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Meet Paola Calliari

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paola Calliari.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am known as a professional movie and theatre actor, as well as a contemporary dancer. I was born in a small city in Northern Italy and started gymnastics at eight years old. At 14, I started studying ballet, contemporary dance, and theatre. It was my escape and it made me feel alive. My father was a priest before changing vocations and becoming a principal in school. He used to write poems. I like to think that he gave me the holy fire, the passion for acting and being a storyteller. I have always seen theatre as a community event, a ceremony where everyone in the room is going through the same experience.

When I was a gymnast, I took part in various regional competitions. I soon realized that I had started too late and I wouldn’t have been able to reach his level as I had wished. I then started studying theatre acting and ballet as well as modern and contemporary dance in my hometown Trento.

I appeared in my first musical theatre show when I was 15. The show was called “La leggenda dell’ aquila” and it was written and directed by Aurelio Laino.

I became a member of the Compagnia dei Giovani (Youth Theatre Company) in my hometown Trento when I was seventeen. Our first show was a revisitation of the Shakespearean tragedy “Hamlet” where I played the heroine Ophelia. We won the Theatre Short Festival in Trento with that short piece and then developed it in a one hour play. We toured nationally and internationally (Canada, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, France). I won Best Young Theatre Promise in Rovereto and Best Actress at the Festival Sant’ Urbano in Italy which is famous for also Street Theatre and Narrative Theatre.

As a member of the company, I was called to be part of the judging for the Teenager Theatre Festival – Tutti i teatri nostri in 2010 in Trento. In 2019 I was called again as a Godmother of the Theatre Festival In-Visibile where I also taught a Masterclass on the difference between Theatre and Screen Acting. I there showcased my short dance Film “In The Gray Room”. My masterclass was on the difference between Acting for Theatre and Acting for the Screen. As a teacher my curriculum focused on movement. I used the GYROKINESIS (R) system as a warm-up for the body.

My father wanted the world to be my home and expand my horizons with different cultures, making those cultures enrich my soul and open my mind. I therefore lived for short amounts of time in New York, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, Sydney, Rome, Mumbai, Jerusalem, London. In all these cities, I studied languages (I speak Italian, English, German, French and Hebrew), dance or acting. I feel all this as a real privilege. All the experiences — good and bad — enriched my soul and gave me incredible nuances that I can now use in my acting.

My first important trip was when I was only 15. I went to study at the New York Film Academy in NY for the whole summer. It was also my first tryst with the camera and made me discover how much fun and intimate screen acting can be. At the end of that summer, I remember crying at the airport because I didn’t want to leave, but I also remember thinking “I know I will come back here, and it will be for a really long time. I just need to wait a little bit.”

In 2011 I started the European Academy of Theatre and Cinema in Rome (EUTHECA). That year I also went backpacking alone in Israel, Jordan and Sinai for the first time. That wasn’t my first time in the Holy Land though. I had been there before for a project called Time For Responsibilities. We were a group of Europeans visiting the occupied territories, seeking for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

During my time at the academy in Rome, I also became a Certified Instructor of the Gyrotonic (R) and Gyorkinesis (R) systems. At the time, I was suffering from some injuries in my feet from dance and also had an accident while traveling and broke my right heel. My osteopath suggested that I take some sessions of Gyrotonic to help me recover. It was eye-opening so I decided then to become a certified instructor. This deepened my knowledge into this system and changed my dance as well as it changed my approach to movement making it more organic and fluid.

Before graduating in Acting (Hons) I was cast in a leading female role in the feature “Tender Eyes” directed by Alfonso Bergamo.

A couple of months later, I left for Mumbai, India, for a modern/ contemporary dance apprenticeship with the Navdhara Dance Theatre Company which was a life-changing experience. The artistic director of the Navdhara Dance Theatre Company is Ashley Lobo, a very famous Indian Bollywood choreographer also known as the Indian Dancing Superstar. I define India as a punch in the guts. It soaked in my skin and made me question a lot about the meaning of life. It made me appreciate and realize how lucky I am. I flew back to Rome after I was offered a place in the Company because I had booked my first reappearing role in the famous comedy and thriller Italian tv-series “Provaci Ancora Prof” for its third season.

I decided then to move to Jerusalem and study modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and contemporary dance at the Academy of Music and Dance of Jerusalem. It was in late 2015, early 2016 when a new wave of violence arose between Israeli and Palestinians. It is known as the “Intifada of Individuals” by Israelis, “Habba” by Palestinians and “Stubbing Intifada” by the International media because of the preponderance of stabbing attacks. The tension between Israeli and Palestinians was harsh and made me feel what real fear is for the first time. Being there for dance made my approach to dance change. I studied ballet, floor work, contemporary dance and Gaga technique and repertoire from Batsheva, Kibbutzim Dance Company and Vertigo Dance Company. Living in a country at war makes you very conscious about life, death and what real danger might be. It puts you in the constant set of mind that you have to be ready to “snap” or attack and defend yourself. It is something very subconscious but I could see that in the Israeli dancers and their athletic choreographies. We were given high-intensity training too and I embodied those quality in my dance as well.

While staying in Jerusalem, I booked my first leading role in the feature “The Start up: accendi il too futuro” where I had to play a ballerina as the lead. The film was directed by the award-winning director Alessandro D’Alatri who is mainly known for his film “Senza Pelle” and for receiving the Silver Lion at the prestigious Cannes Festival in 2000 for advertisement. It was great timing as I could prepare myself for the role at my best while studying ballet at the Academy in Jerusalem. That was a very challenging role to play and because of my hard work we did not need to use any double for any choreographies of the feature. The choreographer of the feature Sara Greco who is also a Pre-Trainer in Gyrokinesis (R) and in Gyrotonic (R) helped me through the GYROTONIC (R) system to prepare my body for the shooting, choreographies and pointe work as well. Thanks to her I was able to apply the GYROTONIC(R) System to my dance.

Again because of my dancing skills, I soon booked another big role for the feature “L’età Imperfetta” where I played again a young ballerina. For both features, I received awards. I won the Kineo Diamanti Al cinema award “Young Revelation” at the Venice Film Biennale in 2017 and Best Supporting Actress for the latter movie at the Kadoma International Film Festival in Japan in 2019.

In 2017 was also asked to be the spokesman for the LILT Lega Italiana per la lotta control I tumour della pelle (Italian League for the Prevention of Skin Cancer). That was an honour for me.

In 2019, I was asked to be part of the judging at the CinemaZero Festival in Trento which is the first and only festival to honor self-financed filmmakers and the authentically independent films they create.

After coming to the States, I collaborated with the San Francisco company Soulskin Dance Company and performed the solo “Harmless” and the Company piece “To Command”. The artistic director of the Company is the Gyrotonic Master Trainer Adrianna Thomson who I met through Gyrotonics. We both got along at once because she also brought the Gyrotonic Method as a language for her Contemporary and Modern Dance Company.

Before moving to Los Angeles, I booked the role of Juliet for the Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” with the Scottish Company Charioteer Theatre with which we toured Italy. It was an educational theatre play for teenagers, both in English and Italian. The Scottish Charioteer Theatre Company is known for its Italian-English bilingual shows. It was a great pleasure to be back on a Theatre stage after a couple of years of only tv or cinema.

Who would you say gave you the most inspiration to pursue your ambitions?
Most of the time from my teachers. I feel blessed with all the pedagogues that I had throughout my life. My teachers have been encouraging me and always believed in me.

A big guide for me has been Rosa Morelli, my acting coach in Rome with whom I worked on all the characters I played in front of the camera. She was also the first one to help me working on bringing together my dance skills with my acting skills and find my identity as a choreographer, actor that dance and dancer that act. It was the first time I had to question myself how to incorporate them all and develop myself to my fullest. She once gave me a poem by Charles Bukowski for my birthday when I moved to Los Angeles: “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start…Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine… It’s the only good fight there is.” Rosa worked and studied at the Actors Studio together with Elizabeth Kemp and also at the Lee Strasberg.

Anatolij Vasiliev is also a big part of my acting technique for theatre and of my vision of Theatre. Theatre is for me a revolutionary place where people gather for a main event that can’t be replicated. The play should be a cathartic process for the audience, a revolutionary awakening too. Theatre can change people and their ideas. He is the one from whom I learned that making mistakes and being humble and open are the only ways to really learn and develop.

Elizabeth Kemp, who I had the honour to meet once before she died, taught me to always use my heart and go all the way from there. I took a 7-day intensive acting masterclass in Rome with her on the creation of a character through dreams. That time I decided to work on one of my models: the famous German choreographer Pina Bausch. I had later on the privilege to study with one of her dancer Pau Aran Gimeno from the Tanz Theater Wuppertal at the NOD Nuove Officine della Danza school in Turin. This workshop with Elizabeth Kemp helped me bring together dance and acting and see how I could use them as one the way Pina Bausch did too. I can definitely say now that when I act, I use my dance skills and when I dance, I use my acting skills and this is what makes me unique in both fields. Acting gives me depth, honesty, courage and truth. Dance gave me beauty, humility, discipline and taught me that is what “efforts makes you become that which is worth the most”.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I wanna quote Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

This to say that of course, it has been a struggle and I know it will always be somehow. Part is the necessity of the artist that is always researching and looking for answers or looking for more.

I had a couple of guides in my life that helped me find my voice but also teachers that tried to shut my artistic side too. I also had an accident where I broke my right heel and had to stop dancing. At the time, I also was casted in a musical but were able to go on set with my crutches. Breaking my foot and having to stay away from dance for a year put me in a position that when I started again my attitude was completely different. The GYROTONIC (R) system helped me recover and my approached to dance and movement became more organic and connected to my inner self.

In my business there are more “No” than “Yes” and you are constantly being judged so it is never a smooth road. This puts you in a position that you always have to ask yourself what is the reason you are doing this and what you have to give to the world or simply the people around you. How you contribute to your society.

Coming here to the United States and start all over was a real struggle. Having to deal with a different culture, accent, industry was very humbling. I am someone that always looks for a solution when is under a challenge or struggling. What I could make possible here through my old connections from high school was to work on my dance short film and do my own project without waiting to depend on the industry or somebody else.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
After a couple of years of working in the Italian industry I felt the urge of creating something of my own. I had a lot of material and experiences and the challenge was to put them together. This was also what made me unique: an actress that is also a dancer and vice versa. Using tools from theatre, film and dance allowed me to develop my own personal dance short film on Dementia which is now developing in a feature film.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There have been many moments. For instance being awarded as Best Supporting actress at the Kadoma International Film Festival in Japan or working with one of my favorite Italian actors such as Pierfrancesco Favino in the feature Moglie e Marito. But my fondest memory was walking the Red Carpet right next to Susan Sarandon and interacting with her at the Venice Film Festival in 2017 after being awarded as a Young Revelation. She has truly been one of my inspirations. 

Contact Info:

  • Phone: 3236902212
  • Email: calliari.paula@gmail.com
  • Instagram: Paola.calliari


Image Credit:
Curro Chozas

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