Rudolf Nureyev’s debut at La Scala was on 9 October 1965 when, finally, the Milanese public had the opportunity to see the Russian dancer that all the newspapers were writing about. With him was Margot Fonteyn, and they danced Romeo and Juliet together.
Nureyev appeared many times at La Scala, but it was not always an easy relationship. On 27 December 1970, following some controversy between the star and the corps de ballet, some fans wrote to the theatre management:
We must not forget that Nureyev has given our dancers priceless advice, both on a technical level and on that of professionality, which means his dedication to the art and his continual drive towards perfection. Who can forget the deafening applause for the corps during Nutcracker, something that happens rarely.
His only partnership with Luciana Savignano came in 1968 for Roland Petit’s Le Poème de l’extase. A year later he would dance again with Fonteyn in Giselle to open the ballet season — it was a work he danced many times at the theatre. In 1971 the journalist Lorenzo Arruga wrote:
This old Giselle has sent me home happy to have breathed ‘dance’.
Again with Carla Fracci, in 1974, he appeared in Swan Lake and, in the same year, he showed an unseen side of his dancing to the Milanese public: Maurice Béjart’s Chant du compagnon errant.
Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet was mounted at La Scala in 1980, which was filmed by Italian TV. Later that year he appeared again as Drosselmeyer-Prince in his version of The Nutcracker.
In the same season his Don Quixote debuted in Milan, and once again he was dancing with Fracci.
In 1988 the couple joined forces again for Flemming Flindt’s restaging of Bournonville’s La Sylphide, though here came the first doubts expressed in newspapers about the quality of his dancing which was losing its shine.
In 1989 when La Scala presented Flindt’s The Lesson at Teatro Lirico in Milan with Nureyev, the theatre was half empty on the opening night, though the critics were positive in their reviews.
Shortly before dying, he said,
Life always marches ahead until a more powerful hand stops it.
That hand arrived on 6 January 1993.
La Scala will be performing a Nureyev evening on 24, 25, 26 and 29 May 2018 with Svetlana Zakharova, Roberto Bolle, Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, and will be performing his version of Don Quixote in July.
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.