Why Bulgarian talents don’t cross the border at Kalotina

''I've never seen so much talent in one place,'' said Broadway star Garrison Rochelle in Bulgaria

от Искра Ангелова

I will now tell you a short but very instructive „real life“ story. It’s about the international (this year – European) talent championship „Performance Cup“, which takes place in Italy and whose debut in Bulgaria I helped a little – I was also on the jury. (They were great, by the way! All the kids, young and older singers, dancers, actors who showed up were world class. Incredible.) The point that the competition doesn’t put an age limit as a condition and the oldest participant in Italy was 90 years old I specifically point out because that is also symptomatic. In our country, in the tradition established by TV talent-hunting formats like Bulgaria’s Got Talent and The Voice of Bulgaria, the candidates are usually teenagers. And that’s why this time here the participants were only young children and teens. And how joyful it would have been if older singers, artists, circus performers, dancers had also appeared! The stigma over ageism in Bulgaria clearly extends beyond the financial genocide of our parents, grandparents. This competition would benefit greatly if it also featured great, professional artists. Because they… well, they would get what we have dreamed of all our lives – an equal chance to be chosen by independent experts and producers from around the world.

I hadn’t delved into the task because I’ve been busy lately with the films I make for OFFNews “Stories for Good” and other projects, and here was a committee of eight ladies organized by the vocal coach at Sanremo Academy, nominated for the most prestigious Italian film award „Donatello’s David“ for music and arrangement, the Bulgarian singer and teacher Dariyana Kumanova, with whom I will soon work together in a project of mine – an art academy which I created, based on the musical „Mamma Mia“ on the Olympic Riviera in Greece. But I sent the conditions and the opportunity to enroll to several of my friends and acquaintances – musicians/singers, as well as to some of the best art teachers who work with young artists and children. If they didn’t sign up – themselves or their students – I’m going to tell them now that they made a big mistake! And to get ready for next year when the World Championships will be in Rome.

The great Broadway choreographer, actor and singer Garrison Rochelle, who currently works and lives in Italy, was on the jury along with the president of this format, Valentina Spampinato. They are also the two hosts and presenters at the big TV production on Italian television.


Having worked with Bob Fosse, the choreographer was impressed by our folk dances as well as the young performers from the school of Zornitsa Petrova (Ballet Diva). Garrison even teared up with excitement during the audition, applauding on his feet and finally coming out and giving a rousing speech because, he said, he had never seen so much talent brought together in one place!

In the jury were also Dariyana Kumanova and myself, our prominent composer Vida Pironkova, singer Stefan Ilchev, one of the directors of BG Radio Hristo Strizhlev, actress Georgetta Kaloyanova. In the hall was also the jazz prima Kamelia Todorova, who finally gave the diplomas. All this happened in the complex of the school „Britannica“ in Dragalevtsi.

It is important to say that the driving force behind Performer Cup Valentina Spampinato is not just the presenter and organizer of this format, she is also its creator. She told me how Metodo Pass, her idea, grew and from a local competition, Performer Cup became a national, European and next year – a world championship, thus encompassing all artistic, circus and sports disciplines. The Metodo Pass is not only a sporting competition between top level athletes and performers looking to get gold, silver and bronze medals, but also an official way to get through the castings for the Italian Performers Cup, thus making the competition an opportunity to work and train both in Italy and around the world.

When I arrived at the venue, it was packed with an audience of excited parents, as well as many singers and actors, but it was the young and older dancers in costume that I noticed: in the gymnasium, tiny salsa ballerinas from Burgas were rehearsing their steps, there I saw also a beauty with a real white ballet tutu, teenagers in folk costumes, and slender young men and women in glittering competition costumes… It was such a beautiful sight! Immediately I saw that they were extremely good. And good thing, because the competition will be broadcast on the Italian national television Rai, but not only… There, in Rome, in July, the participants will be watched by producers and teachers, agents and directors of productions from all over the world, even from Broadway, and they will get the opportunity to work, to train, to workshop, to tour. Really an incredible global opportunity for our talent.

Whereas, if they stay local, here, if they don’t show up for these international de facto „auditions“… they can, at best, if they’re lucky, show up at some TV talent competition and sign a highly restrictive contract that will limit their career for years to come. On TV, watched once by the audience, they will fade away like a shooting star in the summer sky, in our extremely small market, to be forgotten forever. Or they will dance until their fortieth year in our Sofia Opera and Ballet – the best ballet in Bulgaria. Or they will play in one of our ten theatres for a salary of 1000 BGN. Or they will seek shelter in one of our few circus troupes. In general – they will lead a poor but inspired life. They will probably work three jobs to support themselves. And they will never have the opportunity to go on the world stage. Sadly, this is the future of these exceptional talents if they stay in this country. (The exceptions in the pop music industry only reaprove the rule.) And I say this with all the pain of a person who has chosen to do just that – to stay and forget about the endless horizon of possibilities that the wide world offers to truly skilled people. With the bitterness of a woman who has spent her life fighting on television and by every means at her disposal to stop the situation to be so miserable with Bulgarian artists.

Okay dear, I can already see the twinkling light in the eyes of the parents of talented children who didn’t audition, and their teachers… And what exactly is going to happen to those artists who auditioned yesterday and were selected to go to the European competition in Rome, they ask angrily. Well, here’s the thing: there they will really have the opportunity to jump into the deep end, to compete with the best of Europe and, if they are really very talented and well prepared, to have the chance to start their world career. It is no coincidence that the competition is also for athletes – gymnasts and others. To embrace the world and to be recognized by it requires tremendous discipline, iron diligence, daily rehearsals and great willpower. Not only talent.

The whole competition, which took place in several parts in one 6-7 hour period, was very inspiring. You have no idea what happened after the performance of the greatest young dancers of Zori (Zornitsa Petrova) from Diva ballet! I won’t tell you. They were given a unique (once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity. Garrison was delighted with the participants in Bulgaria – all of them! „You have an incredible and powerful talent“, he said, in front of my eyes he called on Facetime his friends around the world, he was ecstatic, he was telling how talented the Bulgarians are and how inspiring this is… He jumped on stage and personally invited to Rome next year the young singer from Ukraine, who sang admirably and at the end came out with the Ukrainian flag, that’s how we found out where she was from.

So… we have ourselves to blame.

The fee of 50 BGN in a group and 100 BGN if you participate on your own probably stopped some of my friends from showing up at this world forum. (But we do give them for a family lunch at the pizzeria, don’t we?) It’s the same reason that prevented an awful lot of talented people from signing up for our Mama Mia Musical Art Academy, but they will, I bet, go to an all-inclusive hotel in Obzor, Byala, Bansko or Velingrad and pay a lot more for a lot less.

Yes, we are poor. But we can’t prioritize either! We cannot! We keep thinking that someone wants to lie to us… Too bad.

And that’s why we will always stay here, in our little Bulgarian-speaking market, and the big things will happen somewhere else. I even feel a little guilty that I wasn’t more persistent and didn’t convince more of my hundreds talented friends to audition… And the best ones who came and performed brilliantly – they won and will go to Rome! The teens and children of the Diva Ballet will go to Rome. The singers will go to Rome. The actors from Blagoevgrad and the dancers from Burgas will go to Rome. And they will have such an amazing opportunity to show their talent to the world. And they were so happy! The little dancers (kids 6-7-8 years old) cried when they found out. And they squealed with joy, held hands and ran around the room… that I smile every time I remember them.

I’m half happy, half sad. And I’m saddest for myself and the great opportunities I’ve missed by returning to work in television and theatre in Bulgaria. You know, the lack of cosmopolitanism is about to take us out of the EU and NATO, put us back into the Russian orbit, wipe us out for good. The lack of breadth and scale, of powerful leaders among the intelligentsia… has led us to what we are in recent years – a corrupt, poor and criminal third world country. The lack of trust and hope in turn makes us deeply unhappy.

So yes – we have ourselves to blame.

At the end of that interminable day Garrison asked me quite sincerely, „Honey, one thing I don’t understand – what is someone like you, at this level, with this biography still doing here? And you’re standing there, enduring, having been erased and banned. Why?“ And I ask myself this question more and more often. Are you?

When we were young, we saw Western Europe for the first time before the fall of the Berlin Wall, only because we were part of Boncho Urumov’s legendary theatre studio at the Tear and Laughter Theatre – a theatre on our local, Bulgarian Broadway, and so we travelled twice to the arts festival in Thun in Switzerland and to Rotterdam – there at the invitation of their Rotary Club. I played the Princess in Andersen’s „Silly Hans“ and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s „Much Ado About Nothing“ and that was my first exposure to Western culture! I’ll never forget travelling for days by train – we laid on the floor, brought sandwiches, didn’t have five bucks to buy anything, but we were so happy! We saw Venice in the early morning, we fell asleep on the cobblestones of Piazza San Marco, we were so tired by the time our hotel took us in, where we didn’t stay at all – all night long some Bulgarian kids were touring the eternal city of fairy tales! Boncho took us up to the roof of the Milan Cathedral and I shall never forget the feeling of being on the roof of the whole civilized world, the place nearest to that God that we in socialist Bulgaria were denied! I will never erase from my memory that rainy day when, after 2 days of travelling in an old Chavdar bus that kept popping tyres, we finally arrived in the little Swiss town with a castle with a tower and played Shakespeare in the open air in front of an enthusiastic audience with umbrellas! And how one colleague – Dimo Dimov – slipped in the pouring rain on stage and broke his nose, blood flowed, but he kept on playing. We were so happy, even though we slept in the local barracks. But what a barracks! Like a hotel, but with bedrooms with lots of beds. We did all this not just to see the great wide world, but to be seen… Because an artist needs an audience. The artist needs his talent to be appreciated, to be used, to be useful!

But yes, 50 BGN or 100 BGN seems to be „a lot“ for our talents and this „ticket“ to the world of infinite possibilities seems deceptive to them. My dear ones, think again, because I truly believe that „the world is big and salvation lurks everywhere“. This is how Bulgarian film director Stefan Komandarev, whose films are now screened and awarded at the biggest international festivals, named his first film. So the choice is yours.

Want to know more?

The new talent show with an innovative touch is broadcast on Italy’s Rai2: the Italian Performing Arts Championship „Performer cup“ is hosted by Valentina Spampinato, who is also Artistic Director, along with dancer and choreographer Garrison Rochelle, and directed by Luigi Antonini. The show narrates and presents artists as athletes, focusing on the combination of art and sport. Eighteen was the number of finalists who participated in the episodes of Performer Italian Cup, selected after the national championships, who appeared on television in Italy amid serious preparation, rehearsals and exercises with coaches Maura Paparo, Fabio and Ivan Lazzara, Susana Radice, Grazia Di Michele, Giannina Molinari, Fioreta Mari, Claudia Pepa, Anthony Patellis and Andrea Rizzoli. Only ten of them, at the coaches’ discretion, reached the final round. The goal? To form Italy’s national team of performers. Other valuable names appeared in the show, such as the president of the technical jury, Gianni Testa, and the artistic director of the technical jury, Massimo Cotto. Along with the selected talents, the absolute highlight of the program was the core of the training method called P.A.S.S method.

The workrooms in which the talents trained were true co-working spaces that allowed the artists to sign contracts with talent hunters such as film producer Oscar Generale, conductor and record producer Ciro Barbato, opera producers Lino Zimbone and Cristina Sarlo, art manager Antonio Desiderio and producer Franco Iannisi. They were joined by a special jury whose votes carried more weight: Giorgio Passotti, Stefano Orfeo, Chiara Cataneo and Paul Glaser. The main protagonists of the first episode were the 18 finalist artists: Federica Alcione, Chiara Calì, Malakas, Dune, Michele Trombella, Amy Rao, Eugenia Russi, Eleonora Pistarà, Vincenzo Privitera, Davide Patti, Andrea Pagella, Corrado Neri, Lorenzo Marchina, Rachele Liotta, Giada Maria Giordano, Francesco Faggi, Stephanie Dansou and Valentin Craciunescu.

Because of this format, a TV star has returned to the screen in Italy: Garrison Rochelle, who is known to the public from the Italian show „Amici“, where he is a teacher. Garrison left the programme a few years ago.

This year, due to the great success of the competition, which has been held in Italy several times already, it became European. Thus, the star team ended up in Bulgaria, Macedonia and 15 other European countries. Next year the competition will be a world one.

Може да харесате още