The La Scala Theatre Ballet School's ‘end-of-year' show opened last night, the first of a week's run at Milan's Teatro Strehler.
The packed theatre had a good number of proud mums and dads, grandparents, and wide-eyed little brothers and sisters, as all good dance exhibitions should have, but as this is La Scala there were a good number of theatre professionals, critics, and well-known dancers too.
The school's director, Frédéric Olivieri, has mounted a mini-Études to show off his students, called Presentazione. During this ‘antipasto' all 208 students are indeed presented, after which most of them disappear as this series of evenings is designed to showcase the older and, above all, graduating students.
José Limón's musicless 1971 piece, The Unsung, shows off eight of the boys with only the strike of their heels on the stage providing the accompaniment. It is tribal, a rite, and the cast were committed and strong. Three of them get to have solos and they faced an empty stage with gusto, just the sound of their feet and breathing filling the 900-seat theatre. Antonio Mannino, the first of the three, was notable.
The girls fired back – well the girls, plus a couple of guys – with Balanchine's Serenade, beautifully remounted by Patricia Neary. This 1934 work was Balanchine's first ballet ‘Made in the USA' yet it is already full of the trademarks which he used throughout his career: complex and fast footwork, a corps who are dancing almost as hard as the principals, and idiosyncratic movements that throw out an otherwise pure classical line. The Waltz Girl (Martina Arduino), the Russian Girl (Adele Fiocchi) and the Dark Angel (Martina Dalla Mora) are handled well, the Russian Girl especially has some tricky passages, and this a glorious showcase for their talents. The only quibble is that often feet are not well articulated giving the impression that the girls are either up on full pointe or down, with nothing in between, taking away from the fluidity and making passages unnecessarily jerky.
The evening closed with Napoli. One thing that is so important when dancing is to remember that it is for an audience, and if it's a joyful piece then it's vital that the dancers seem to be enjoying themselves, however difficult the technique involved or the stress level. Students are not used to being in front of an audience, yet from Presentazione to Napoli the La Scala kids looked assured – even when things went awry – and in the first and last piece they looked as though they were having a thoroughly good time. Sunny Napoli, where tambourine waving and coloured ribbons underline the sheer exuberance of the choreography, brought the evening to an upbeat close, even if stylistically the performance was a little approximate. And again, feet! Entrechat six executed with rubbery feet made a pleasing blur but it wasn't Bournonville; also the use of his characteristic port de bras was sometimes sloppy. However great fun was had by all, onstage and off. The inserted pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano gave a chance for Oliviero Bifulco to shine (with bags of personality and a cheeky smile… and good feet!), though his partner looked less sure of herself.
One last thing… someone should remind some of the students as soon as possible about sightlines: even from a fairly central seat toward the middle of the auditorium a lot of hustle and bustle could be seen in what should have been off stage, including one unfortunate Balanchine ballerina with an intimate itch!
A lot has been written on this blog and elsewhere about the problems of finding work as a dancer in Italy, and it is to be hoped that not all the young talent on stage are forced to leave the country to fulfill their artistic needs. In bocca al lupo ragazzi!
Performances at the Scuola di Ballo Accademia Teatro alla Scala run at the Teatro Strehler until 11 May.
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.