At the end of The Nutcracker at Rome's Teatro Nazionale on 20 December last year, 25-year-old Rebecca Bianchi was promoted to Principal Dancer of the Rome Opera Ballet by the theatre's General Manager, Carlo Fuortes, and the head of the ballet company, Eleonora Abbagnato.
It was something I wasn't expecting and it was very emotional… a truly wonderful surprise for me and a beautiful gift. It is a very important goal for a dancer although, of course, it is also a starting point, and it has made many of my childhood dreams come true.
Bianchi started dancing when she was seven at a dancing school in her hometown, Casalmaggiore, near Cremona in the north of Italy.
I wanted to go because my sister had already been attending for a year, and above all because I felt a strong urge to move. At home I was never still, so in those three hours a week of dance I found a way of giving release to my energy and expressing myself in a fun way, which then became a passion.
When she was 11, she was accepted into the Ballet School at La Scala where she studied first under Anna Maria Prina – the renowned Director of the school for 32 years – until her retirement, and then under the current Director, Frédéric Olivieri.
When I was accepted at La Scala Ballet School I admired all the girls in the upper courses; I thought that they were perfect and all so beautiful.
Her teacher of seven years at the school was Loreta Alexandrescu:
I noted her immediately with her beautiful eyes full of emotion and her wonderful coup de pied. She had a great desire to learn, a great desire to dance. She missed her family so much and every now and then a tear would run down her cheek. I'll never forget her first day of school when, before the first class, her father arrived with a rose.
It was an important day… she would become an artist.
Bianchi started attending performances at La Scala, appreciating the qualities of the Principal Dancers, and especially those of Alessandra Ferri who was the Prima Ballerina Assoluta at the time.
Something that always amazes me is how easy it is to see dancers execute the same steps yet from that you can understand their character and personality, perhaps even more easily than in life. Sometimes we create a mask in everyday life to hide our shyness or hide other problems we may have, but in dance we can't, we must be sincere, transparent, without filters… I dance to convey my feelings and that beauty which is more than us, yet in which we all have a part.
However, immediately after her diploma at La Scala she joined the Rome Opera Ballet for a year, and then went to dance with the ballet company at the Opéra National de Bordeaux, but only for a short while.
The nostalgia to return to Rome, Italy and above all to the person who would later become my husband, Alessandro, was too strong.
So she returned and joined the corps de ballet in Rome.
Since then I've remained with the company in Rome, with two pauses in 2012 and 2014 to give birth to my wonderful children, Margherita and Emanuele.
I asked her when she realised that she had that something extra, that special quality which allowed her to emerge from the corps.
To value what life has given you is one way to love it, and I think that if I have been given the gift of being able to dance well then I must show this to the world. This is maybe the ‘something extra' that I have in my approach to my work: making dance an art, a pleasure and an appreciation each day and in every second of study and performance.
It is difficult for an artist to recognise if they have something different from the others because we are continually looking to improve ourselves, to express more, to arrive at a perfection that is unattainable. However, thanks to many people who have valued and confirmed my talent, showing their feelings after having watched me dance, I have found a confidence which I would have found difficult to find alone, and they have made me conscious of what I have to offer.
Bianchi has something in common with all those star dancers she saw at La Scala as a child: she realises that dedication and hard work are essential to reach the top.
When determination is strong it allows you to achieve great things and get over difficulties because you are looking at what the hard work will bring you, not at the hard work itself. I've always been clear about what I wouldn't give up: the chance to express myself with my body and communicate through dance.
As you will understand from this interview, dance for Rebecca Bianchi is all about interpretation, about giving yourself to a role… giving yourself to dance.
I love ballerinas who are capable of interpreting a part in a unique way, adding their own insights and understanding to all the physical challenges of a role. My method has always been to find something inside me, so that my way to interpret and experience dance is only mine. But having exemplary dancers and great interpreters before you, helps you to become aware of your own defects and helps you to grow. I find it interesting to gather something from dancers I see, but to make it part of me and put my own stamp on it.
Dance for Bianchi is a quasi-religious activity, something mystical and unexplainable.
Dance is part of me, and would be even if I didn't dance. It is something precious which comes from a need to communicate something which is beyond words, and also beyond movement. It is as though dance creates a small opening through which shines a ray of light which we can't fully understand, though we know it is inside us, and sometimes, through our dance and our emotions, it manages to shine and illuminate.
There are moments when I feel as though I'm nearing a divine beauty which allows me to detach myself for a while from our terrestrial reality. They are just fleeting moments, but those moments are so priceless that they justify all the fatigue and work that this profession requires… dance, as with other arts, opens our eyes toward the eternal and gives, to those who watch with an open heart, unique emotions.
It is the spiritual union between dancer and observer that prompts an unexpected reply when I ask her about her favourite videos growing up.
I don't like watching videos of dance because you can't find the same emotions that the interpreters manage to create during a live performance. I don't like to watch myself on video either because it shatters the image that I had while dancing, because by watching you can never have the same sensation as when dancing.
For me, the main purpose of dance is to create a space where you can catch a glimpse of a spiritual truth, a beauty which the earth hides. Dance, like music, can let us experience languages and emotions that we don't know. When I dance I can be myself completely, and it is at that moment, when I empty myself to leave space for what the movement and spirit can inspire, that I am truly happy.
An Italian dance journalist and publicist told me, “Rebecca is a very special person with an inner shining light. Very deep, wise and almost untouched by the unpleasantness of life, as if she were moving in a different frequency”.
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.