Today Carla Fracci turns 79∗ and during August, she has been performing once again. Roberto Bolle is half her age and at 40 shows no sign of ending his career on stage.
In 2007 Bolle famously criticised Fracci – at the time she was the director of the Rome Opera Ballet – saying that it was time for her to retire and leave space for younger dancers. She counter-attacked, saying that by going on stage with roles appropriate for her age she wasn’t taking work away from anyone. The argument rumbled on for a while until they made peace a couple of years ago, photographed together at the opening night of La Scala’s season.
To stop or not to stop, is an impossible question to answer. Deeply personal for the dancer and subjective for the audience. No one would agree that as soon as there is an inkling of physical decline an artist should terminate his career. My jump is a centimetre lower this year, so that’s it, I’m retiring. Then, of course, there is the possibility of not quitting but changing direction and slowly edging away from the repertory towards something more suitable, as Sylvie Guillem and Mikhail Baryshnikov have demonstrated so splendidly. Or remaining with the classics but putting aside the Sylphide and taking up Madge.
Many dancers in their twenties can’t imagine being forty and state boldly – Baryshnikov included – that they will leave the stage around that age. Yet, how many do if they are famous enough and healthy enough to keep going?
In an interview for his 40th birthday, Bolle said,
I will continue to dance as long as I am able to communicate beauty and emotion. It’s difficult to say when I will stop but I hope that day will be as far away as possible.
Underlining the fact that,
Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Ferri, Savignano, Fracci: they all went on dancing because they had that something extra that makes our profession become an art and not just an athletic activity.
Fracci didn’t dance Kitri for the first time until she was 46, and then, with Rudolf Nureyev, danced it six times in seven days… very athletic.
No one’s body can go on forever – not even Fracci’s – and choosing ‘suitable’ roles is another subjective issue. Often these roles are tailor-made, and therefore can’t all be masterpieces, so there’s always the risk of being in something suitable but awful, though working with top-notch collaborators reduces that risk. Again, Baryshnikov has been shrewd in choosing the likes of Bob Wilson to be on his team. When Fracci (63) and the young Massimo Murru (27) created the leading roles in Roland Petit’s Cheri, the outcome was sensitively judged perfection.
In an interview a couple of days ago, Fracci was asked about that old comment by Bolle…
I have been very fond of Roberto Bolle for many years… twenty? twenty-five?
We’ve danced various ballets together and, several years ago, at the World Ballet Festival in Tokyo, we danced a ballet that is emblematic for me, Le Spectre de la rose, which I performed for my diploma on leaving La Scala’s Ballet School. It was in March 1955 after a performance of La sonnambula with Maria Callas when I danced it with the great Mario Pistoni. Forty-three years later, in 1998, I danced it with Roberto.
Recently Roberto celebrated his 40th birthday, an important age for a dancer when they can become a Dancer with a capital ‘D’.
Dance is an art and the possibility to enter the pantheon of Dance comes in the second phase of the career, from forty onwards, when you dedicate yourself entirely to the art form and you look less in the mirror… a path that few have the chance to follow.
Once, when I was feeling down, the great Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Rita Levi Montalcini told me, “Dear Carla, you know that the mind doesn’t age and it is the mind that controls the body.”
Now, remembering those performances in Japan, I’d like to say the same phrase to Roberto, “The mind doesn’t age…”, and I wish him a long artistic life until he reaches 100… 200… 300!
∗ This post was written on Carla Fracci’s birthday – 20 August – and published on 21 August.