For more than twenty years the Benois Prize has been recognising talent with the most starry juries imaginable. The first year it consisted of Yury Grigorovich as its president, with Galina Ulanova (Russia), Carla Fracci (Italy), Kirsten Ralov (Denmark), Yvette Chauviré (France), Rudolf Nureyev (world citizen?) and John Neumeier (Germany). This year one of these, La Fracci, returned as part of an all-female jury, except for Grigorovich, who is the president each year. Interestingly Ana Laguna was also one of its members this year, as her Giselle for Mats Ek is a constant presence on the DVD shelf in stores throughout the world, as is Fracci's version with the American Ballet Theatre.
The last time I was in Russia, I was invited by the Russian Government for the opening of the Bolshoi Theatre: what an emotional evening with Mikhail Gorbachev greeting me, and then the applause that I started, and which was soon followed by the entire theatre, to greet the superb ballerina and my dear friend Maya Plisetskaya.
Grigorovich, the president of the prize, was the first to invite me to the Bolshoi when I danced La Sylphide, this time around I'll be back among my family of dancers: Liepa, my partner Vladimir Vassiliev, and artists of the new generation such as Svetlana Zakharova who, when I was director of the Rome Opera Ballet, I invited to dance in Italy for the first time.
Fracci was talking with Valentina Bonelli just before leaving for Moscow, where she would meet up again with Claudio Coviello who came up through the ballet school in Rome when she led the company, and she saw again at La Scala when he filled in at the last minute for an injured Ivan Vasiliev in Roland Petit's Notre Dame de Paris,
He is an excellent dancer who I remember as a student at the Rome Opera Ballet School, and I found him an extraordinary interpreter as Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris, the ballet which earned him the Benois nomination.
Soon after that performance the director of the La Scala company, Makhar Vaziev, promoted him to Principal Dancer. Although Coviello didn't win the Benois Prize this year, at 22 he still has time; the prize has never been awarded to a male Italian dancer. Herman Cornejo won this year, though as he couldn't attend the ceremony David Hallberg accepted the prize for him and, after apologizing for his poor Russian, said, in apparently almost perfect Russian, “I am very happy because now the Bolshoi Theatre is also my home.”
Polina Semionova and Mariko Kida shared the female dancer award, Alexei Ratmansky won for choreography and Paris Opera Ballet's outgoing director Brigitte Lefèvre was awarded the Benois for ‘Life Achievement'.
At the Gala which accompanied the ceremony, Coviello danced the pas de deux from MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet with the excellent La Scala soloist Vittoria Valerio, and during the performance the previous day they danced Le Spectre de la Rose. He was justly given an appreciative slow clap by the enthusiastic audience.
Jury member and ex-Mariinsky star Gabriela Komleva said,
This competition has maintained its standards over the years and has gained an important place in the ballet world,
reported RIA Novosti.
It gives us an opportunity to have an overview of what is happening internationally and this is very important. Talent is always at the centre of this competition and it has been the main criterion for evaluating the works and performances nominated for the prize Benoit this year.
The talented Signor Coviello couldn't believe that he'd been nominated – “I was amazed and excited; it didn't seem possible to be considered for such an important prize” – and he lived the experience to the full,
The evening of the Benois ceremony and gala was magical. To dance in the Temple of the Dance, alongside artists of such a high calibre and in front of a jury made up of legendary personalities from the ballet world was a wonderful experience full of unforgettable emotions.
For me, it was even more emotional because Signora Fracci was on the jury as she's always been an idol since I was at the ballet school in Rome. To see her in Moscow let me feel a little bit at home!
Fracci is an idol for many in Russia too, and is held in high esteem, as Grigorovich underlined in his presentation to the audience: Carla Fracci IS Italian dance. Among the crowds wanting her autograph was an elegant Russian who, in Italian, told her that after seeing her dance La Syphide at the Bolshoi a quarter of a century ago he'd never seen the performance equalled, before or after. Fracci is appreciative of all the attention,
I love returning to Russia where I always receive such a warm welcome. This award is so important and it was a joy to be part of it once again, especially to see one of our most promising Italian dancers up there on the Bolshoi stage.
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.