Luigi Pignotti was Rudolf Nureyev's massager then manager. He now has a company which produces evenings of ballet, flamenco and tango… though not together. It was, maybe, obvious that he would dedicate something to the memory of his old friend and still one of the ballet world's most talked about personalities. For several years he has been producing galas in Nureyev's honour and, you would think, what a wonderful idea.
Well, the idea is, but the realisation of it less so. The evening in Milan's Teatro Nuovo last week began with Pignotti looking at a projected photo of Nureyev and pretending to speak into a microphone – it was in playback. Anyway, the sentiments were nice, though predictable. But already this just wasn't ‘Rudi'… the strip of gaffer tape fixing a tear in the cyc (which was also full of creases) and gloomy projections of Nureyev dancing (which every now and then became pixelated) were signs of sloppiness; just the sort of attitude that Nureyev couldn't abide.
There were no programmes or posters to announce who was dancing and what. When Catarina Meneses came on for La Sylphide, the ballet expert of the group behind me hissed “Giselle!” and the misinformation was loudly relayed along the row.
Except for the last piece, the evening was entirely made up of pas de deux: Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Don Q, Raymonda, Le Corsaire, La Sylphide… more or less everything except for the Giselle that was announced from the seat behind me. It was a bit nauseating for my taste: too many cherries on top of the cake. None of these used Nureyev's choreography, not even one.
Mishaps such as the wrong music being put on and then nobody appearing, or waiting for a dancer to enter before starting the music when it was a variation where the dancer starts offstage, are easy mistakes to make… if you're putting on an end of year show for a dancing school.
Certainly, the theatre didn't help. It is below ground level and seems as though it has been squashed, the proscenium arch being more of a horizontal slot. It makes lighting very tricky and when the dancers came onto the apron to take their applause frontal lighting was added which wasn't much above their eye-level creating large shadows around the stage – even Charlize Theron would have had a hard job to look good under that. The Trocks, however, in the same space a few months before, hadn't made me aware of any of this.
If the technicians and the producer seemed to be distracted at least the dancers demonstrated a passion for what they were doing in difficult circumstances.
The husband and wife team of Vittorio Galloro and Arianne Lafita Gonzalez – both products of the National Ballet School of Cuba – dance continuously together and it shows: they know each other inside out and between them is a certain chemistry. They brought their party-piece pas de deux from Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.
Rezart Stafa from the Compagnia Balletto Classico Cosi – Stefanescu demonstrated an assured technique as did Viktor Ishchuk (National Opera of Ukraine) in the Le Corsaire – pas d'esclave. Catarina Meneses was more suited to the black swan than La Sylphide both of which she danced with the excellent Dinu Tamazlacaru from the Staatsballet Berlin. His bright footwork and floating jumps made him a first-rate James, and he was the only dancer allowed out of his cage when he got to dance Les Bourgeois as the finishing number. He was witty, understated and drew gasps from the audience with his athleticism.
Les Bourgeois? Now that had the woman behind me flummoxed.
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.