As an antipasto before the one act opera Cavalleria Rusticana, La Scala put on two related ballets – though unrelated to the opera – which fitted neatly together. Two ten-minute gems: Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de Rose and Roland Petit’s La rose malade.
Le Spectre de Rose is one of those ballets which must be danced full out for what it is. It can’t be ‘modernised’, as could be attempted with Swan Lake, but, like Les Sylphides, the interpreters have to believe in what they are doing, and pull away from baroque gestures and movements. Such embellishments are smoothed out, if they are present at all, in most modern-day ballet schools, and so are not naturally within a dancer’s body. It may feel exaggerated to use such elaborate pas de bras, yet without it the ballet falls flat. After all, the girl is competing for attention with a puffy bonnet, and the boy vying with a cap covered in pink rose petals! It is a notoriously hard act to carry off, and the two dancers at Teatro alla Scala didn’t quite succeed.
Leonid Sarafanov was a gloriously light spirit of the rose, with silent jumps, and graceful use of his upper body. But he’s not a sexy boy, and, as with his Basilio, that quality was lacking in his interpretation. However, unlike many dancers, the petal-hat suited him! The young Vittoria Valerio, from the corps, was given a chance to shine, but didn’t appear to be a young girl dreaming or believe fully in the choreography. However, she has a good technique, did all the steps, a maybe just needs the right role to let her emerge.
Much more satisfying was Petit’s ballet, inspired by William Blake’s poem, The Sick Rose.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
La rose malade was created for Maya Plisetskaya, and it shows: hypnotising port de bras with arms moving like underwater plants. Set to the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, it would be difficult to fail with this piece, as the music and subdued lighting alone are satisfying enough. Add in two wonderful dancers like Maria Eichwald and Igor Yebra, and the result is bewitching.
Eichwald is such a special dancer, and this theatre has already had the privilege of seeing her in Onegin. She was intense as the suffering rose, though less exasperated than Plisetskaya’s interpretation, seen at La Scala in 1970s. Eichwald’s is an inner approach and serenely fatalistic. There is a strength and precision to her dancing, which never looks like technique. Yebra is a handsome presence, with a noble and clean quality to his movements which give him a natural, poetic force. He is also an excellent partner, and the two bodies flowed beautifully together. They were rewarded with the warmest applause of the evening.