: Tell us about your journey as a dancer, choreographer and arts executive?
HB: I was focused on being a dancer until about age 25, choreography was not something I was interested in. I wanted to live on stage. I love the limelight and I find it a place of spirituality and balance. But at a certain point my creative juices started turning toward the expression that choreography could allow for me and now my focus has transformed completely to the point where it is far more satisfying to see my work than to imagine dancing it. My history as an arts executive is also in my blood. My mother has been an arts administrator my entire life and ran many nonprofit arts organizations and dance companies (including that of Tandy Beal from the West Coast) for 20 years, so I was always around that aspect of the arts. My first official arts administrative position was when I was 18 as an apprentice in Utah Ballet at the University of Utah. I became the company manager and learned much of the ins and outs of basic arts administration and touring. When we formed Dance Now it was just a natural extension of my background and life experiences culminating in something special.
DS: Well as many men do, I started dancing at an older age around 19. I took a professional level class taught by jazz teacher Roberto Salaorni. I jumped in recklessly and I realized that the level of discipline and excitement that each class gave me was exactly what I was looking for and I started the journey. Over the next year and a half, Salaorni would correct my movements and with his guidance, the improvements escalated quickly. I then started auditioning and getting work because I was very telegenic which I know was an important factor. Later my abilities had much more influence. I quickly rose through the ranks and while in Milan during a TV show I had the opportunity to come to Miami where I met Hannah at PAN performing Arts Network in South Beach and we became fast friends. It was 1997. I realized then it was time for a change. With the help of Ilisa Rosal, artistic director of Ballet Flamenco La Rosa who generously offered to sponsor me I got a work Visa and started working in Miami.
ABC: Who has been your biggest influence in your journey as a dancer?
HB: It’s very hard to put a single person on the pedestal of the most influential in my life but I can say that my mentor at Juilliard, Ben Harkarvy, was influential for me personally and on my career path in many ways. Ben was the founder of Netherlands Dance Theater and he was the first person courageous enough to put modern dance and ballet in the same concert, danced by the same company. In other words point shoes and bare feet on the same stage. I met him when he was my teacher at Jacobs Pillow and then reunited with him again in my early 20s at Juilliard. He talked about esoteric concepts and deep performance methods but he was also a brilliant teacher and a tough mentor. I feel my path as a dancer who embraced everything from point work to release technique was influenced and validated by him.
DS: I consider Roberto Salaorni my mentor, my friend, my dancing Dad. He is the reason why I am here now, he gave me the discipline, the work ethic and the strength to pursue my dreams.
ABC: Tell me about your company Dance Now Miami?
HB: We are a company rooted in the traditions of Proscenium dance. I think that the work that Dance Now does reflects this tradition deeply and makes our company unique. We incorporate works on pointe, modern dance, and experimental work on the same stage in the same concerts and in our programming. We are the only contemporary dance company allowed to perform the work of the Joffrey Ballet/Gerald Arpino including the Pas de Deux from Light Rain. We have performed this stunning piece for the past two years to great success. It is a reflection of the cross training that we give our dancers between ballet, modern and jazz every week.
Diego and I met in 1997 and we immediately felt that we found a great partnership in each other. Soon after people started circling around us asking us to start a company. Once that number of dancers hit 11 we knew we had the bones to create something special.
Dance Now was founded at the Performing Arts Network, which was once on Miami Beach. PANs founder Ilisa Rosal, played a major role in helping us get established and develop. She gave us a studio so we had space for the company to perform, study and teach classes. Under her umbrella as fiscal agent she helped us with grants to and connected us to the right people so we could teach and perform in local schools. We are grateful that Ilisa gave us the solid footing we needed at the beginning of our artistic journey and here we are 15 years later thriving and growing.
Dance Now has always focused on three major areas which include theater performances, educational outreach and experimental performance venues. Some of our most memorable performances and events have been in gardens, museums, and on the beach. We also have a strong commitment to paying our artists. We are have a company of seven resident dancers that are paid a weekly salary for our season which runs 24 weeks. We have toured throughout the U.S. and Central and South America.
ABC: What excites you about Miami?
HB: I just had my 20 year anniversary in Miami and I can tell you that I am more excited about living in this city now than I was 20 years ago when I moved here! I find it a city where there are certainly dominant communities who have helped to shape. I feel it is a city with open arms which allows many people to influence its growth, who have the gumption and the will to participate.There are so many diverse people coming from around the world to live here. I love the fact that almost every person is bilingual and every young child is also growing up bilingual. This is the only city in the nation I feel that respects this multi-lingual necessity and that is why Miami will be a competitive city for the 21st-century. I also am thrilled that Miami is fabulous and glamorous, but at the same time culture driven. In fact when I walk through the streets of Philadelphia I see churches on every corner and here I see theaters, galleries, performance spaces and parks with public sculptures. It’s been a beautiful progression in the 20 years since I moved here and I really cannot wait to see what Miami becomes in the next 50!
DS: Everything!Miami is vibrant and I knew it even 17 years ago when I first moved here. We have the best Department of Cultural Affairs in the US, led by visionaries like Michael Spring and Deborah Margol who want to develop our artistic community and have made it happen. Miami is young and restless and not the place where people come to retire. As my generation settles down, puts down roots here we understand how good it is to live here, we invest and participate. In Miami the melting pot is still happening, there is still a lot of raw energy coming from Europe and Latin America. Forces that create, that fight homogeneity, embrace diversity and make this place exciting and unique.
ABC: Tell me something awesome you’re currently working on?
HB: We are working on a piece by Carolyn Dorfman called Odisea which tracks the journey of 23 Jews who left Recife Brazil in 1624 on a chaotic journey to new Amsterdam where they were separated from the other people of their exiled group. The piece is beautifully crafted. Our dancers have engaged and are immersed in the piece. It is a moving story of refugees that I think Miami audiences will find compelling. Diego and I are also collaborating on our newest piece incorporating our dance with the music of Federico Bonacossa, a composer who we have worked with on numerous projects.
ABC: How has creativity impacted who you are today?
DS: Creativity has shaped my life. Everything that I am right now came from the fuel of being imaginative and inspired. I can’t sit still, instead keep challenging myself by pumping creativity iron. When I teach I refuse to have a set class. Giving class is my way of performing so I like to keep myself on my toes and improvise within a structure. I find refreshing and I believe it invigorates the dancers and keeps them innovative and resourceful.
HB: I am and have been a long time public school dance teacher. Last year while getting re-certified I found an online course about creativity, its foundations and how to develop it in children. I was absolutely floored by some of the things that I learned. I think that I can sum up my relationship to creativity with these seven I’s: inspiration, imagery, imagination, intuition, insight, incubation andimprovisation.As simple as they are I think these seven words say so much about creativity and I certainly relate to all of them.
ABC: What is something fun that people don’t know about you?
DS: People don’t know that I am very reserved, I don’t like to be in large crowds, I don’t like talking to people too much. A fun night for me is dinner with my husband and watching a move.
HB: I am a musician. I played alto saxophone for almost 10 years and was fourth chair in the California state honor band. I was also in the marching band for three years– super band geek –now it’s out.
ABC: Have you had an amazing arts experience you like to tell us about?
HB: I have to say probably the most impressive arts experience I’ve had lately was when Diego, Michael Andrews and I went to the Bass Museum of Art to see the exhibitions which were to become our latest EKPHRASIS project there. I was overtaken by the grandiose, magnificent and poignant work of El Anatsui. His work speaks on so many levels the sheer beauty and brilliance of the structures, the geo-political and social underlying meaning and the ability to combine the aesthetic, moral, historical and political as an amazing body of work.
DS: When dance is magical, for me there is absolutely nothing else that tops it. My most recent amazing arts experience was watching Batsheva at the Arsht Center. I cried, loved it and I came out if it completely depressed knowing that I will never be as good a choreographer as Ohad.
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Miami is home to exceptional dance companies, dance performances and dance events. Miami Dances is an Arts & Business Council initiative that helps build new audiences and create visibility for dance in our community. The blog will feature local dance legends, up and comers and dance insiders. Like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/MiamiDances to get all the inside scoop on dance in Miami. Visit our blog salon www.ArtsBizMiami.org