My physique could have led me to sport or cinema, but my passion for dance showed itself at an early age. When I was three years old, I would watch dance on television and try to copy them. When I was five years old, I asked my mother to enrol me in dance and she told me to continue swimming and that if I still wanted to dance the following year, she would do it. The next year I was doing ballet.
I was a disciplined child, but with a lot of energy. I've always had a very responsive and flexible body, a flair for sports, and an innate awareness of the body that I've now learned to call ‘proprioception'. It's a gift that has to be trained, otherwise it will go wasted, but it's a gift.
The dancing school immediately realised that I had something special, though the talent was maybe below the surface. When I was about 14, though, I began to think that I could make dance my profession; I realised that my life would begin and end with ballet.
I had good teachers from the beginning and have had various sources of inspiration. First and foremost, there was Nureyev and Carla Fracci, not only because they guided entire generations of dancers, but because they had a vision: to bring dance to everyone, also outside the theatre. Much of what I have done for dance, I could not have done if they had not preceded me.
I train for six to seven hours every day with class, rehearsals, stretching and sometimes time in the gym. I don't follow a particular diet, but I am very careful about what I eat. It's not a question of calories, of course, because we dancers consume a lot, but of quality. I have practically eliminated meat, especially red meat. I eat fish, vegetables, fruit and, although [the television presenter] Pif publicly teases me for it, lots of seeds and dried fruit. I have never smoked and I only drink wine for a toast. I really love dark chocolate, which stays by me in the studio. I eat small snacks between rehearsals and drink at least seven litres of water a day.
I feel the wear and tear, like all people who work. In the last few years, I have listened more to my body, and I must confess that lockdown was a really difficult and distressing experience, as never before have I felt the fragility of my existence.
I will go on dancing as long as I can if I can maintain a level that satisfies me, if it makes me happy, and if I feel that it's right thing to do. What I like about this phase of my artistic career is my increased maturity on stage, which goes hand in hand with my growth as a human being. There are roles and characters, such as the villain in [the new ballet by Mauro Bigonzetti at La Scala] Madina, that I can only tackle now, discovering creative aspects and nuances that were unthinkable for me before. I think it's natural that what I am and think now is the result of the passing of time, of what I have been and what I have done.
All dancers are dedicated to the pursuit of perfection. We have the mirror as an ally, sometimes loved, though more often hated when it doesn't show us the image of us that we had in mind. It is a constant attempt to grasp what cannot be grasped. Perfection. But this desire is so ingrained in us that it becomes a mental habit, with ethical implications. Not being content and learning to pursue a better ideal of yourself, keeps you humble.
We dancers understand that the body changes when we are 20 years old. We learn at an early age to come to terms with an instrument that is never the same, but changes because of age, injuries, and the pains that accompany us every day and every night that are our scars.
In particular, I remember two [moments when I thought about quitting]. The first was after I'd been living in Milan for three years and I was feeling very homesick. So I begged my mother to enrol me in the first year of secondary school in [my home town] Vercelli, so I would have time to evaluate what I wanted to do; in the end, luckily, dance won out. The second was a few years ago, after a bad back injury. The risk of not being able to recover was very high, but I gave it my all and came back earlier than expected. The critics, who did not know what had happened to me, wrote that I had reached a new level of maturity. It was true.
Many people find it liberating to open up publicly, but I am used to living my deepest feelings in a personal, private, intimate way. I've been used to solitude since I was a boy, and I've grown fond of it. I am one of those men who cries inside and, I assure you, the noise is even louder.
It may sound strange, but I never think about [my body as an object of desire]. My body is an instrument of art for me, like a paintbrush for a painter or a violin for a musician. And then, I think Mandela said, “We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
I am a man like many others, incredibly lazy and a lover of simple things: dinner with friends, a day with the family, to go to the sea whenever I can. I read a lot, I read everything, the newspapers first of all, from all over the world.
I don't think [Covid] has taught us anything. It has left deep wounds in the economic, cultural, human and social fabric. I am not one of those who extolled the wonderful opportunity of the lockdown, it was a tragedy for too many, for goodness sake, and still is. I believe that it is now extremely important to remain united, and to leave no one behind. From such a serious fall we can only rise up together, trying to lay the foundations for a more solid, fair and cohesive system. I hope that this awareness, if it exists, does not turn into fear.
Yes, [I'm fortunate] but I think I have honoured my good fortune with intelligence.
Roberto Bolle was talking with Dario Cresto-Dina, La Repubblica
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.