Save the best until last. Not a bad programming policy, and with La Scala’s recent triple bill, the last was Maurice Béjart’s Boléro. Obviously, with the first item on the programme being George Balanchine’s Symphony in C it can hardly be the best for many, but the Béjart is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser and whoops and cheers went on for a long time after Ravel’s music had stopped throbbing.
Save the best until last. Now, this is certainly not usual with casting as the first-night cast is usually the one where the theatre fields its best dancers. With a first-night cast (and second through to fifth night casts too) featuring Roberto Bolle, there was abundant applause, but the final two performances left just one opportunity to two less-known, but very impressive dancers, to take their place on the red table: Martina Arduino and Gioacchino Starace.
Both had had single stabs at it the previous season too. I didn’t catch Starace’s performance then, but Arduino’s I did see. I wrote in Dancing Times magazine, “21-year-old Martina Arduino maybe needs to ‘live’ a little more before being convincing. She is technically adept and moves splendidly, but her interpretation lacked bite.”
Well, she appears to have done a Lot O’ Livin’ in the last year, for her performance was transformed – I wonder if she felt that too? There was nothing scholastic about her movements, whereas a year ago I found her too respectful, as though still working in the rehearsal studio instead of performing. Here she was wild and free, sexy in the burlesque-like shoulder rolls and body stroking, and animalesque in the tribal movements. She whipped her pony-tail around with abandon, and like a queen commanded the male dancers beneath her to approach though, with sideways glances, she seemed to be luring them into her snare. Arduino’s found her bite!
Starace’s approach was very different. He began almost cautiously, timidly, and in great contrast with Bolle who is a proud statue from the outset. Starace, whose physique is supple and expressive, emerged from the darkness like a chick from an egg, gradually discovering what his body was capable of and the power it possessed. As the music grew in intensity so he seemed to grow in stature, gaining energy and strength. He wasn’t enticing the men around him, but daring them move as forcefully, and indeed androgynously, as he was, proving that he was the alpha male. It was a seductive performance.
Arduino was also one of the highlights of Symphony in C which was exquisitely danced by the company. She and Nicola Del Freo were the excellent first movement couple for the entire run, meaning that she danced Symphony in C twice (matinée and evening) on the same day she danced Boléro. Phew. She found many joyous suspensions, the choreography seemed to pose no difficulty, and her face glittered like sunbeams dancing on water. Del Freo has become a guarantee of an outstanding performance in everything he touches recently, and he was in fine form here too.
Superb were the others, with Claudio Coviello and Alessandra Vassallo looking as though nothing could be better in the world than dancing Balanchine’s third movement on La Scala’s stage; Maria Celeste Losa sparkled in the fourth movement, though Mattia Semperboni was a little undertone expressively, though always reliable in his dancing. The long second movement was entrusted to Nicoletta Manni and Marco Agostino, but although both did everything they should have, something didn’t quite gel and they seemed to lack communication both with the audience and with each other.
It was fun seeing many of the same soloists in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, which was at the centre of the triple bill. It is a piece that the company knows well, though the dramatic run downstage and back up with the large silk covering almost always fails to cover the entrance and exit of the women, with scampering figures easily seen from the stalls. Joop Caboort and Kylián’s lighting is mysterious and painterly, and the six men and woman are sexy with an ironic wink. In an almost uniformly terrific cast Stefania Ballone, Christian Fagetti and Mick Zeni shone. These are good times for La Scala.