Eleonora Abbagnato has been named “étoile” of the Paris Opera Ballet. Finally, one might add, and indeed the former director of the dance school of the Paris Opera, Claude Bessy, said just that. She was in the theatre with Abbagnato's husband, footballer Federico Balzaretti, a fullback at AS Roma, and many other members of the dancer's family, except her one-year-old daughter.
The 34-year-old ballerina was promoted to the top rank after a performance of Roland Petit's Carmen by the director of the Opera Ballet, Brigitte Lefèvre, and Nicolas Joel, director of the Opéra National de Paris. Abbagnato joined the corps de ballet at the Paris Opera in 1996 and became prima ballerina in 2001, and although she has consistently danced leading roles with the company, the final promotion has been a long time coming.
It was Petit who first spotted Abbagnato's talent when she was just eleven, and Bessy convinced her to leave Italy for the Paris school when she was 12.
[Bessy] saw me as her double. We clashed, we yelled at each other constantly, but she taught me everything and she was always there to watch my performances.
Abbagnato recounted to Figaro;
Since I was 19, I have danced with the greatest ballet dancers: Manuel Legris , Laurent Hilaire and all the biggest stars – it was a great opportunity. A career is very difficult, and my journey has been long.
Abbagnato has always been outspoken. As younger dancers were promoted ahead of her she became impatient. She returned to Italy for long periods and has become a well-known media personality and artistic director of the Teatro Petruzelli in Bari. She dances regularly in Rome and on tour with her “& Friends” group, but she didn't let Paris go, and her determination has paid off.
Her next appearances in Paris will be at the Opera Bastille, in the Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler by John Neumeier on 9, 13, 16 and 18 April. The last performance will be broadcast live in cinemas around the world.
Photo: Brigitte Lefevre, left, and Eleonora Abbagnato
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.