Italian producer Daniele Cipriani seems to be resuscitating dance in Italy almost singlehandedly. The first main dance event in the country was conceived by him and presented in mid-July to open the Nervi Festival. It featured Hugo Marchand, Iana Salenko, Sergio Bernal and many other dancers with an international career, who flew into Genoa to dance for the first time after the four-month imposed break. Cipriani is presenting various socially-distanced galas during July and August, but he is also responsible for a coproduction between the Nervi Festival – organised by Genova’s Teatro Carlo Felice – and the Spoleto Festival, with live music from a (socially-distanced) orchestra playing Beethoven’s only ballet score, The Creatures of Prometheus.
The 1801 work was a collaboration with Italian dancer and choreographer Salvatore Viganò. The original scenario of the ballet no longer exists, but a theatre programme for the Viennese premiere gives an idea of the structure:
The basis of this allegorical ballet is the fable of Prometheus. The Greek philosophers, by whom he was known, allude to him thus—they depict him as a lofty soul who drove ignorance from the people of his time, and gave them manners, customs, and morals… Prometheus leads them to Mount Parnassus in order that Apollo, the deity of the arts, may instruct them. Apollo gives them as teachers Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to instruct them in music; Melpomene to teach them tragedy; Thalia, comedy; Terpsichore and Pan, the latest Shepherd’s Dance which the latter has invented, and Bacchus, the Heroic Dance of which he was the originator.
Although the precise association of each section can only be guessed at, many choreographers have put their versions of the ballet on stage, including Serge Lifar, Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton.
This wasn’t the first time that the ballet has been presented under the auspices of Teatro Carlo Felice. Fifty years ago, Carla Fracci appeared in a version by Serbian choreographer Milorad Mišković at Teatro Margherita, the theatre used for the company’s opera and ballet season after bomb damage suffered during the second world war kept the opera house closed until 1991.
The centrepiece in Nervi was the Teatro Carlo Felice Orchestra, with only one player at each music stand and one-metre distancing, but no facemasks, and 15 male dancers provided decoration alongside the music. Beethoven’s score consists of 18 ‘movements’, most only a couple of minutes long, and the easy-listening nature of the music (almost Mozartian) was pleasing in the open-air setting of Nervi’s glorious park by the sea. Young conductor Leonardo Sini was on the podium – he won the First Prize at the Maestro Solti International Conducting Competition in December 2017.
The full title of the Nervi evening was The Creatures of Prometheus – The Creatures of Capucci for the designs for the 15 costumes and masks were by Italian fashion designer, Roberto Capucci.
Capucci has always been more of an artist than a designer, producing clothes that are truly works of art. This has made him popular with stars who want something striking for a special event. He has designed gowns for Hollywood actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson; the tall and slender opera singer Raina Kabaivanska has worn his designs for decades; the Italian scientist, Rita Levi Montalcini, wore a Capucci creation when she was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for medicine; and Silvana Mangano and Terence Stamp wore his clothes in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Teorema.
His productivity is astounding, with the Foundation in his name housing 22,000 designs. Many of his sketches are fantasy adventures, not necessarily ending in a finished product, and some of these designs he labelled ‘theatre costumes’ with a date and his signature. From a hundred of these theatre designs, Capucci, Cipriani and Simona Bucci, responsible for the ‘choreographic movements’, chose 15 creature costumes which have been constructed over the last couple of months after lockdown restrictions were eased. This explains the lack of an overall vision, but being that the creatures sent by Apollo to educate humankind are wide-ranging, there is no reason why the designs should be homogeneous. Maybe to underline this, the company consisted of dancers (some of them chosen during quarantine by online auditions) with varying backgrounds: ballet, contemporary dance, breakdance, and there’s even an aerialist.
Bucci made the most of these varying talents, having artists in front of her who work, or had worked, with the companies of Pina Bausch, Lindsay Kemp, Alvin Ailey, Dimitris Papaioannou, as well as the Italian troupes. One section was a ‘strike a pose’ sequence with lights off and on to reveal a new position, and others were simple walks or struts to show off the costumes. The aerialist twisted around and through a hoop above the orchestra, while the breakdancer – constrained by the gorgeous rigid pleating of his costume – executed a slow-moving controlled series of gymnastic positions. The costumes were constructed under the supervision of the head of Rome Opera’s costume department, Anna Biagiotti. She had the challenge of respecting the designs while giving the dancers the maximum freedom possible. The dancers who leapt and turned the most had easy-flowing costumes such as one that seemed to be made of giant feathers attached to the dancer’s arms and legs, and another that had leaves twining around the dancer’s body. Other costumes were more constricting, and while some were quintessential Capucci – bold rainbow-coloured pleats, ruffs, oriental flourishes, geometric shapes – others seemed a cross between Flash Gordon and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Gold bodypaint let them shimmer.
There are no names attached to the previous comments as it is impossible to single out performers in a group project such as this, so here are all of their names: Hal Yamanouchi, Fabio Bacaloni, Davide Bastioni, Filippo Pieroni, Nico Gattullo, Marco Lo Presti, Roberto Lori, Luca Campanella, Giampiero Giarri, Raffaele Iorio, Antonio Cardelli, Flavio Marullo, Riccardo Battaglia, Luca Giaccio, and Damiano Ottavio Bigi.
Creativity in confinement has led to interesting online projects, and The Creatures of Prometheus demonstrates how restrictions can produce something new and unexpected in live theatre too. Necessity is the mother of invention, but these events are unfortunately only stopgap measures, suitable for this year’s festivals with their pre-established budgets and sponsorship but certainly not solutions to rescue the theatre sector, above all when it moves indoors as the autumn arrives. Even if social distancing is no longer an issue in a year’s time, will the money roll in for festivals in 2021 with a downtrodden economy, and will there be an audience with the possibility to buy tickets if there is an avalanche of job losses after the summer?
Incrociamo le dita.
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.