Sabrina Brazzo, former Principal Dancer at La Scala – but still dancing wonderfully – is dyslexic, and she has put her story onstage.
Dyslexia isn’t just about difficulty with reading and writing, but can cause a range of problems which make day to day life a challenge. Many dyslexic students can get confused in following sequences and instructions, so put a musical and physically gifted child into a dance class and there will be complications. If you find difficulty in understanding ‘left’ or ‘right’, and if you are puzzled looking into a mirror, or seeing a teacher facing you whose movements are ‘mirrored’, then a classical dance class is maybe the last place a dyslexic child wants to be.
Not Sabrina. She found techniques to help her. When Sabrina travels on the metro, all the stations look the same with only jumbled-up letters to tell them apart. What to do? Count! Duomo to the Central Station? That’s four stops. Pagano to San Babila. Six… Easy! Though of course, it’s not easy at all.
Many people at school think you are stupid, some probably call you names, your self-esteem is low, and it would be easier to shut yourself in your bedroom and not expose yourself to more ridicule. Sabrina is emotion personified, but under the tulle and the big smile is a steely core. It took her to the top at La Scala.
My Artistic Life: Stories of an Ordinary and Extraordinary Dyslexia uses some specially created choreographies in different styles to tell this inspirational story, with voiceovers recounting some of the key points in a loosely biographical way. We hear her parents worrying that their toddler isn’t talking, that she doesn’t follow instructions, that she sometimes seems to be in her own little world.
The first danced piece finds a blindfolded white swan, Sabrina, with real-life husband Andrea Volpintesta (another La Scala dancer, who also choreographed this piece to Tchaikovsky’s music). He guides her with firm hands until her blindfold comes off and she is free to fly.
The most gripping part of the evening came from the Accademia Kataklò and their Athletic Dance. Powerful, tribal forces are represented in Giulia Staccioli’s impressive choreography. Sabrina tries to join the throng, but remains an outsider. Bars which carry her across the stage as though part of a sacrificial ritual, turn into barres for dance. She rises above the crowd and leaves them writhing on the floor as she goes on to bigger and better things. She puts on her pointe shoes and comes into her own. It is a neat allegory, well told.
A witty piece with and by Giorgio Azzone has him asking Sabrina questions while she dances her answers. The ‘interview’ maintains a quick rhythm, and manages to be both fun and informative.
A passionate Tango by Massimiliano Volpini, danced by Sabrina Brazzo and Andrea Volpintesta, symbolises their relationship, as Sabrina’s voice offstage talks about finding love and becoming a mother.
Anna Maria Prina, the director of La Scala’s Ballet School when Sabrina was a student, has devised a short section where she is giving a masterclass with members of Brazzo and Volpintesta’s own company, Jas Art Ballet. She calls on Sabrina to help out with a dyslexic young girl who is having problems keeping up: and left… and right… and 1, 2, 3… 2, 2, 3… Verbal instructions can be confusing to a dyslexic child.
The evening finishes with a section from another Swan Lake, one that Jas Art Ballet premiered recently with choreography by Azzone, which, with powerful leaps around her, sees Sabrina Brazzo rise triumphant, far away from the blindfolded swan, lost and confused, that was presented at the start of the programme.
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.