A book celebrating the 200th birthday of La Scala’s Ballet School was launched at Milan’s iconic theatre yesterday: Album di compleanno. 1813-2013. La Scuola di Ballo dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala.
The volume traces the history of one of the world’s most prestigious dance institutions, which was founded in 1813. More than one hundred illustrations chart the progress of the school through its two hundred year history, alongside essays which not only recall the famous names that it has produced, but also places the school in the varying social contexts. A curiosity is the diary of Fanny Restellini who was a secretary at the school between the wars. Here there are insights not just in to the daily running of the institution, but of Milanese life outside of the classroom.
One of the first directors of the school was Italian dancer, choreographer and teacher, Carlo Blasis, who remained for fifteen years from 1838. He trained the teachers of the most famous director, Enrico Cecchetti, who ended his celebrated career at the school. In 1938 he collapsed while teaching the young students, and he died the next day.
At yesterday’s launch however, the most fondly remembered director was Esmée Bulnes, who was born near Liverpool, studied with Cecchetti in London, became a teacher at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires when she was 31, and transferred to Italy after the war. She saw over the training of Carla Fracci, Liliana Cosi, Roberto Fascilla, Luciana Savignano and Oriella Dorella, all of whom were present at the launch, with memories to relate. Cosi remembered all the young girls of her course saying among themselves that they were feeling too tired for pointe class. No one turned up, not even Cosi who loved dancing in pointe shoes. Bulnes, who was famously severe, said that as the young Cosi was tired she’d allow her to relax, and for a year she didn’t let Cosi participate in the La Scala ballets, as all the students did at the time. As Cosi’s tale underlines, a good school is a school of life, not only of ballet technique.
Roberto Bolle, the youngest of the ex-students present, graduated under the school’s longest serving director, Anna Maria Prina, who herself was taught by Bulnes. Prina reigned over the La Scala school for 32 years and saw over the education of Massimo Murru, Mara Galeazzi, and many, many more. The current director, Frédéric Olivieri, who was a soloist with Paris Opera Ballet, took over from Prina in 2006 when he left the helm of the Corps de Ballet at La Scala.
The beautiful thing is the continuity from the last 200 years to the present, between what we are today, and what we will be tomorrow. This is a small collection of our past, but also represents the starting point for the next 200 years.
This book can be ordered soon from the La Scala Shop; 24 x 26cm, 130 pages, 100 illustrations €20.
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.