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Alumni Spotlight: In conversation with Luca Silvestrini

Wed 18 Dec 2019

Luca Silvestrini is the artistic director of Luca Silvestrini’s Protein. This year, Protein celebrates 21 years. We caught up with Luca to talk to him about his time at Trinity Laban, what influenced him to start dancing and where he and Protein are going next. 

Born in Italy, Luca moved to London in 1995 and started his full-time dance training at the Laban Centre on the one-year Professional Diploma in Dance Studies aged 28. He then joined Transitions Dance Company, graduating in 1997.

Image: Jane Hobson

“Being at Laban gave me the opportunity to discover more about what I wanted from dancing and why I’ve liked it since I was a child. The wonderful teachers, the classmates and the international environment, it was a very important two years of my life” says Luca. 

While at Trinity Laban, Luca met Bettina Strickler from Switzerland. The two young dance artists noticed their creative similarities and began making work together.

“We were both passionate about making work, accessible work. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and we liked looking at the everyday and how to connect to an audience. That was the beginning of Protein.”

Their first duet, created as part of Resolution at The Place, premiered in 1998. From there they continued to make work together for many years. In 2005, Bettina Strickler left Protein and Luca continued to direct the company alone. It was at that point that he decided to take a step back from performing to focus on choreographing and nurturing the artistic vision of the company.

Who and what inspired you to pursue a career in dance?

I always loved dancing. As a child, I used to copy dancers on television and in the 70’s you can imagine the type of outfit and dancing! But I didn’t have the chance to actually walk into a dance studio and wear my first leotard and leg warmers until I was 15.

 

It took me a lot of time to be persuaded, dance wasn’t really for boys in my days. I come from a small place in Italy and although I had the desire to dance, I didn’t have the courage to or even know where to go. That changed when, aged 15, I met someone a bit older than me who said “so when are we going to dance together?”. That validated this passion of mine, which then became the focus of my life and since then I never stopped. I encountered theatre and other forms of dance and expression during my university years in Bologna, where I graduated with a 1st in performing arts. I expanded and grew a lot in those years and started to become a performer and a maker.

There are several people that inspired me to develop this passion and turn it into a profession. I would say one of the most influential was Pina Bausch. I remember watching her pieces on VHS tapes; I was quite young, probably in my early 20s and I was absolutely fascinated. I had discovered something totally new which was a fusion of dance, theatre and poetry. That was certainly one of the most influential inspiration’s which prompted me to pursue this career and make work. 

What were your highlights of studying at Trinity Laban and how has your training prepared you for your career?

I think the main legacy of studying at Trinity Laban is discovering that dance is such a universal practice, it’s for everyone and it brings people and communities together. Dance has the power of making you find yourself, your real self, and it is a powerful tool for engaging people, whether audiences or participants. For me this was the main lesson I learnt from studying with people like Marion Gough and Rosemary Brandt and other incredible teachers that I had at Laban.

This legacy is what is at the core of Protein, the idea that there are many types of dancers and that dance means a lot of different things to different people. It’s not just a technique but a form of empowerment. You can build bridges, break through challenges and bring a smile to people’s faces, giving them a sense of joy and of being alive.

 

Big Sale (2005). Image by Benedict Johnson. 

Tell us about your company, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein.

Protein is a dance theatre company, the core ideas and objectives of the company remain true to what they were at the very start, 21 years ago. We are passionate about reaching out, creating work and opportunities to dance for everyone. We tour a lot, both nationally and internationally, but also spend a lot of time inviting people to help us create work. We do action-research workshops each time we create a new work to learn from people’s reactions to different subjects. We create performance opportunities in different contexts, outdoors and in theatres. The first time we involved a community cast in a performance was in 2000 and we have continued working closely with communities since.

We are very much led by the idea that participation is at the core of what we do. Whether you are a member of the audience, a participant in a workshop, or in a community-based performance, we value your presence and your contribution to what we do.

 

In the last few weeks I have been opening boxes because we are celebrating our 21st anniversary. I am digging out leaflets, brochures, programmes and photographs. The recent stuff is more digital but I have a huge archive of prints and video tapes. I am discovering forgotten pieces and remembering the people that I have shared this journey with.

May Contain Food (2016). Image by Chris Nash. 

We also have another strand of work called ‘Real Life Real Dance’, a performance led programme for different types of people from different walks of life. We work with young people excluded from mainstream school, refugees and migrants and have done projects with children in hospitals as well as performed to elderly people in care homes. We have many different kinds of works in our rep, and at the moment I am putting them into an archive to celebrate and share them with the people in the industry who might not know our history, especially young dancers.

I find it fascinating, it makes me feel nostalgic and incredibly proud. I can see that 2020 will be about reflecting and seeing where we go next. 

 

How are you celebrating 21 years of Protein?

We have decided to celebrate our 21st anniversary by creating a multi-layered project called Protein 21. This project has three parts; Remix, Reflect and Reimagine. The first is Remix, a three-minute film showcasing Protein’s extensive and diverse body of work made over the last 21 years. At the moment, I am going through tapes and films of everything we have done since the beginning and selecting elements to be edited together by a film maker.

Reflect is a series of interviews with the people we have met over the last 21 years. Performers, creatives, collaborators, members of the public, promoters, funders, all the people who have made this amazing journey possible. We have asked them to contribute by sending us a video talking about their experience with Protein.

Reimagine is the meatier bit of the project. It is a nationwide engagement project where participants of all ages will create new dance works in response to Protein’s shows. Our artists will work with elder performance groups, young people from National Centres for Advanced Training, pre-vocational dance students and community groups. Films of all the Reimagine performances will be broadcast on our website throughout the year.

Border Tales (2019). Image by Jane Hobson.

Do you have any advice for aspiring young choreographers? 

My advice is very simple, just follow your heart, do the things you want to do and be your own person. Nothing is impossible if you have the desire or vision. All you need is a space and some key people to share the journey with you.

 

I would say to young dancers that if you are passionate about making work, then just make the work and show it to people.

Let people in, talk and find support but don’t worry about necessarily forming a company right from the start. It will come but I think to begin with it’s not essential. You don’t need that kind of pressure at the start as it can become complicated and it’s a great responsibility.

I can see young makers being much savvier than I was, more ready and ambitious, they really know how to do it. I think times are changing and technology helps make everything easier, better and faster.

I think it’s about maintaining that inner fire and desire to do what interests you and not what interests others. Follow your quest rather than trying to please the system or the industry. That’s the key to start building a voice, your own voice. Of course, you have to listen, and I think listening is very important and that’s the other bit of advice I would like to give, listen to those who have more experience than you, but ultimately process that for yourself and for your own needs.

Dear Body (2008). Image by Johan Persson. 

What’s next?

Currently we are touring a new piece of work, which is a family show based on the famous story of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. For me this has quite a special meaning as it is the first time I am creating a work based on an existing story. I usually devise my own work, so this is quite a new departure for me. The Little Prince will be touring for many years to come and I am excited to bring new audiences to our work, especially families for this particular show.

We are also approaching a very important moment for our company. We have been based in Woolwich in the Royal Borough of Greenwich for the last couple of years, having previously been based at Greenwich Dance, and next year we are making a big move to Woolwich Works, which is the new cultural district at Woolwich Arsenal Riverside.

So, there are lots of important things coming up or currently happening. Celebrating 21 years of Protein is a good way of creating a sense of a landmark, taking stock of the past and questioning how we see the future. I have much to bring with me from these last 21 years, lots of things I’ve learnt, people I’ve met and discoveries I have made which will be carried into the next phase. It’s great to be here at Trinity Laban, talking about it, especially since this is where it all began. It wouldn’t have been like this if it hadn’t been for those two years here, so I am very grateful and proud of that intense and important time, and now I am very excited and looking forward to the future. 

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You can see The Little Prince at The Place from 17 – 24 December. Book Now.

Find out more about studying Dance at Trinity Laban.