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The summer in the “Salento during the evenings of august” offers a very suggestive sight,  which can be appreciated with eyes and soul  in the country, far from lights and noise of citiy. It’s enough to lift the eyes to the sky and  plunge in to the deepnes of the  universe full of stars. Peace! Trascendence!

Often the sky brightens with a trail of light that breaks stillness of the hemsphere. Meteors: comets like tears of Saint Laurence.

During one of these evenings of August (13/08/02) we met Pompea Santoro, a “comet” that every summer keeps on coming back since 1980,  to light the sky of San Michele Salentino countries, in the south of Puglia. We love to call her this way, comet, even if it will be more appropriate to define her a “star” of the contemporary dance in the international scenery. This star was born in San Vito dei Normanni, but grew up in a little town nearby, San Michele Salentino, her father Michele´s family origins. We met her and her children Alma, 3 years old, and Alex, 1 year old, in her country – house in the district “Cutura”. She has a warm and firm look, quiet voice like the summer evening getting closer.



Her words are now dancing, the music, the suffused chirping of crickets, the rhythm of the rocking – chair in which she is sitting. Her words are chasing her memories of childhood spent here in San Michele: she thinks of her cousins with whom she played during the warm summer afternoons, when everybody else had a rest. In “De Gasperi” street in  the grandmother’s kitchen garden, where they met to play song-competition and  dance school.

She says that the games children played in the past were very different, made with what was found , like little stones (“li pitrud”) high-heel shoes ,obtained with little tins of tomatoes etc.. Then she thought of her aunt that made her peel almonds (“scurciuleje la menel”), taste of broad bean with peppers or onion, and all other wild vegetables which grow in our countries: “sckattapetr, cicuredd e zangun”.


Pompea was 6 years old when she left for Turin with her father Michele. Afterwards they were  joined by her brother, 1 year  old, and her mother. The idea was to stay there until the operatation of her brother’s hernia was over and then return to San Michele. But sometimes,  life,  goes in different directions.

Her father found a job where her uncles worked and soon they decided to stay in Turin. Pompea started the primary school and her mother took her also to a dancing school to realize her own dream and passion: her daughter as dancer.

Anita Carrino, the first dance–teacher that Pompea remembers with love, realised that the little girl had talent and  adviced her mother to take her to a more serious dance school, and suggested the one directed by Jusa Sabatini. Despite the economical sacrifice she followed the advice.



In 1971 Pompea was 9 years old when her father died in a fatal accident at work. Everything changed in  Pompea’s family. Naturally, only for economical reasons,  Pompea’s mother decided to withdraw her from the dance- school, but mr. Sabatini, took care of the situation, because he knew the potential and the talent of the little girl. Afterwards the firm in which her father worked (Calcestruzzi Torino), intervened to support the costs of the school. Pompea continued her studies and dancing – mr. Sabatini had a particular eye for her: he invited to the school high-quality teachers such as Carola Zingarelli (Scala di Milano), Margarita Trayanova (Opera of Sofia), Jean- Marie Dubrul (France) and others, to improve the artistic and technical level of the students. They practised not only classical dance, but also, jazz, spanish and russian dance. When she was 16 years old, mr. Sabatini took her to the “Tersicore” competition in Brescia   with a variation of Alonso’s “Carmen” tougth by Mss. Trayanova. She tells us that she felt appreciated by the audience and after the first three winners were named she was very surprised not to be among them.But the jury assigned her a special prize “for particular artistical talent”. Very soon this price brought her to take part of another big event, even a historical one; the first “Two worlds festival of Spoleto”. Alberto  Testa, that was one of the members of the jury in the “Tersicore contest” , wanted her in the Spoleto festival, since a dancer cancelled due to health problems. Dancing with some of the Teatro alla Scala dancers, she had success again. After the perfomance she received a proposal from Pippo Carbone, who was  in the audience, to join the Cullberg Ballet of Stockholm (Sweden); a proposal that left Pompea with some doubts, because at that time she didn’t know anything about the swedish ballet company and she had just passed the selection to attend the dance school of the Teatro alla Scala of Milano. Maestro Sabatini and her mother  wanted her to attend this school, but she decided otherwise.

Erba : Coreografia di Mats Ek un passo a due con il marito Veli-Pekka Peltokallio
Foto di Lesley Leslie-Spinks


In 1978 she was  16 and decided to go to Sweden and join the Cullberg Ballett, only for a year of work. Pompea, for the first time, experienced a different style of dancing, the unknown contemporary dance. Trying to explain the difference between classical and modern dancing she says that the first one is based on fixed rules, just like reading and playing music, but with different methods, you need very good technical skills to be able to enjoy it.

On the other hand modern dance is free from rules, even if a good classical tecnique is still fundamental. You have a different artistic freedom and every choreographer may discover a new style and way of moving . She really liked the style of Mats Ek, son of Birgit Cullberg-  creator of the Cullberg Ballet of Stockholm. She  worked with Mats Ek for 24 years, and had the possibility of working with very important choreographers like Jiri Kylian, Ohad Naharin, Carolyn Carlsson and Nacho Duato, and dancing on the world ´s most important stages. The company came to Italy almost every year, but in 1980 the choreographer Sebastiano Coppa invited her to the Teatro alla Scala of Milan for the festival “Nervi, my dear” where she danced for the first time as guest. The second time was in  1989 in Positano, where she got the “Positano danza” award given to her by Alberto Testa, the man that discovered her.

 During the years she danced and knew nearly all the choreographies of Mats, who was getting more and more important in the dance world and very demanded in different theaters. So, Pompea accepted to collaborate with the preparation and teaching of his ballets  across Europe; work that kept her busy for 5/6 years during her summer vacation and her free time. The first teaching job was in Munich in 1996 where she staged “Giselle”.

She is more satisfied  teaching the choreographies of Mats Ek than to  dance herself. In 1997 the double duty of teaching and dancing  was successfull  in the Scala of Milan. Elisabetta Terabust invited her to stage, and dance “Giselle” of Mats with Massimo Murru. Pompea says that it was a wonderful experience, also because she had the possibility, for the first time, to dance with live music performed by the orchestra of Scala. Nowadays she traines every morning accompanied by her brother Cosimo, teacher of music in the Teatro Nuovo Torino.  She has also staged “Giselle” at the Paris Opera and at the  Gothenbourg Opera in Sweden.


Giselle : Coreografia Mats Ek, scena del secondo atto. 

Foto di
Lesley Leslie-Spinks


After dancing at la Scala in 1997  Pompea felt that she had reached an important goal in her carreer, so she decided to stop for a period with the thought and  big wish to have a child. She fell in love in 1986 with Veli Pekka Peltokallio (dancer in Cullberg Ballet) and their love story lasted many years. When they decided to have a child, she wanted  to marry as a real southern italian women, for  Veli who was used to another culture it was not very important : he is the perfect husband and they have been happy together, so far. They married in june  1998 with a civil cerimony at 9.00 a.m. One hour later they went to the theatre to work and  informed  all their friends and collegues who celebrated the married couple. The party carried on in Finland with Veli’s relatives and in San Michele Salentino in “Cutura” with Pompea’s relatives. In 1999 Alma was born. Pompea didn’t feel a strong need to dance and decided to teach Mats’s choreographies  with bigger and bigger satisfaction and amusement, a job that brought her around the world, in these years, with little Alma. In 2001 Alex was born and Pompea found back her original fit, which stimulated her to dance again.



The most important project, in which Pompea was engaged since started, when the opening of Auditorium of Lingotto in Turin in 1994. Pompea perfomed  “Carmen” this time Mats’s version (with the Cullberg Ballet)  to an audience of about 2000 people. During that occasion Pompea met Gian Mesturino, Director of Teatro Nuovo in Turin, who proposed her a professional and artistical cooperation. The first proposal was dancing in his company but Pompea refused. Instead she accepted the role of “artistic advisor” of the company. She started with very ambitious projects, but it become more and more difficult for many different reasons. Today things are changed,  Pompea has returned to Turin, since she has  retired from the Cullberg Ballet (artists in Sweden enjoy this privilege after 20 years of artistical activity), where her family now lives and where she dances and collaborates in the  artistic direction of the company of Teatro Nuovo.

At the same time she will continue the cooperation with Mats Ek as his assistant.  In March 2002 she was engaged in London at the Coven Garden to stage “Carmen” with Sylvie Guillem (one of the greatest dancers of our time). There are other projects, that Pompea prefers not to speak about. She assures us that she will inform us when these projects will be concrete, so that we can inform the public through our web site, in which we hope to talk also about her two children Alma and Alex.



Pompea tells us stories from her career. In particular, she remembers with pleasure the meeting with the big russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev,  in the beginning of ’80, when he was invited to dance with the Cullberg Ballet in a production of “Miss Julie” of Birgit Cullberg .Pompea had a small role , but she danced with Rudolf Nureyev for some minutes.

When this production finished, Pompea and the russian dancer were in the same plane to Paris: Pompea in economy class, and Nureyev in first class naturally. With surprise, the young Pompea was invited by Nureyev for a glas of champagne by his side. She remembers that it was very amusing and at the same time she was honoured by that welcome: after all Pompea was  a nobody, but a very important friendship had  started in only 3 weeks time! She says “a  very extraordinary person that has left in me some unforgettable things”.



Me and my friend Pino Calò, who had organized this meeting with Pompea, proposed two questions to finish this interesting and exciting talk.

What do people express with dance? And in particular, what does Pompea express?

“It is not an easy and clear matter!  I think this is one of the reasons for being what I am , at least people say so! Then who watches me judges if i am a  true artist and have the so called “charisma”. When a true artist gets on the stage, he lightens and he transmits all kinds of feelings. The Art of dance is not appreciated by all, so it is essential  that also people who are not specialist are reached. It’s something that can not be tought, but I believe one can help a young dancer to understand how to get in touch with his or her own feelins, by giving them the right opportunies. I had the fortune to have a natural talent and physical abilities, but the most important has been that I have had very significant people around me like Mats himself and Lena Wennegren that have followed me during the years helping  me to become what I am today.  Then there are different methods to approach a role. There is the artist that  reads and studies carefully a certain character or situation. I follow my instinct, I listen to the music and I watch carefully my choreographer trying to understand what he is looking for. I think that following too much your intellect ,you limit your instinct and spontaneity. I have always trusted my heart.

Another thing that I have learned and that I try to teach  young dancers is  to  use their mind to mesure the energy while composing the movement,  and to dance with the heart, in other words,  to be able to find freedom within control and presicion”.

But Pompea, who is she? And what is the role she liked to interpret? 

“All the roles i have danced and dance today have a bit of me. In contemporary dance it is easier to find roles and characters that are real . This is also one big difference between classical -and contemporary dance: in classical dance characters and situations are normally unreal, in contemporary dance situations and characters are often real, the choreographer gets inspired by his own experience or every day  life.

An example can be “ Giselle” of Mats Ek: in the  original version (classical) Giselle dies of a heart – break for a not returned love and becomes a ghost; in Mats’s version   (contemporary) the protagonist becomes mad and instead,  goes to a mental hospital.

This version is real,it  happens to many women to be abandoned and left with many problems.

This ballet has become famous all over the world. I have danced it  many many times, swapping this role with Mats’ wife, Ana Laguna, a dancer that has tougth me a lot and I have learned  just by watching her.

Another example can be the contemporary version of “Sleeping beauty”, where Aurora`s, the protagonist`s sleep is due to using  drugs".



It’s late. Alma and Alex have fallen asleep near their mother Pompea, the three of them on the swing which slowly stops it`s rhythm. Amazed to see so much tenderness and love, we realise that the role of mother is her best. Pompea agrees with us. We leave, but we are able to make her say a greeting in dialect of our town  which we send to all of you that read these pages: “staten bbuen”.




















Pompea Santoro - 1970








a destra Pompea Santoro - 1970
























Gli eventi più importanti
della sua carriera artistica:

Concorso “Tersicore” di Brescia;
“Festival dei due Mondi” di Spoleto;
Contratto con il Cullberg Ballet di

1980 Festival “Nervi mia cara”;
1989 Premio “Positano Danza”;
1990 Galà a Fiesole: Italiani all’estero;
1993  Premio “Karina Ari Hedersstipendium” in Svezia;

Premio “Vignale Danza” e “Danza Danza”;
Inaugurazione Auditorium Lingotto di

1995  Inaugurazione del “Vignaledanza”;
1997 Scala di Milano.