Director of Dance Explores Generation Gap in "That’s LIFE"

That's Life

"I think it’s good for our students to see that we’re not only asking them to challenge themselves, we’re challenging ourselves as well," says Cardente-Vessella, director of dance.

Angelica Vessella
RIC Director of Dance Angelica Cardente-Vessella

Angelica Vessella, RIC director of dance and managing director of the RIC Dance Company, performs​ for the first time at RIC in “That’s LIFE! A Generational Perspective,” which takes a poignant look at life through the lens of three generations. 

This is an original theater/dance production, written collaboratively by the cast and choreographed and directed by Vessella.​​ Among the performers are RIC Director of Musical Theater Bill Wilson. ​The show​ runs Thursday and Friday, March 29 and 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Helen Forman Theatre. 

Giving voice to the generations are:

  • Joseph DeLeo ’17 and Nicole Chagnon ’17, representing people in their 20s.
  • Vessella and Wilson, representing people in their 50s.
  • Vesella’s parents: Theodora (Teddy) Del Ponte and stepfather Luigi Del Ponte, ages 80 and 90 respectively.​

The main character, “LIFE,” is embodied by Salvatore Costantino ’16. Pianist is musical theater student Andrew Holowienka. 

A prolific choreographer, Vessella first developed the dance numbers for the show, ​while the script evolved throughout the rehearsal process. 

“I’ll never forget the first time the cast sat around the table,” Vessella said. “One cast member asked, ‘So, where’s the script?’ That question still makes me laugh, because there was yet to be a script at that time, it was merely an idea. Through candid conversations with each other and simply listening to the world around us, the script and the theme evolved.”

In fact, the theme was inspired when Vessella’s mother, Teddy, was injured in a fall last year. Teddy and Luigi had no other choice but to move in permanently with Vessella, her husband and teenage daughter. In such close quarters, the disparities between the three generations soon became apparent.

“My parents are actually very hip,” Vessella explained. “But when they came to live with us it was hard for them to understand why their granddaughter was always texting. My generation does a little of both – we’re not afraid to pick up the phone and we’ll also text for convenience. But my parent’s generation are always on the phone. In 10 years, my phone has never rung so much.”

“But then you sit back and think, ‘No wonder my parents still have people in their lives from when they were young. No wonder they have such a close circle of friends,’” Vessella said. “Teenagers and 20-year-olds have a thousand Facebook friends, but how many of those friends are in​vested in their life? How many do they really have a history with?”

Whether it’s teenagers texting or seniors cradling landlines, they’re all attempting to make a connection, Vessella said. The generations are different but the underlying issues are the same. We all have a need to be ​heard and understood, she said. We all struggle with loneliness and fears about the future.​

The script was completed just a week before opening, but Vessella was still left with her own inner struggle. She would be performing again after 10 years of teaching at RIC. Enamored by dance since the age of two, Vessella has danced professionally, taught at her own dance studio and formed her own dance company. She also did adjunct teaching and choreographed shows at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College – all before becoming a faculty member at RIC. Now, for the first time in a decade, she’ll be back on stage performing with longtime partner/collaborator Bill Wilson, who hasn’t put on dancing shoes himself for many years. 

“Bill and I enjoy being teachers,” she said. “I think that’s why we work so well together – we both enjoy the creative process. We’re performing in this show because we’re the only 50-year-olds we knew who would do it. Also, I think it’s good for our students to see that we’re not only asking them to challenge themselves, we’re challenging ourselves as well.”

In fact, Vessella’s need for a challenge is legendary. According to Chagnon, her former student, “Gel will never put on the same production again and again. Each year, she picks something new that she’s never tried before, something that will challenge her. So, while she’s learning, her students are learning through her.”

 Vessella will equally challenge her students. “I’m tough. I expect a lot out of them,” she said. 

“She will push you to the limit,” admitted sophomore Karissa Garganese. 

“She’ll have you do that relevé over and over until she sees what she knows is in you,” said senior Jonathan Klos.

“And she won’t settle for anything less than perfection,” said freshman Katie Ventura.

“But she believes in you from the start. She sees the potential in you before you see it in yourself,” said sophomore Drew Leonard. “I saw myself grow more in one year in her class than in the 15 years prior.”

“Even more, you’ll find in her classes that she not only teaches dance techniques, she teaches life lessons,” said junior Marisa Rebelo.

You’ll find some of those life lessons in “That’s LIFE!” (Admission for members of the RIC community $5; general admission $15.)​

Angelica Vessella earned her B.A. at RIC in 1997; and her M.F.A. at RIC in 2008. In 2012 her original production, “A-Mirror-Ca: A Reflection on America’s Media-Driven Culture,” won the Outstanding Writing, Ensemble, and Execution Award at the American College Theatre Festival.