Golden anniversaries are occasions to celebrate and for a dancing school what could be better than having Carla Fracci give her first public masterclass; Mats Ek star, Pompea Santoro, teaching contemporary technique; as well as class with Gilbert Mayer and Nicole Cavallin from the Paris Opera Ballet.
But this wasn't in Tokyo or New York, but Gallarate, a town of little more than 50,000 inhabitants, near Milan's Malpensa airport!
Cinzia Puricelli, the director of the Proscaenium school, has big ideas… and good ones. After a morning of teaching show brought everyone to the town's Teatro delle Arti for a double masterclass. It opened with Pompea Santoro working on Mats Ek's contemporary Giselle and was followed by Carla Fracci coaching the classical version. Both used the same musical section: the second act adagio. A wonderful coup de théâtre.
Luxury casting gave Fracci two dancers from La Scala to work with: soloist Vittoria Valerio and principal dancer Claudio Coviello, who have just returned after dancing the roles on tour with the company in China and Japan. They are dancing during the ballet's current run in Milan.
Pompea Santoro was working with two excellent dancers from the EkoDance project: Carlo di Lorenzo and Roberta Inghilterra. Santoro's energetic approach makes her an effective communicator, energising her dancers and the audience. It always fascinates me in these situations – whether it's a masterclass with dancers, singers or actors – how often the subtlest suggestion or gesture from the coach can transform a performance. Every young dancer of talent has the right to work with the greats… as the greats did themselves. They must also have the humility and openness to listen, observe, understand and change, as did di Lorenzo and Inghilterra. Working on contemporary dance technique during a morning class meant that she also had some Willis ready to leap onto the stage from the stalls.
Carla Fracci has a quieter, almost meditative approach, akin to the romantic Giselle that she was coaching. She doesn't stand for any nonsense however, and a sharp, precise comment was never far from her lips. She has a set of keys which allow you to access the very heart of the story and the characters; magic passwords that open secret doors. Although rightly concerned about style, which can make a performance mechanical or magical, most of her comments were about acting. The factor which allows movements to tell a story rather than just making pretty shapes. On stage, it is the difference between leaving an audience indifferent or moving them profoundly.
I asked Fracci the impossible question: how's it done? She answered,
You mustn't show the technique; it's about the emotion, passion, soul and love that brings her to her death after the betrayal by her loved one. Your thoughts as an interpreter need to be infused with truth and made real with every performance, with inspiration from the music and from your partner… it's called creativity.
Claudio Coviello has known Fracci since he was in the Rome Opera Ballet School when she was the Director of the Company.
I've admired her since I was a child and never would have imagined that I'd have the chance to work with her. Thanks to Cinzia, who organised this splendid event with enormous passion, Vittoria and I have had the great fortune to work together.
As the ‘Giselle' of the two, Valerio was especially appreciative:
It was very emotional for me to have the opportunity to work with the greatest Giselle of all time, even for such a short while.
It was especially interesting to listen to her advice and corrections about style, which is fundamental in this ballet. I will treasure each word she said to us and keep this magnificent experience in my heart for always.
Listening to her words about interpretation and style of a ballet that has been her signature piece was a very emotional experience as well as being very useful for us. In a short space of time she was able to convey new sensations to us which we'll take with us forever. It was an unforgettable afternoon for us, but also for each person present in the theatre.
The school opened its doors on 2 October 1966, fifty years to the day before Sunday's gala. Alberto Dell'Orto (still today the director of the theatre) and Silvio Zanella (founder of the town's contemporary art museum) wanted to create the school and entrusted it to Lucia Galli Galletti, a principal dancer at La Scala in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Cinzia Puricelli's life became entwined with that of the school's director:
She was an extraordinary personality with great drive and a strong character. It was she who made me understand that I was capable of teaching dance, and in 1993 she passed the running of the school to me.
The idea of a masterclass was to offer the chance to see important figures in the dance world, up close:
I'm not convinced that social networking is useful on the educational front!
The knowledge, admiration and fondness I have for Signora Fracci, the emblem of Giselle, a figure so distant from today's children, yet so extraordinarily alive because of her wholehearted devotion to love. Also Mats Ek's wonderful choreography I know well, and in Pompea Santoro he found an exquisite interpreter. These elements came together to produce Sunday's event.
Her commitment over the years has resulted in many loyal dancing friends, mostly from La Scala, who teach, coach, collaborate and lend a hand: Max Volpini, Andrea Piermattei, Andrea Boi, Paolo Podini, Vera Karpenko, Roberta Voltolina…
Above and beyond the important dance institutions they have a great and real passion for dance itself, the authentic and true things in life, for dance culture.
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.