Dancers and choreographers the world over have found new respect. Making television appearances, providing back-up for international popstars, and offering master classes, these men and women are making names for themselves here, there and everywhere.
This weekend, Ukraine hosts the Contemporary Dance Festival, the first of its kind. Inviting some of the best in modern choreographers, contemporary dance master classes will be offered by Jason Beitel (US), Michele Oliva (Italy), Hugo Cortez (Brazil), Mandy Montanez (US), and Francesco Dario (US). It’s going to be eight hours of non-stop sweat, blood and tears, at the end of which all featured dancers/choreographers will present a 1-hour performance.
Michele moved to Rome to study various dance techniques at the very late age of 19. Dancing for Geri Halliwell and Kylie Minogue in the early 2000s, he was later assistant choreographer on popular Italian TV reality programme, Amici, and is now the artistic director for contemporary dance company, Pantarei.
What made you decide to pursue dance?
For the pleasure of dancing and the desire to communicate the art of dance in all its forms, movement, power and heart.
Tell us about your experience with Amici.
In Amici, I was assistant choreographer and professional dancer. This TV show is really popular in Italy and thanks to this, I became better known.
Ms Dario received her formal training at the Teatro la Scala in Milan, and various other schools throughout Italy. Having danced with Teatro Sociale di Rovigo, Compagnia Fabula Saltica, and Pantarei, she can now be found in New York with the Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
You also appeared in Amici. Tell us about that.
Amici was a fun experience. After just one year, I was popular but still the same Francesca.
You have done a fair bit of travelling, do you think it’s important to be an international face in dance terms?
It’s important. Everything I see, every person I meet – I take with me, like an image in my head. Everything I have learned I give back when I dance.
A professional dancer, model and choreographer, Jason has danced behind big names Kylie Minogue, Lilly Allen and Ida Corr. Getting started at the age of 14, he says he has always loved entertaining people.
What was it like being a part of reality shows X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance (Ukraine)?
Each one of them was very different, yet still very similar. Since they are all on live television, there is this excitement, as no one knows what will happen, but in the same breath so many things could go wrong. All of the shows move very quickly and things change quite frequently, so you need to be on your toes at all times.
Tell us a little about your time here in Ukraine.
I’ve been to Ukraine twice before. Once as choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance and another time as dancer with Kylie Minogue when she was a guest performer on X-Factor. Both times it was so incredibly cold!!! I was definitely not prepared. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to see the city as I was working, but from what I saw I really liked it!
What are your thoughts of Ukrainian dancers?
They have a strong work ethic.
Originally from the east coast of the US, Mandy started dancing at 11 years of age. Upon moving to London, she performed on So You Think You Can Dance (UK), has appeared on numerous TV shows, awards programmes, and music videos, and has been on Ukraine’s Star Factory as guest choreographer.
Tell us about your experience with So You Think You Can Dance.
So You Think You Can Dance was an incredible experience – one I will never forget. Not only was the show an amazing learning experience, but it gave me the confidence to believe in myself and actually appreciate the person and dancer I am today.
How did you come to work with Star Factory Ukraine?
I was invited to Star Factory when I was teaching for the Drive Dance Project in Kyiv. They asked if I would like to teach the contestants a dance class, which was lots of fun.
You’ve done a lot of TV appearances, is there one that stands out?
I have a couple of favourites. The first is when I danced for Florence and the Machine at the BRIT Awards, because it was an honour to share the stage with one of my idols. And the second was the closing ceremony of the London Olympics because of the sheer volume of viewers – the atmosphere in the stadium was electric.
Born in Brazil, Hugo Cortes is a trained professional dancer in jazz, modern and contemporary. Moving to the UK and taking part in many a project, he recently auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance (UK). The judges were so impressed, they by-passed him through the choreography round and gave him a ‘golden ticket’ straight to the last fourteen. Unfortunately, due to work permits, Hugo was unable to accept the contract and was released. He’ll be here in Kyiv this weekend though!
Contemporary Dance Festival
1 September at 12.00
And these five aren’t the only ones with success stories...
It was a click that changed a lifetime – just one click, in Ukraine, six years ago, on a YouTube video of Francisco Gomez. Up until that time, Francisco, or Sisco, had been mostly working as a choreographer and dancer, doing his stuff mainly in his home city of London. The email he got from Ukraine invited him not only to come over to a country he’d never been, with a language he didn’t know, but to try a fully-fledged new career. That career, as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance (UA), has seen him become one of the best-known faces on Ukrainian television, and kick-started a career that now sees him on air here, in Moscow, Los Angeles, as well as back in London.
We caught up with Sisco having dinner with a group of friends in a central Kyiv restaurant. Inviting us to join him, we are pleased to see he’s already created a space for What’s On. Not that asking Sisco Gomez to move would be an issue – anyone who’s seen his YouTube clips, ranging from his dancing to Britney Spears’ Seal It With A Kiss to A Cause Des Garcon by Yelle can attest to the fact that this guy can indeed move!
“When I first came here, I had an assistant for everything. Those first three months, it was all new and a bit daunting, never mind that we are talking about Kyiv, we are talking about a Kyiv six years ago with very limited English signage and far fewer people who spoke English than today. However, even back then, I really liked it here, and today I can pretty much do what I wish, where I wish, by myself – through a combination of there being more English speaking, and my having picked up some of the language!”
When did you realise you had become so big here, we enquire? “Well, there were a couple of times, firstly being in taxis which the police stopped, and the police looking at me saying, ‘Okay, it’s Sisco Gomez, go!’ But at this year’s Kyiv Fashion Week, I really realised how many people knew me, knew what I did – it was truly amazing! It means a lot to me, the Ukrainian public were the first to really know what I can do, accept me as I am.”
Sisco on Ukraine
On the topic of keeping in touch with his fans, Sisco is effusive. “I use Twitter for that, and some days I can get 100 or more mentions or messages – I’ll reply to each and every one of them – schedule permitting!” Are you a different Sisco to, say, the one you are in London or LA, or have you used the opportunity of being in Ukraine to reinvent yourself? “Well, that’s the thing with me, I’m the same in every place. The Sisco you see in London is the same Sisco you see in Kyiv!”
When it comes to Ukrainian TV, Sisco is enthusiastic: “It’s a fast-expanding market here. There’s a lot of talent and I think the CIS and beyond are really starting to take notice of what Ukraine is coming out with. As for the TV here, it’s very different to Britain, in terms of format and style. What I’m looking to do is give Ukraine a taste of the best elements of British TV, while keeping its individuality.”
And as for a Sisco future? “I’d like to keep developing my career as an entertainer, move into music, also I have a clothing range I’m planning to launch here – I’m full of ideas and plans for the future! Ukraine is a very free country, a place where it’s possible to do so many things, and I’d like to take full advantage of the opportunities which exist here, it’s so exciting!”
And with that positive parting shot, Sisco bounds up from the banquette, which could contain him no more, and off into the Kyiv night!
So You Think You Can Dance Series 5 on STB
starts 31 August at 20.00
Lana Nicole & Graham Phillips