First the good news…
The La Scala ballet company is in formidable shape. Makhar Vaziev and his team have nurtured many interesting talents and a piece to show off some of their qualities is surely Heinz Spoerli’s Cello Suites, wherefourteen dancers can showcase their abilities.
It is choreographed to Bach’s Cello Suites No. 2, 3, and 6, so it is divided into three parts of six solos, duets, trios, or ensembles. For each part the dancers’ costumes change from ruby-red to emerald-green to deep-blue. A large circular pipe, the height of the proscenium, sits at the back and smoke occasionally wafts from the holes drilled into it. It is coloured according the dancers’ costumes. Martin Gebhardt’s lighting is detailed and effective. The cellist – a committed Sandro Laffranchini – sits alone in the pit, raised on a plinth.
It isn’t a narrative ballet and gosh, without a character, how personalities can be spotted, and yet other dancers can go unnoticed. Angelo Greco – the new whiz-kid of the company – is technically exciting and has a winning way with the public, and Antonina Chapkina is so delicious you want to put her under a glass dome like a ceramic figurine. Timofej Andrijashenko, tall and blonde, stands out against the Italian look of most of the company, and is a handsome presence. Vittoria Valerio is always lovely to watch, and Walter Madau doesn’t go ignored. Nicoletta Manni has a long-limbed grace, yet also an icy, defiant edge which she uses seductively with the public. Claudio Coviello demonstrates why he was made a Principal with his perfectly controlled turns and an elegant presence.
The whole ensemble performs precisely together – ‘precise’ was a word difficult to apply to this company until recently – and, if sometimes Spoerli’s steps get a little repetitive, the whole is very pleasing indeed. A satisfying 70 minutes or so in the theatre.
The bad news…
The theatre was empty. On the day before the performance I attended, more than 900 seats were still available. It was the same on the opening night when the theatre invited punters from the gallery down into the stalls, resulting with those who’d paid €160 for their ticket sitting next to those who’d paid €20.
Spoerli created the work in 2006 for the Zurich Ballet of which he was the Director at the time, a period when La Scala’s new Sovrindentente, Alexander Pereira, was the head of Zurich Opera House. It is one of many productions that Pereria is bringing in from Zurich and Salzburg (which he headed until last year). But La Scala is very different from Zurich. It is double the size for one thing, and minimal ballets like this are not ideally suited to such a large space. And although it’s not the length that counts, the word spread fast that by 9.30pm you’d already have your coat on and be out on the street. Another similar comment was that there was ‘only a cello’. They were also no guest names to pull in an audience for an unknown title. To sum up, why are we paying the same price as when we come and see Bolle and Zakharova in Giselle with a full corps and a symphony orchestra in the pit? Maybe better programming would have seen a double bill with Cello Suites sharing the evening with Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de Rose or Roland Petit’s La rose malade or L’Arlesienne, all of which are in the company’s repertoire. Or better still, with Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort which also uses the music of Bach. Throw in a couple of stellar guests and maybe a few more would have witnessed the excellent La Scala company in Cello Suites.
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.