INTERVIEW Vava Ștefănescu, choreographer and manager of the Bucharest National Dance Center (CNDB): “There is a big confusion between entertainment and dance with meaning and idea”

Dance – one of the oldest forms of communication – acquires new values ​​in the 21st century, but the status of art is discriminatory, which translates into a lack of investment and funding. “Weekend Adevărul” discussed with Vava Ștefănescu, choreographer and manager of the Bucharest National Dance Center (CNDB), about what dance still means today, how important is the role of a national institution in the field, and what shortages and challenges it faces due to the lack funding, as well as how International Dance Day (April 29) is celebrated at the National Dance Centre.

Vava Ștefănescu, choreographer and manager of the Bucharest National Dance Center (CNDB)

“Weekend Adevărul”: I noticed in the talent shows that many children have choreographic and dancing moments. Where do you think they get this affinity from?

Vava Stefanescu: Dance is a necessary expression. There is a lot of confusion between entertainment and dancing with meaning and idea. The body, in contemporary dance, functions in the mind-body binomial. The poetics and meanings that emerge from this play between mind and body are born before the eyes of the viewer, with the creation of the dance. On the other hand, in the entertainment arts, dance is a kind of task performance. I recently watched some interviews with Miriam Răducanu – Mrs. Papa, the “mother” of modern contemporary dance in Romania -, and she said that talent can be confused: someone's talent and audacity can pass for talent. Contemporary dance has a very high rigor, she also claimed. If the talent is not assumed in these rigors, it can be anything and anyone can do that thing with a little boldness and casualness. It's not just about dancing or farting on stage. One of the old ministers used to say: These people are kicking their butts there and want to be paid? Meanwhile, we have developed antibodies to this kind of dance understanding. In general, the relationship with authority, with very few exceptions, was flawed. After the moment in 2011, when the National Dance Center had to leave the building of the National Theater in Bucharest, for two and a half years we had only three office rooms, no halls. It seems that dance is an art that has not yet entered the minds of the decision-makers. He's almost scared of contemporary dance.

Contemporary dance, at the top of the list of priorities

I rather recognize the ballet…

Sure you do. Everything with history and momentum has impact. How to explain that a production can happen 1 to 1? There are many forms of performance in which the artists meet with a person from the audience and work for an hour and a half. We could say it is Full house, but I was told that this is not a production, but something else. So it is quite difficult to make this distinction. The National Dance Center is not like other institutions subordinate to the Ministry of Culture – for example, it does not have employed artists, but only works with freelancers, which nevertheless has many advantages. We are a living institution because we remain in dialogue with what is happening, with the concerns of today's artists. During the 20 years of operation, “cataclysms” have always appeared in the history of this young institution, and the budget has always been small. Even this year I asked the ministry when we will have a proper budget. I didn't get a reply. You cannot compare the National Opera with the National Dance Center, which has been waiting for six years to at least start the construction of the headquarters, although the building of the Omnia Hall, which we received in 2016, should have been finished at least. We have a studio where rehearsals, where the Children's Performance School – “Little School”, as we christened it -, the Dance and Performance Academy – with real and extraordinary success, this year in its third edition. We also have the performance hall, where concerts and poetry evenings take place… We also have an important space, that of the Media Library, with a library and archive, which has an exceptional coordinator and welcomes people who want to study. So we made this space as efficient as possible.

I understand that the dancer and choreographer Vava Ștefănescu does a kind of pas de deux in this management of the National Dance Center, so that she crosses the whole stage.

Yes. The National Dance Center was born out of necessity. The first 13 years were built as an activity to respond to the need to have a home space for artists, with a laboratory, residencies, a place to promote works and organize tours. Every year, about seven choreographers graduate – from the Choreography High School, more classicists graduate and very few remain in contemporary dance – who have no one to work with because there is no intermediate school, a long-standing desire that I have set in opera through the Dance Academy. At one time we also organized contemporary dance classes for adults, but we are still not a school in the true sense of the word. We are 3 in 1: producers, promoters of shows (tours at home and abroad, where we are in the greatest networks in Europe), as well as education and training, research, historical archive and library.

The motto of the golden generation: “Let's do it!”

Why did you choose to get involved in such a large project?

I do not know. We were a golden generation: Florin Fieroiu, Cosmin Manolescu, Mihai Mihalcea, me… We were all colleagues and we were impregnated with the idea that we must do. Since the 90s, we've all been trying to build and make things very avant la lettre for Romania. The National Dance Center is the only state institution in Romania that deals with contemporary dance. What would it be like if Romania had only one theater, one opera and one philharmonic? Why does this discrimination exist? We matured as an institution more after 2013, when we were in several dangers: dissolution, merger… The whole community has become much more active and there are several “hot spots” in Romania: Timișoara, Iași, Târgu Mureș, Constanta. Once I got out of the zodiac of responding to needs and into one where artists and audiences feel represented and free, that's when things started to come together.

What is the goal of choreographer Vava Ștefănescu, leaving aside the position of manager of the National Dance Center?

I fundamentally miss communication and meeting others from the position of being on stage. I have also done smaller things, for example “Nocturnes of contemporary poetry”, but also “Waltz and the fortress of souls” (no – after Ana Alfianu's book of the same name), with high school students, from our performing school and adult dancers from at the Dance Academy. The choir installation and costumes were made by Cristina Milea, and the music by Vlaicu Golcea. Only now has it become urgent to return to the stage, and I have begun to prepare for it. I wanted for a very long time to get out of this trap of management and the illusion that you can do something. Whenever the budget comes at the beginning of the year, I realize that nothing can be done because I never convince anyone and in fact it is a series of failures based on a lot of “successes”.

How are you celebrating International Dance Day at the Center this year?

On Monday, April 29, there are two incredible solos at the National Dance Center. We have as a guest Loraine Dambermont from Belgium, she was selected in Twenty23 (organized by Aerowaves) with the show “3/4 face!”. Within the Spring Forward Festival, 20 artists are selected with short formats, 20-30 minutes, from the 200 applicants. Network partners can invite the 20 to their events. The young woman from Belgium is of incredible inner strength, with a lot of humor and an extraordinary relationship with her body, as if he tells her how to move. The second solo is that of Ioana Marchidan – “Reverse Discourse” – which seems minimalistic. It is a dense, short, but poignant work. International Dance Month continues in May and partly in June. After Easter we will have a show by Simona Deaconescu – “BLOT – Body Line of Thought”, created together with Vanessa Goodman, “Patosfera” by the international choreographer Mădălina Dan – an accessible show, then there will be a premiere of the show “Memetics” by Sergiu Diță. He won the top prize in 2023 at the competition for debut choreographers organized by the “Andrei Mureșan” Theater in Sfântu Gheorghe, with the show “Manual”. The show will take place both in Bucharest and in Sfântu Gheorghe, being made with artists from both cities. Also, the Children's Performance School will have a performance at the “Excelsior” Theater on May 26, in the matinee. We're glad we were able to get them out of the lab and onto the stage, in front of the general public.