Italian ballerina Liliana Cosi, born in Milan on 15 August 1941, had a glorious career but was overshadowed by the mighty Carla Fracci, rather like Margot Fonteyn's fame almost obliterated many of the outstanding talents of her generation.
After completing her studies at the ballet school at La Scala, she went to the Bolshoi for three years from 1963 where she studied with Messerer and Ulanova. Here she danced Giselle with Vladimir Vassiliev in 1966, and The Sleeping Beauty with Vladimir Tikhonov in 1967, during the years when Russia was largely closed off to the rest of the world. She was the first Italian dancer to perform in Russia since the great Pierina Legnani and Carlotta Brianza at the end of the 19th Century.
Cosi became an étoile at La Scala in 1970, where she danced The Nutcracker with Rudolf Nureyev in the Milanese début of his version of the ballet. She danced many times with Nureyev who became a close friend. She would smuggle letters into Russia from Nureyev to his family on her numerous visits to dance with the Bolshoi. During this time she embarked on annual tours of Russia in Moscow, Riga, Odessa, Tbilisi and other major centres totalling 130 performances over an eight year period of Swan Lake, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote. She danced in several productions with the London Festival Ballet, and accompanied Nureyev on international tours.
The impresario Yurok took her around America, and Patrice Bart brought her to Paris. In 1972, during a Royal Gala in Madrid, she met Romenian dancer Marinel Ştefănescu who was to become an important figure in her life.
She danced in Maurice Béjart's IX Sinfonia and the ballet Excelsior at La Scala with Paolo Bortoluzzi and Ştefănescu, Roland Petit's Coppelia with Denis Ganio, as well as the standard classical repertoire. However she also danced in Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Sinfonia in C, Balletto Imperiale, Allegro Brillante, Bourrée fantasque, I quattro Temperamenti, Apollon musagète and in galas would perform pas de deux from The Flames of Paris, Flower Festival, Le Corsaire, and so on.
In 1977 she formed a ballet company with Marinel Ştefănescu and his wife, which she still presides over to this day: Associazione Balletto Classico – Liliana Cosi and Marinel Ştefănescu, which is a ballet school as well as a company. In thirty or so years the company has performed over 2,000 times in 400 Italian cities, and 50 abroad.
When she was 20-years-old she wanted to become a nun, but was persuaded to continue her life on stage and she became a lay nun:
Real art speaks of God, is a testament to God, even if he is not named. The true artist is the one who gives to the public, because this mystery that is art is about giving: the gift of God to men.
Photos: Liliana Cosi and Rudolf Nureyev in Swan Lake, Teatro alla Scala 1973
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.