An interview with Siciliano Contemporary Ballet

Words by Giordana Patumi.

Founded in 2015 by choreographer Salvatore Siciliano, Siciliano Contemporary Ballet (SCB) is a nonprofit dance company based in Berlin, Germany. The company is known for creating work that is a ‘refined visual metaphor for the human psychology.’ Continuing to thrive within the German capital’s competitive art scene, Siciliano Contemporary Ballet has an extensive repertoire and program, and last year collaborated with fashion label DSTM at Berlin Fashion Week. DAJ dance writer Giordana Patumi caught up with Salvatore Siciliano to discuss the company and its plans for the coming year.

Q: Salvatore, tell us your story and why you found SCB?

Salvatore: I’m from the south of Italy and I started dancing very late. I would say I was 16 when I first approached ballet and modern dance. I was immediately fascinated by the art of dancing, and I started taking various classes and courses in my hometown, and right after I moved to Milan to study at the Susanna Beltrami Academy. My first encounter with art was with fine arts though, and that’s why when I was in Milan I entered to study at the Accademia di Brera for painting. After my diploma at the Academy of Dance I had been dancing for just few years between Italy, Greece, Spain, England, and Germany. I founded SCB when I was 25 years old in Berlin, after working for a few years as a choreographer.

Q: What is the artistic research behind the creations of SCB?

Salvatore: SCB is mainly focused on exploring the connections between the human mind, while exploring relationships and behaviors. We are always attentive to the aesthetic we use to present certain topics to the audience, but behind that there is a willingness to bring the people closer to how the human mind acts and reacts to psychological problems and experiences. We do that through gestures and facial expressions, which are two fundamental elements of my dance language.

Q: How would you define your style and your technique?

Salvatore: My style is characterised by sharp and fast movements. There is a strong attention to the use of technique. We re-elaborate the technique, almost ‘destroying’ it straight away. There is often a grotesque atmosphere which evolves into something fine, contemporary and sophisticated. I love details, especially when it comes to hand gesture work and the many ways of manipulating and framing hand movement.

The use of time varies but mostly I like a fast speed. I like to give the audience the possibility to choose to look to a movement or not, sometimes there is not enough time for the audience to have everything offered on stage under control. I consider it dynamic and regenerative.

What I’ve heard from the audience many times is that SCB’s work gives them something to think about after the performance is finished; they bring it home with them.

Photo: Federico Boccardi

Q: Why do you think dancers from every continent want to work with SCB?

Salvatore: I can’t give a secure answer to that, but if I can try to think from their point of view, I would say SCB is probably fascinating to them because of the balance between technique, aesthetic, energy, and the connection between past and future which is pretty clear in our dance pieces. It’s interesting to see that we receive many applications not only from European dancers but from many people from Australia and the US.

Q: What does it mean to be an independent choreographer/dance company that doesn’t have stable incomes coming from the government?

Salvatore: I’m realising more and more what a difficult role I have chosen for my life in this world. It’s extremely demanding. There are moments when I question everything and I get distant. I find ways to regenerate and go back to work stronger than before; every day is a question mark and a challenge, especially when you must interact with different people daily and understand that everyone has a different sensitivity. 

Q: What is the connection between dance, fashion, music and aesthetic for you and your works? 

Salvatore: The connection is speaking the same language. It does not matter anymore what channel we use; when the different channels are speaking the same language, the same communication, this is fundamental for the outcome of the work.

Q: What is the independent scene in Berlin like? And why did you choose to settle there?

Salvatore: This is a delicate point for me. I have the idea that I’m not accepted into the Berlin’s independent scene, because of the different quality of my work, different topics, and way I present dance on stage. The city is a different thing then, I think my dance work represents the Berlin’s city spirit precisely, not the Berlin dance scene but the Berlin vibe!

Q: What did COVID mean for SCB and how are you re-starting?

Salvatore: We are such a young company and covid was so difficult for us, we were just ready to do the big jump and the pandemic took away our springboard. We are now starting again with our SCB Workshop in September and hopefully few performances on the calendar in Berlin and abroad. 

Q: Tell us about your teaching methodology and your forthcoming company workshop? 

Salvatore: Since I’ve started SCB, I have been developing my own method which is the foundation of my dance language. It is still growing and developing but it’s already a precise technique which I use for my workshops with dancers. My work is dynamic and pushes dancers’ bodies beyond their limits. The movement is expansive, reaching the most extreme point of the body and executed with strength and intensity.

The workshop from 25-26 September will be a full immersion with SCB, the dancers will have the ballet technique, my contemporary technique method, and then a choreographic lab with me and a piece of repertoire with the dancers of SCB.

Photo: Federico Boccardi

Q: What does SCB’s future look like?

Salvatore: I aim to make SCB recognised internationally and create bridges with other organisations. I want to share my voice with as many artists as possible.

Q: If you could give yourself from 10 years ago an advice what would that be?  

Salvatore: Hello boy, look for the money first!

Salvatore’s end note: I want to say thank you to all the artists and everyone else involved in the backstage that contributed to elevate SCB to be at the point where we are now, I’m extremely grateful forever to each one that strongly believed in this ambitious project.

Salvatore will be leading a SCB workshop in Berlin on 25-26 September 2021. During the workshop the dancers will join an intensive training, taking part in daily technique and repertoire classes with Salvatore Siciliano and dancers from the ensemble. The workshop will be a full immersion experience into SCB’s work and concept. For more info, head to the SCB website.