Eleonora Abbagnato, who became director of the Rome Opera Ballet two years ago (while retaining her position as Étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet, and commitments such as a panel judge for the reality show Amici) has brought several works to the Italian capital that she has danced in the French capital. So it was with Jerome Robbins' The Concert.
The piece saw the company in good shape, though – as with the Manon ‘drunk' pas de deux at La Scala – the comedy doesn't get belly laughs as it does in Paris or London. It is something I have mulled on and, although it is probably a combination of how Italians play comedy and how Italian audiences react to comedy, I haven't come up with a convincing explanation. Italian friends tell me to be quiet when I laugh at stage business in a Rossini comedy, and are bewildered by loud laughing during Met radio broadcasts of comic operas, which I think is telling. In Rome, the only audible reactions were from children in the audience. The ‘Raindrop' Prelude, which slowly sees the company coming together under a single umbrella is poetic and devoid of gags, and was perhaps the most successful of the scenes.
Two of the cast stood out. Alessio Rezza as The Husband was an overexcited, naughty, Groucho Marx figure, recalling his fellow Italian Luigi Bonino, at his most manic, in Roland Petit's La Chauve-souris. His outstanding interpretation didn't interfere with his admirable technical precision. The Ballerina was played by Susanna Salvi who is just gorgeous: pretty as a picture and with a beautifully proportioned body that she uses with grace and, in The Concert, irony.
Back in 1996, Angelin Preljocaj asked himself why the subject of the Annunciation had fascinated painters for centuries yet had been ignored by choreographers, even with its strong physical themes. His answer was to create L'Annonciation for two dancers. It felt dwarfed on the stage of the Teatro Costanzi. It is an intimate piece, and much is lost in a large opera theatre. It was the same when La Scala put it on their even bigger stage in 2004. Notwithstanding the distance, intensity did arrive from a powerful Abbagnato as the Archangel Gabriel, who danced with the willowy and touching Rebecca Bianchi as Mary.
Another comic piece, Alexander Ekman's Cacti, closed the programme. Ekman's website says, “Cacti is an affectionate, pointed and often hilarious deconstruction of the affectations of dance.” Again, no hilarity in Rome – apart from the falling cat – but then, Cacti can also be seen as a touching, amusing reflection of contemporary art and its meaning… or lack of. There's no need for belly-laughs, and as such, it worked well. There were smiles on the inside.
Ekman's work is sly, arch, and witty in its intended presumptuousness. Someone devoid of irony presumably thinks it just another example of contemporary dance but, like The Concert, it is full of digs and references which you either get, or you don't. Search for significance when the cacti are brought on in vain: they could just as easily be teapots or phalluses. Ekman is playing with his audience and, as the recorded voice-over (badly amplified in Rome) verbosely and pompously rambles on about ‘meaning', he is taking a jibe at critics too. Whether a performer on stage, or a creator offstage, the written word can strike like a dagger. The artist exposes himself and is vulnerable; this is what Ekman reflects visually when his ensemble eventually appears ‘naked' in skin-coloured leotards… or maybe I'm searching for too much meaning.
The company worked as a precision machine and the lighting team impressively got the complex sequence of cues bang on. Virginia Giovanetti and Giacomo Luci were convincing as the central couple, but the piece relies on the company, and here it was committed, rigorous, and playful.
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.