If you visit NASA's website, they define a protostar as the “hot core at the heart of the collapsing cloud that will one day become a star”.
19-year-old Martina Arduino, who graduated from La Scala's Ballet Academy just a year ago was entrusted last night, as her first ever principal role(s), with the Odette/Odile characters in Alexei Ratmansky's new Swan Lake. She is not yet a star, but she's certainly a protostar.
While I would not suggest that the others on stage represented a ‘collapsing cloud', Arduino was the hot core of the evening. She is lovely to look at, slender and graceful, and possesses a solid technique which, amazingly, took her through the complete ballet without any major problems. Yes, she travelled a lot during her 32 fouettés, and yes, her slow pirouettes at the end of the white swan pas de deux were a little hesitant, but I've seen many big names do far worse, and that was about it… the rest was all there.
And – and this is a big ‘and' – she danced the ballet without having had a stage rehearsal, it was the first time she'd performed with the rest of the cast, the sets and the lighting. Remarkable. She also meted out her energy to arrive comfortably (at least she looked comfortable) to the end. Not easy with no experience: during the last year she's been playing various fairies and other soloist roles as well as dancing with the corps de ballet, where she is contracted just for the current season. I imagine that will change very soon.
To pile on the pressure, this was no matinee for the schools but there were men in black tie and women in Armani who had paid full whack for their tickets. They got their money's worth. La Scala's gamble (and that of Ratmansky) paid off.
As a protostar, the thing that's exciting about Arduino is that so much is already firmly in place; if this is just the beginning…!
She has a personality which came through readily as Odile, but also in Ratmansky's very human approach to the final act where she evoked pathos as the heartbroken Odette. Arduino finds every balance without trouble, including after each of her turns in attitude during the ‘black swan' variation (in this production there are black swans, eight, but only in the last act; during the third act, Odile is no swan). She has a soft, flowing port de bras, even when her legs are working overtime, like during the long series of échappés during the coda of the same pas de deux. Although she's tall and willowy, her chaînés turns sparked and her manège sequences were perfectly with the music which is played up to speed, Tchaikovsky's speed. In fact, her musicality lets the music underpin her dancing which makes every step more effective. At the end, she gives us heart which, I believe, you've either got or you haven't got.
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Now to the rest.
Strangely, the general look of the corps has got a little raggedy in respect to the premiere, two weeks ago, and some of the others making debuts last night were a little rough around the edges too.
Nicola Del Freo's Siegfried was workman-like and he got the job done. His variation was executed with confidence and lands were firm but, as a prince, he's not charming.
All three in the pas de trois – Agnese Di Clemente, Daniela Cavalleri and Walter Madau – had some problems, though Di Clemente had many fine moments, and Madau showed off some masterful leg-work and light, suspended jumps. He played Benno, who I suppose would have been Siegfried's best man if the romance hadn't gone so horribly wrong, and did so with his usual eager enthusiasm.
The four little swans – Stefania Ballone, Lusymay Di Stefano, Christelle Cennerelli and Denise Gazzo – were beautifully together with carbon-copied movements and even the dreaded heads where perfectly the same.
The character dances of the ball scene challenge the dancers greatly and I hope it is something that they'll eventually rise to. Just now, it's not quite enough: not clipped enough, not tight enough, always seeming to lag behind the rapid pace of the music. Of course, in Russia, there are specialists for this style of dancing, but the La Scala dancers came close.
Mick Zeni doesn't get to do much as Rothbart, but is always commanding in everything he does. And as for Timofej Andrijashenko – another dancer plucked from the chorus! – it was good to see the first night Siegfried back with the corps, as stated in his contract, and looking thoroughly pleased to be there, giving his all as one of the featured couples in the first act waltz. But, like Martina Arduino, I think his days as an extra corps member are numbered.
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.