The Ballet School of La Scala's Academy have just finished a short run of their “end of year” show. For many, it will be their last appearance as students.
An effective défilé by the school (and La Scala Ballet Company) director Frédéric Olivieri set to the march from Tannhäuser was followed by Roland Petit's Gymnopédie. The piece is extracted from his 1986 work Ma Pavlova, and Erik Satie's music does much of the work as with such a winning, seductive, and short score, it would be difficult to go wildly wrong. However here, Petit is at his best and the piece was beautifully performed by Samuele Gamba in the first Gymnopédie, and then the secure, eloquent Daniele Bonelli took over and shared the stage with the elegant and alluring Letizia Masini, a ballerina who was outstanding in Nutcracker last December.
Angelin Preljocaj's La Stravaganza is an odd choice for a group of teenage dancers, but never underestimate the ability of young people to tap into something deeper when challenged to do so, and young dancers are a special category with already a lifetime of discipline to enable them to graduate from an academy such as La Scala's.
La Stravaganza sees six pairs of dancers divided into two groups. The first are dressed simply in cream-coloured dresses or trousers and dance in Neo-Classical style to Vivaldi. The second group wear Vermeer inspired costumes, masking any classical lines, yet they are accompanied by electronic music, and occasionally they move in silence. While there is no story as such, Preljocaj's general idea is that of immigration and the contrast of cultures. Preljocaj is the son of immigrants from modern-day Montenegro who settled in France, where he was born. He created the piece for New York City Ballet in 1997.
As the contrasting groups come together there is mutual curiosity with an exchange of techniques and musical styles, and the maturity of La Scala's students as they explored each other, and in doing so, themselves, was commendable. It is the sort of intimate eye contact and touching that would have your average adolescent giggling and blushing.
As an intercultural romance blooms between two of the dancers, the man (Tommaso Calcia) removes his restricting 17th century jacket, enabling him to move together with the woman (Linda Giubelli). The metaphors are many. It is a duet danced with tenderness — both Calcia and Giubelli are committed interpreters and fine dancers — but as the man returns toward his group a backcloth comes down between him and them (he chooses to not return, or they decide to exclude him?); and as she returns to her group they seem not to allow her back in (or does she choose to remain outside?) The couple have contaminated themselves by their newfound knowledge, or they are now contaminated in the eyes of others?
Maurice Béjart's Gaîté Parisienne closes the programme. The school last presented the piece in 2013 when a young Angelo Greco played Bim (Béjart himself) with Jacopo Tissi, Martina Arduino and Mattia Semperboni among the cast. Greco is now a Principal Dancer at San Francisco Ballet, Tissi is First Soloist at the Bolshoi, Arduino has just been nominated Principal at La Scala, and Semperboni is currently making waves at La Scala with his star turn as Ali the slave in Le Corsaire.
There is no shortage of new talent in the current outing however. Alessandro Paoloni played Bim, the central character. It's a firecracker of a role, requiring the interpreter to be virtuosic and ooze personality, and Paoloni ticked all the right boxes.
Bim, the young Béjart, is surrounded by real situations and people (the Paris Opera, Madame Rousanne, his dancing teacher) as well as influencers and heroes (Offenbach, Ludwig II of Bavaria). It's quite a hotchpotch, with ballet parodies — a leopard-skin cavalier and a ballerina crowned with a gigantic feather — and ballet references, like Madame Rousanne being Carabosse and Bim's six friends as the fairies bearing gifts, each with a short variation. In short, there are plenty of characters to satisfy the demands of a ballet school show.
Béjart said that Offenbach “enchanted” his youth. Répétition au violon was one of his first choreographies and used Offenbach's music. At 22, he danced Massine's choreography of Gaîté Parisienne in London, and his first experience directing an opera was The Tales of Hoffmann.
Alessandro Cavallo showed off his technical wizardry playing Offenbach which was both impressive and comic. Giacomo Migliavacca stood out as one of Bim's six friends as he turned and turned… and turned! He should however tone down his grin, which can appear fixed.
Letizia Masini shone in the pas de deux of the two lovers, ably partnered by the broad-shouldered Riccardo Luli.
Camilla Cerulli, an excellent Sugar Plum Fairy last year, was ‘the young girl in white' and she hopped and skipped her way through the role with gusto and freshness. She is a dancer who is already strikingly assured and excites with her technical ease.
Some will enter La Scala's corps, many will leave the country to be able to continue dancing, but it remains that Italy has dance in its DNA.
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.