I had the remarkable opportunity to fly to Venice after my week in Rotterdam with Krissie at ICAF. I wanted to see the city that had been my 2nd home many years ago. In 2003 and again in 2004, I directed The Gondola Project- a performance of 8 gondolas on a Venetian canal. It was a remarkable dance—so beautiful but also so challenging to make. Securing the permits and permissions, finding the space, navigating the bureaucracy of Venice (without getting lost), and of course convincing 8 gondoliers to work with me for FREE—nearly had me throwing myself in the grand canal as if to re-enact a scene from Lord Byron’s days in the city. But we did it. And it was amazing. Breathtaking actually.
I had stayed close with the two lead gondoliers on the project- Franco Busetto and Davide Scarpa. Davide and Franco both knew I was coming, but I had not spoken with the other gondoliers in over 10 years. Davide met me 1st thing Monday morning and treated me to a lovely breakfast on the Zattere.
Davide was one of the head gondoliers when I worked with him in 2003 and 2004, but a few years ago he gave up the gondola to move into event organizing. He now organizes special transportation, working with the Biennale and other Venetian clients. It was good to see Davide so happy. His new job seems to really suit him well.
After talking with Davide, it was clear to me that I wanted to talk with the other gondoliers, too. According to Davide, the group didn’t talk to each other much. He didn’t even have all of their phone numbers anymore. So…much like I had so many years ago, I went hunting gondoliers.
The first gondolier I found was Marcello, completely by accident. As I was crossing one of the many small bridges in Venice I looked up to see Marcello standing there. We both stared at each other until he said to me…”Allison?”
Marcello was a character and remains that way today. He even showed up to one of our rehearsals with two American women in his gondola. Marcello did both performances and was easy to work with and very committed. He always kept us laughing.
I found Marco Mingardi next, working in front of the Danieli Hotel. Marco was the 1st gondolier I met way back in 2002. He was a friend of a friend and was interested in helping me from the beginning. Meeting Marco in 2002 gave me hope that we just might be able to make this happen the following summer. Marco helped bring his work partner, the other Marco, to the project, too.
Marco Pagan, or the other Marco, also did the dance both times. Marco was one of the few gondoliers who actually studied the choreography I prepared and printed out for him to learn in advance. Marco was ready to go. He was a dream to work with.
Franco Busseto was the “rock” of the project. As the key project leader, he helped me to get permits and even fundraised himself for project costs! He did the opening solo, helped create the choreography for the full show, and came up with the fancy boat switch with Davide that the two of them did together in the finale! From the beginning, Franco took this project very seriously. He loves Venice. He loves the gondola.
Stefano Galleta came on for the 2nd performance. He was easy going and stepped right up. And I found Stefano by accident- just riding across the San Tomá traghetto. As I stepped on board this large gondola that ferries folks across the grand canal, I looked up and asked the gondolier, “By chance do you know Stefano Galleta?” He took off his sunglasses and said, “Well…I am Stefano!” LOVE IT!
I tracked down gondolier #6- Ricardo via cell! I texted him (realizing I still had his number!) and met up with him at the job. Ricardo Galli also came on board for the 2nd show, showing up to rehearsals eager to learn. Ricardo was a real professional and brought along his friend, Manuel.
Diego, or Garcia, worked often with Franco and helped us with the 2nd show. Diego is so much fun to have around. He loves to talk and when we met up in Venice last week he took me out for a spritz…which turned into a three-hour visit talking about country western music over multiple drinks!
Manuel was the 8th gondolier I found. Manuel loves his work, and like his good friend Ricardo made our rehearsal process easy. It was great to see him so many years later and see him still loving his life as a gondolier.
Whoops…Diego reminded me there were more than 8 gondoliers (because we did the show twice and not everyone who did the 1st show did the 2nd). So with Franco’s help on my last day, I found Andres and Michele—two gondoliers from the 1st show in 2003!
On Thursday before I left we had a mini reunion- with Diego, Franco and Marco P. I also had a final spritz with Marcello and Franco as we watched highlights from the show.
And..I got them talking. Here are Marcello and then Diego sharing what they think of The Gondola Project so many years later. LOVE IT!
And then I had to leave, taking my last boat ride and thinking about how lucky I was to have gotten to make this dance and work with these men in this amazing city. My entire trip I was struck by the sheer beauty of Venice—and the remarkable fact that it even exists. And with the gondoliers…well it was like I had never left. To hear them talk so many years later about what our project still means to them- that meant the world to me. Grazie a tutti. You are all forever in my heart!