Innate talent is without bounds, can cross any border and can transform an apparent end into a surprising opportunity. This is certainly the case with Antonio Fini. “You don’t know how to do anything,” he heard at his first auditions, but those words didn’t signify an end. On the contrary, they molded the discipline, determination, and ambition that pushed that young man from Villapiana, Calabria, in the South of Italy, to become an international dance star. Today, New York is his second home where he was able to carve out a role for himself in the competitive world of overseas dance.
Antonio Fini is more than just a refined dancer. He’s also pushed by his entrepreneurial soul, which brought him to found Fini Dance NYC with which he organizes a festival that aims to create a bridge between Italian and American dance, offering an important showcase for young Italian dancers. At his side for the past eight years has been Tabata Caldironi, the festival’s host and the creative director of Fini Dance–in addition to being a ballerina, actress, and model. Concerned not only with dance on the stage, Antonio recently collaborated with Milly Carlucci, one of the most popular Italian TV hosts, on Dancing with the Stars Italy, and he’s ready to launch his own, original television program, The Audition.
Let’s start from the beginning. What pushed you to become a dancer?
My first memory of dance is definitely linked to Calabria when my sister and I were hiding to dance the tarantella. My first passions were music, horseback riding, and martial arts. I always felt that movement was a fundamental part of me. My encounter with real dance happened at 15 years old when I saw a recital by dance teacher Francesca Smilari. I asked to enter her school, and she accepted even though I was a bit old already for the canons of dance. After that, I felt the need to learn more, and I met another one of my teachers, Antonio Gentile. In the beginning, he told me, “You don’t know how to do anything, but you have the physique du rôle to be a dancer, so let’s try.” He immediately had me doing acrobatics, only exercises, no dance. This training later paid off because it caused me to develop particularly clean movements.
From Calabria to the Teatro Carcano di Milano, how did you arrive at the prestigious school?
I ended up there thanks to doctor Milena Fiorini who introduced me to the Teatro Carcano. I was 19 years old. I auditioned with Margarita Smirnova (famous étoile from the Bolshoi and a teacher). Ms. Renata Bestetti, director of the Carcano along with Aldo Masella, saw me and said, “You don’t know how to do anything, but you have some talent, so we’ll try.” I started taking lessons in the children’s class, but the teacher, Smirnova, saw my talent and moved me up. I graduated in three years, and then I studied the Martha Graham technique with the teacher Elena Albano, who I had the honor of awarding years later at my festival in New York.
This was your stepping stone for later coming to New York, right?
Yes, I came to New York in 2004 for the summer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and in 2007 I moved there for six months. At the time, I didn’t speak a word of English. Then something happened, which actually turned out to be very fortunate. A dance company was trying to hire me with a work visa, but they canceled it at the last minute. Upon my return to Italy, and thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I began thinking about the possibility of organizing a festival. It was then that the Fini Dance Festival was born. Every year the festival presents the Alto Jonio Dance Awards in Villapiana and the Italian International Dance Awards in New York.
The Festival is becoming an ever-important organization in Italy, especially for young Italian dancers who are often forced to pass through talent formulas to emerge. What is your opinion on this?
Showcases and summer schools connected to the festival have given so much to the talented young Italians. For example, in 2013 I came to Calabria with the director of Martha Graham Dance Company, which selected two dancers and offered them a work contract. I had to come to New York on my own, but they had the chance to connect with these big names directly in Italy. We’re also bringing a different vision of dance to Italy. Everything that is connected to art in Italy today is linked to Talent Shows, filled with controversy, competition but also glamour. The young people who come from these shows often don’t know the truth about our profession, which is made of hard work and discipline.
After founding the festival in Italy, you were able to come back to America and start one of the most prestigious collaborations of your career. You became the first dancer of the Michael Mao Dance Company.
Yes, I’ve been working for Michael Mao for ten years now. Michael studied at the Martha Graham, and before that with his teacher Ted Shawn at Jacob’s Pillow Dance. My years of working with him were great growth for me as a dancer and choreographer. I also was able to understand more about the history of modern American dance. For example, I learned that in a contemporary piece, the dancer needs to bring a bit of himself and his story to the stage. Michael also spent a lot of time studying the score of the music and bringing its structure into the choreography.
What do you love about New York, and what is your experience as an Italian abroad?
New York is a bit like a big salad of people who come from all over the world, and this is why I created the Italian International Dance Award. It’s important to know where you come from because once you completely embrace your culture, you’re able to understand the culture of others. Today I feel like an Italian when I’m in New York and an American when I’m in Italy!
You recently participated as a judge on Dancing with the Stars. How was that experience?
Very nice. I saw a great professional, Milly Carlucci, at work in person. She follows every aspect of her productions, adjusts the framing, and checks each small detail. It’s the details that make art. Ballando on the Road is a program created by Milly that showcases Italy’s dance. We’ve chosen 8 talented individuals and brought them on Dancing with the Stars (Ballando con le stelle). I brought one of them with me for the eighth edition of the Fini Dance Festival, which was held last August 30th. Her name is Sara Verrocchio, a young prodigy of classical dance.
I know that you’re about to launch your own television program, what can you tell me about it?
I created a TV show called THE AUDITION that explores what goes on behind the scenes during auditions. Its slogan: “An audition is never the end, it is only the beginning.” In our profession, you’re always auditioning. This program will soon be on Amazon Prime and first in Asia where some channels asked us for exclusive rights.