Yesterday, Roberto Bolle spoke to the Chamber of Deputies – the Italian Parliament's lower house – pleading for more support for dance in Italy.
Let's tell it like it is: in recent decades Italian dance has been devastated, a impoverishment of which we can only be ashamed.
He stressed the importance and popularity of the dance community:
There are 17,000 dance schools in Italy, with 1,400,000 students, which compares with one million members of football clubs.
Each of the 14 Italian Opera Foundations (fondazioni liriche), which run the main opera houses, used to have its own dance company. Now there are only four left, with two of these – Teatro Massimo in Palermo and Teatro San Carlo in Naples – depleted to a handful of dancers, and they resort to using rehearsal and performance contracts for productions that require a classical corps de ballet.
If we really want to do something and give a breath of oxygen to our agonising ballet crisis, then we must first of all stabilise the companies in Naples and Palermo, and build them up to appropriate numbers.
In Rome there are 60 dancers, but in Naples there are only 15 permanent members of the ballet company.
Something has changed with intendant Stéphane Lissner [formally at La Scala, then Paris Opéra, and now at Teatro San Carlo], but it is not enough.
We will be taking on another 25 dancers to arrive at a corps of 40 on permanent contracts. A good basis which not only shows that we are not in danger but that we are expanding. When I arrived in Naples, I immediately told the then mayor that I wanted to revive dance, which for me is fundamental, with contributions from the City.
Naples allocated 3 million euros and auditors gave the okay to increase staffing levels.
I agree with Roberto Bolle, whom I know very well as we worked together often during my ten years at La Scala, because I understand very well the fundamental role of dance in our Opera Foundations and the virtue of opera and ballet companies working alongside, different but complementary, which together create energy. Between Milan and Paris, I have worked with ballet companies that range from 80 to 150 artists and I know how much human value and expertise these professionals give out.
Bolle read out his solutions to the problem:
Let's start with the Single Fund for Entertainment (FUS). There must be the same amount of money for dance as for opera – I really don't understand why there are 12 points for Tosca and only 7 for Swan Lake.
Italy operates a points system for valuing how much subsidy a production should be awarded. Lissner disagreed,
Opera and ballet have very different costs and you cannot compare Tosca and Swan Lake when there are resident dancers. Staging an opera has more costs with the singers and the sets. They are more ambitious enterprises.
Bolle stood his ground,
The FUS score for ballet must be equal to that of opera, and those points should be reduced for performances by an external company, which today are worth the same as performances by a resident company.
This means that economically many theatres prefer invite visiting dance companies instead of maintaining inhouse companies. Bolle said that doing this would,
Give incentive and financially support those theatres that decide to invest in a corps de ballet and encourage co-productions between theatres as well as tours in other theatres in Italy.
He also pointed out a small, but important, detail.
Changing the name from ‘Fondazioni lirico-sinfoniche' (Opera and Symphonic Foundations) to ‘Fondazioni lirico-sinfoniche e coreutiche' (Opera, Symphonic and Dance Foundations) would be a symbol of the theatre's identity, and special funds could be allocated for the preservation and reconstitution of the permanent dance corps.
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.