The new director of La Scala's ballet company, Mauro Bigonzetti, has chosen to present the new version of Swan Lake with in-house casting “to help our dancers grow”. This is very unusual at La Scala, at least for the big repertory pieces.
The young talents are Principal dancer Nicoletta Manni who will open the run tomorrow, 30 June and will dance with a young corps dancer, not yet on a full contract, Timofei Andrijashenko; soloist Vittoria Valerio will dance with Principal Claudio Coviello; and 19-year-old Martina Arduino is paired with Nicola Del Freo, both supplementary corps de ballet members.
It is the second time that Manni has worked with Ratmansky as she was one of the Auroras in his The Sleeping Beauty last October.
It is interesting working on this Swan Lake, because with Aurora I was dancing the role for the first time, whereas I have danced Odette/Odile in other versions, so I am learning to see these characters from a different point of view. I think that for the audience the story is easier to follow even though the characters are multi-layered.
Apart from the work we've done on the technique, which is different to that we are used to, we have worked a great deal on the interpretation and the pantomime which is often pared down and not used to its full advantage. For us it has been wonderful working on this in detail whereas usually it is a secondary consideration.
It has been a privilege to be working with Alexei whose advice enriches us as artists and has also given us an opportunity of rehearsing in a way that is unusual nowadays. I hope that the audience manages to appreciate this work because for us it's been indispensable.
Andrijashenko danced with Manni in The Sleeping Beauty, so he too is returning to work alongside Ratmansky.
Working on this production has given me numerous insights into the relationship between Siegfried and Odette/Odile, and of course it is wonderful to be working with Nicoletta again.
The production that Ratmansky's version is replacing at La Scala is that of Rudolf Nureyev, a version that Claudio Coviello knows well as he was thrust into the limelight in that very production in 2013 when, as a 21-year-old, he was paired with Natalia Osipova on the opening night.
This production is certainly less demanding than Nureyev's on a technical level as Siegfried has only one variation, which is during the ‘black swan' pas de deux. But the variation is complex as there are jumps and fast beats of the legs which are in contrast with the softness of the port de bras.
From the interpretative point of view, the difficulty lies in portraying a rebellious prince who doesn't want to marry and is free of responsibility at the beginning of the ballet, and how he changes after being struck by Odette's extraordinary beauty which makes him vow his eternal love.
Coviello's partner, Vittoria Valerio, has been struck too… by the detailed attention paid to the interpretation during rehearsals.
Odette isn't a creature but a woman with natural expressions and emotions giving the possibility to introduce your own feelings. It is the same for Odile who isn't a black swan but a seductive and malicious woman.
The roles demand a lot technically. Odette needs to be fluid with all the moves tied smoothly together even though the music moves faster than that we are used to. Her fragility contrasts with Odile's strength and in this version the ‘black swan' pas de deux is the most difficult part technically as it is rich with virtuosity.
Martina Arduino, the youngest of the six, says that she's grateful for the opportunity though she realises that it is a ‘great responsibility'.
It is obviously an unforgettable experience to work with someone like Ratmansky, and I too worked on The Sleeping Beauty where I was the Lilac Fairy. I enjoy the precision of working on the fine points for both the technical and interpretative sides. From the first day I experienced strong emotions which I hope I can communicate to the audience.
Nicola Del Freo didn't come up through La Scala's Ballet School, like his partner, but is a product of John Neumeier's Hamburg School and, until joining La Scala two years ago, he was dancing at Berlin's Staatsballett. This will be his first ballet prince.
I was immediately taken by how this Swan Lake has been constructed as a story, especially the finale.
Odette is destined to be a swan forever because the Prince has broken his vow of eternal love. She dives into the lake and he follows her, and they are united in death; their sacrifice removes Rothbart's spell.
Technically speaking, it hasn't been easy to adapt to new forms, but as an interpreter I have found it a great help entering into the details of my character and fully understanding the changing relationships between him and the other characters on stage.
Alexei Ratmansky seems pleased with the decision to use all company members and his six young dancers:
I'm glad that the company has chosen to use its own dancers. It's great to have guests of course, like Zakharova for my Sleeping Beauty here at La Scala, but a chance must be given to young talents.
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.