Stories from the city: Toni Flego | Rijeka

Contemporary dancer Toni Flego can be seen on stage with Nipplepeople and in the controversial new 2020 Rijeka video

Written by
Marc Rowlands

Toni Flego's mixture of ballet and contemporary dance is nothing if not attention-grabbing. It caught the interest of leading Croatian electronic group Nipplepeople and he was invited to join them on stage. He now appears with them at their larger concerts. Toni also famously appears in a ballet dancer's dress and dog collar in the new Rijeka 2020 Capital Of Culture video made by famous Croatian director Dalibor Matanić. The first in a series of videos to be released in the run-up to the event, the video has courted a significant amount of controversy because of its style and content. We met Toni Flego in our current issue of Time Out Rijeka to find out his story from the city.

My name is Toni Flego, I'm 22 and I was born in Rijeka. When I was young, I was always dancing around the house, in the garden, in the playground, even when we went to the shops. I think my parents were exhausted just by watching me.

I started learning modern dance at the age of seven. Then, I went to the school of contemporary dance in Rijeka. I stayed until I was 14. After that, I went to a special school in Italy for dancing. My studies there were concentrated on ballet and contemporary dance. I really liked it, but I found I had more of an attraction to contemporary dance, performance art and musical theatre, rather than the strict rules of ballet. One year ago I moved to Padua and now I am in a dance company called E.sperimenti Dance Company.

When I started to dance, it was just fun. But now I understand that contemporary dance is my passion, it is my life. It is what I do to make my soul full of joy.

One year ago, I was drinking with some friends in Rijeka. Everybody had a plan to go and see Nipplepeople in concert. They are probably the best Croatian electronic band at the moment. They wear masks when they are on stage so nobody really knows who they are.
I wanted to go and luckily I knew a guy at the venue and he arranged for me to get in. When the band came on stage, they were fantastic. I already knew all of their songs. I went to the front of the audience and started dancing.

The band saw me and the singer called me to go and dance with them on the stage. It was unexpected, but I was happy to be invited. The stage was really small so I couldn’t move a lot. I just continued having fun and I guessed they liked it because after the show they sent me a message on Instagram. They complimented my dancing and said that they would like to make a video with me.

The name of the song we made a video for is 'Nikada' and we filmed it in Rijeka. It was a single for them in 2018. After the video was released, the band had a big concert in Zagreb and they asked me if I would like to dance with them. I danced to maybe three or four songs, including 'Nikada'. After that, they had another big concert, this time outdoors at Sea Star Festival in Umag and again they asked me to go. There were thousands of people there. We had a really good relationship by this point, both on and off the stage.

I think being from Rijeka has helped me get to where I am, to be able to follow my dream. My teachers in Rijeka introduced me to artists like Pina Bauch, Igor Stravinsky, The Knife, Fever Ray and Björk. I started to follow these extraordinary artists and dance to avant-garde music from a very young age, thanks to my teachers in Rijeka. I am very grateful for that.

In the 1980s, Rijeka was famous for rock and punk music. The bands from here were quite unique and popular all over Yugoslavia. My parents and my friends’ parents were really into this alternative scene. I think some of the generations who lived in that movement have very liberal ideas about how their children can express themselves. I feel lucky to come from Rijeka because of that and lucky to have the parents I have.

Photography by Renato Buić

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