Roberto Campanella The Art of movement

And while Campanella’s appreciation is duly noted, it’s safe to say he has been very good to Canada and Toronto as well, gracing our cultural landscape with his fresh and vibrant dance ideas.

This year, under Campanella’s artistic direction, the Toronto contemporary ballet company, ProArteDanza, celebrates its 10th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down or losing its edge. A compelling fusion of classic ballet and kinetic modern dance, ProArteDanza has been critically acclaimed while remaining accessible and entertaining to the public. “That’s my baby,” Campanella says.

And although he concedes it has been “a labour of love, and at times a real struggle managing an operating budget dependent on grants and donations, passion prevails, of course, and dispelling all doubt, Campanella adds, “I love doing it.”

Trained at the Scuola Italiana di Danza Contempo ranea, Campanella joined the Compagnia Italiana di Danza Contemporanea in 1985, and later danced with the prestigious Aterballetto. That’s where at the age of 22, he met Canadian dancer Joanna Ivey. “And that is why I came to Canada,” he says. “Joanna and I had been together in Rome for about two years, and when she was offered a contract with the National Ballet of Canada I thought I’d come along and try getting work. I auditioned for the National Ballet in 1993 and luckily also landed a contract.” 

Quickly promoted to soloist, Campanella was cast in many classical and contemporary roles, but his career truly took flight when he retired from the National Ballet in 1996 and turned to teaching and choreography. A string of professional and critical successes followed, including the Fellowship Initiative Award from the New York Choreographic Institute in 2007, and a Chalmers Professional Development Grant in 2008. Campanella’s first full-length work, Alice in Wonderland, premiered at Ballet Augsburg in Germany in October 2008. Campanella was also awarded the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Choreography with co-choreographer Robert Glumbek for … in between… which premiered at ProArteDanza’s Season 2010.

While Campanella continues to passionately ply his craft as a dance choreographer, he has cultivated a surprising sideline career as a highly soughtafter choreographer and movement coordinator for TV and film vehicles. “Horror movies have kept me busy for the last 10 years in Toronto,” he chuckles. “It just adds another chapter to a career that’s been all over the place.” To date, he has created movement and dance choreography for The Strain and Mortal Instruments to name a few. “I’ve coordinated the movement for made-up creatures as well as the more typical werewolves and vampires. It’s been a real learning curve.

Campanella also created and starred in the Soulpepper 7th Annual Global Cabaret Festival tribute to Italian film auteur Federico Fellini. “Robert Glumbek and I choreographed it,” he says, “but I got to play Fellini. It was my debut as an actor and I must confess – it was terrifying. Certainly I was used to performing, but acting is very different from dancing. It was scary, really scary.”

Campanella, whose English is impeccable, says that when he came to Canada he actively sought not only to learn the language but to speak it like a local. “I did not want to be left out socially,” he says, “and reduced to the inevitable simplifying. I was lucky because I was always surrounded by English speakers.

When asked if he ever plans to don the dance shoes again, he chuckles. “I’m a decrepit old man when it comes to actually dancing these days. It takes a half hour to loosen up and two hours to get moving. I retired mentally from dancing at 35. Choreography is very fulfilling for me. I love what I do. Dance is for very young people, and we should make room for them.”

The upcoming year promises to be a busy one for Campanella who is organizing the next season for the company. I have more than enough work on my plate, not to mention I’m the father of two girls.”

Settled and content in Toronto, Campanella does retain strong family ties to Rome, where his mother, brother and extended family still reside, and visits at least every couple of years. He loves going back, naturally, but admits that “home for me now is where my kids are.”

written by Salvatore Difalco