The Covid-safe dance piece 4 stagioni (Four Seasons) was created for Rome Opera Ballet after the opera, dance and concert summer programme at the Caracalla Baths was cancelled in May. Opera Roma decided to use the much larger stage and seating area of Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) to present two new works – a Rigoletto and the 4 stagioni – as well as several concerts. The Roman stadium has passed from chariot-racing to concerts by The Rolling Stones and can accommodate 300,000 spectators.
The choreographer Giuliano Peparini was chosen by the company’s director Eleonora Abbagnato to create a piece for the vast stage, which followed the government’s safety guidelines. There were masks of various types, gloves, veils, and distanced dancing. The show’s subtitle is “Là dove il cuore ti porta” (Where the heart leads you) and it follows the seasons of a relationship. In Rome, each season saw a new couple, starting with spring (infatuation), summer (passion) but then passing towards cosiness, boredom, infidelity, and so on. Abbagnato generously kept herself offstage to allow her dancers the chance to shine after the (first) period of lockdown.
At Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, where the production had been brought on the first date of what was to have been an Italian and French tour, but is now currently on hold, there was the Daniele Cipriani Company of dancers, an ad hoc troupe. Here there was one couple for all seasons: Eleonora Abbagnato and Cuban dancer Javier Rojas Hernandez. Tour de force performances kept them onstage for most of the show, with changes of costume while offstage, hers created by Dior. Set designer Andrea Miglio filled the stage with battered leather Chesterfield sofas and it was on and around these that their love story played out.
Hernandez is a good-looking dancer and technically very fine, but Abbagnato has a stellar shine. When she looks, she sees. Her glance is always engaged and meaningful, and physically she is still glorious although, as a Paris Opera Ballet étoile, she’s reached retirement age at 42.
They slip and slide and cartwheel across the sofas in enthusiastic flirting, moving from desire, to boredom, and then to mutual hostility, sometimes surprisingly violent. Abbagnato wears a half-face transparent mask when they are close together which gives her the appearance of a Stepford wife, but obviously it is necessary.
The good supporting company has multiple changes of costume, moves the many wooden scenic elements around the stage, and dances well with very engaging performances from two mime artists who also dance while surreally commenting on the action.
The score was cooked up from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, with some atmospheric sounds, a pinch of Scarlatti, a sprinkle of voiceover, a few drops of song… you get the idea, it was a rich concoction. Even more so the visual effects: projections, smoke, a wind machine, feathers bursting from a sofa, autumn leaves floating down from the fly tower (cue Les feuilles mortes), rain with real water, strobe lighting. Peparini has lots of ideas but crams too many together as though he’s not aware of when enough is enough. Although it was a little more than an hour long, to avoid an interval, he didn’t know when to stop the show either. Just as the audience raised its hands to applaud, there was another segment, and another, and even after the dancers’ entrances for their applause, it kept on going. Trying to be generous by offering a big chunk of high-calorie cake is kind, but it can make the eater feel queasy rather than satisfied.
This is a pity, because the heart of the show is in the right place, Peparini is clever at moving groups – especially problematical with the safety guidelines to observe – and Miglio’s wood and leather scenery, together with the projections resulted in some dramatic stage pictures. It’s a good show, and with the two leads it is winning, but some trimming would make it tighter, give it greater impact, and leave the audience wanting more.
Eleonora Abbagnato and Javier Rojas Hernandez in 4 stagioni, photos by Graham Spicer