On 23 September, La Scala opened its doors for dance for the first time since February. It was a gala which had four showings, the last being yesterday.
Social distancing in the auditorium was respected, as with the concerts which experimented with live theatre before the summer, by limiting the public to 800 – usually, 2,000 seats are available. Some boxes had just one occupant, others two or four (in theory, from the same household). The orchestra was ranged across the stage area within an acoustic box surrounding it, and the dancers performed on the raised orchestra pit, which must have been pleasingly springy for them because it amplified greatly the noise of jumps and runs.
The dancers who danced together were also offstage couples, except for Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli. Ferri explains,
We’re a working couple, in the UK it’s known as a bubble: a group of workers who dance exclusively together without coming in to contact with those in the other bubbles. And we’re all constantly monitored with testing. In this period, I’ve only danced with Federico.
I’m not sure what rule applied to the male corps de ballet who sweatily flopped together across the top of Maurice Béjart’s Boléro table during the last moments of the gala – maybe they all held their breath and then there was a rush for the showers?
The gala was mixed – lockdown has not treated everyone kindly, and some showed that months of home stretching can’t make up for daily classes, rehearsals and performances. However, Martina Arduino, who was paired with her boyfriend Marco Agostino for the Le Corsaire pas de trois, which opened the evening, smiled serenely as though she’d never been away.
Ferri was affecting, and one of the true centres of emotion in the gala. The famous neck-swinging pas de deux from Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc was beautifully judged and Bonelli showed why he’s everyone’s favourite partner. Ferri communicates an intense emotional interiority in the subtlest of ways, like the slow, earnest rising to (her beautifully arched) half-point to kiss him before they start the passionate spinning sequence. She turns the audience into voyeurs by the intimacy of the way she pushes her head under Bonelli’s arms and twists herself around him – only the two of them exist… no orchestra, no audience – and he was equally touching in response.
Another who pressed the right emotional buttons was Svetlana Zakharova. Her Dying Swan seemed more vulnerable than I remember it a few years ago, less clean-cut and more quivery, more vulnerable, and her exquisite proportions never fail to charm me every time. How delightful, too, to see the harpist and cellist dimly lit behind her and participating in the applause.
The same too for the violinist seen playing the melody for Rudolf Nureyev’s infamous solo for the Sleeping Beauty prince, a piece which works so much better outside the context of the ballet where it can clash with the 19th-century steps that surround it. Here it was interpreted by a beautifully controlled Claudio Coviello. I have often mentioned his technique, and indeed he rarely puts a foot wrong (so to speak), but he was also intense in his intention which changes the solo from being an eight-minute technical exercise to an involving piece of dance theatre.
A new creation called Do a duet by Mauro Bigonzetti gave space for Antonella Albano and the willowy Maria Celeste Losa to shine. It was a case of Celeste Losa ‘urging her height’, but as Hermia would have said, “I am not yet so low but that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.” In fact, Bigonzetti put in many playful moments, set to the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No 25 – the one used for the opening credits of Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus – a piece that’s dramatic but also optimistic, which is a helpful metaphor for these times.
Another offstage couple dancing together was La Scala principals Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko. They are not dancers I would automatically associate with Roland Petit’s Carmen, yet they were both superb in a tribute to the recently departed Zizi Jeanmaire. They were mischievous and sexy, and captured the essence of the choreographic style. And Manni looked wonderful in her short, black Zizi-wig.
The evening finished with Roberto Bolle returning to Béjart’s Boléro, making it his third outing with a series of performances since he first danced it at La Scala in 2018. It’s a role he obviously intends to make his own, and he looked delighted as he received his applause.
Martina Arduino – Marco Agostino – Federico Fresi
Pas de trois, Atto II
Choreography Anna-Marie Holmes from Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev
Antonella Albano – Maria Celeste Losa
Do a duet
Choreography Mauro Bigonzetti
The Sleeping Beauty
Choreography Rudolf Nureyev
Nicoletta Manni – Timofej Andrijashenko
Choreography Roland Petit
The Dying Swan
Choreography Michail Fokin
Alessandra Ferri – Federico Bonelli
Pas de deux – Act III
Choreography Angelin Preljocaj
With Massimo Garon, Christian Fagetti, Nicola Del Freo, Gabriele Corrado
Choreography di Maurice Béjart
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.