Well it’s an ill wind… Natalia Osipova’s last minute cancellation as Kitri at La Scala left the way open for Nicoletta Manni, newly appointed principal dancer with the company, to show the Osipova fans what she could do. And what she did she did very well, very well indeed.
Manni is a strong dancer with a solid technique and quite regal in her bearing. Her interpretation was cooler than Tamara Rojo’s more impish Kitri, which was seen last week, and maybe she doesn’t yet have the experience to be more playful within the choreography, but wow, can she dance. It’s all there: high jetés, balances, turns, fine control of her body with legs that go high, yes, but are perfectly controlled when they descend, giving a playful arrogance to some of her movements. Her last act variation with the fan was superb with extremely slow and precise retirés gradually accelerating with the music, and her fouéttes are splendid. The first sixteen were interspersed with double turns during which she opened and closed her fan above her head; for the second group of sixteen she did the same thing at waist level… and she didn’t move a jot. She hasn’t yet mastered that knack of communicating with the whole theatre and could be more expansive in such a big house, but give her a few more performances and I’m sure she’ll bloom.
Manni had already danced two performances of Don Quixote with Osipova’s intended Basilio, Leonid Sarafanov, so no problems with partnering, something which Sarafanov does very well. He is such a fine dancer, elegant and noble, yet is capable of clowning with Kitri’s friends. Excellent dancing too from Virna Toppi who was a graceful Queen of the Dryads with some nicely held turns. Christian Fagetti as Espada was excitingly macho and surely few ballerinas could have danced better than Vittoria Valerio as the Street Dancer in this theatre. Antonino Sutera was ever exciting as the Gypsy, and once again the corps was dancing at a level that has been rarely seen in the last two decades at La Scala.
So all in all a success. However, such a series of casting changes is (as explained in a previous post) thankfully rare. To misquote Oscar Wilde: to lose one dancer may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose all looks like carelessness.
And just to put the record straight, a little bird tells me that the La Scala management have known since Easter that Natalia Osipova could not dance on the 22nd as her arrival in Milan couldn’t be until the 21st given her commitment to the Royal Ballet. Was her name kept up just to sell more tickets? If so – and I hope it is just a stupid assumption on my part – it is a very short-sighted gesture, destined to alienate the public of ballet fans, and turn the theatre into even more of a tourist attraction where what happens on stage is less important than the selfie in front of the Royal Box.