Teatro Strehler in Milan has welcomed the young dancers from La Scala's Ballet Academy to its stage during the Christmas period for several years. It's a win-win situation where the theatre sells out its 900 seats for the nine-day run, and the kids get to dance, dance, dance. And dance they do. This isn't a watered-down version with an end-of-term show feeling, but a full on, thoroughly enjoyable — and professional — Nutcracker, with Frédéric Olivieri's demanding choreography (based on the Lev Ivanov) telling a clear and charming story in Roberta Guidi di Bagno's traditional and effective sets.
The only reserve is having adolescents in grey wigs: couldn't Drosselmeyer be in his twenties? No matter, the teenage snowflakes – to who Olivieri has given some demanding steps – are delightfully crisp, the toy soldiers are impressively drilled, and the little rats are scurryingly cute.
Some promising young dancers, and some already fully-fledged, impressed. One who still has some growing to do physically, but already has some very mature aspects to his dancing, was Vincenzo Mola in the pas de trois whose series of precise, clean entrechats-quatre, combined with his cute personality, charmed and delighted the audience.
Two older dancers showed off their ripped abs for the Arabian Dance. Letizia Masini and Riccardo Luli were splendid, especially Masini with her model looks, secure disdain, and sinewy sensuality.
Of dancers in the five principal roles – Giorgia Pasini (Clara), Samuele Gamba (Drosselmeyer), Sebastiano Marino (The Nutcracker), Camilla Cerulli (Sugar Plum Fairy), Giacomo Migliavacca (The Prince) – Cerulli was especially pleasing: she processes a solid technique, throwing off fouettés with doubles like an old pro. Pasini, however, was the real revelation, impressing not only with her dancing but also with her assuredness on stage, her serene smile, and above all her acting talent. The last of these is the most subjective quality and the most difficult to teach. Pasini engaged with all her fellow ‘students' – it's difficult to remember that they are still students – even during the most taxing passages of choreography, managing to seem at ease and looking at them inquiringly, happily, adoringly, but always looking. Some on stage, probably having been in galas and competitions since the age of six, were fixed smile and all-out performers as though the members of the audience were their judges. Pasini no. Natural and believable… a Clara.
This is a dance school that produced Petipa's first Odette-Odile, Pierina Legnani (cursed by generations of ballerinas since, being the first to execute 32 fouettés and thereby setting the standard) and Carlotta Brianza, the first Aurora (again for Petipa) as well as countless other notable dancers including more recent ex-students Carla Fracci and Roberto Bolle – it seems that La Scala's ballet school is still delivering the goods.
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.