Eleonora Abbagnato, former étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet and director of the Rome Opera Ballet, has two children with her husband, the former footballer Federico Balzaretti – Julia, 10 years old, Gabriel, 7 – who they have raised with his two daughters from a previous relationship. There was a plan in place for Abbagnato to share the stage with her daughter for a brief pas de deux earlier this year. It was not to be, but now on 19 and 22 July at the Teatro Romano in Verona, and then on 23 July at the Nervi Festival, Abbagnato will dance Juliet and her daughter, Julia, will interpret Juliet as a child. The producer Daniele Cipriani has envisaged three scenes inspired by Romeo and Juliet: dancer-choreographers Sasha Riva and Simone Repele will create a piece using music by Tchaikovsky; a scene from Uwe Scholz's Rot und Schwarz (Red and Black created for the Zurich Ballet in 1988) to Berlioz's score is part of the triple bill, and Giorgio Mancini's choreography on Bernstein's West Side Story concludes the programme.
In Julia, I see myself as a child – says Abbagnato – and people call her ‘mini Ele'. She is very determined and puts her heart into everything she does. She grew up watching me from the wings and she likes the stage. She studies at the Rome Opera Ballet School and has already made a brief appearance as little Snow White for Preljocaj, but I certainly will not force her to devote herself to dance. Julia is not the only precocious one in the family though: Gabriel follows in his father's footsteps; he is in the AS Roma Football School.
After the pandemic, there is a great desire to start again. Since becoming director of the company in Rome we have worked a lot on new productions, with both established choreographers and young dance makers. We also present repertoire pieces – in October we will restage Carla Fracci's version of Giselle – but we are evolving according to the public's reaction.
I've had the privilege of working with Petit, Bausch, Forsythe, Neumeier. Then came a new impetus with names such as Christopher Wheeldon, Alexander Ekman, and Crystal Pite. For my generation, the repertoire is fundamental, but for young people we must open up more to the contemporary.
The Italian state broadcaster, the Rai, shows many more ballets now [on specialised channels] and this widens the audience, and also the live streaming in cinemas and online in past years has helped to revive interest.
I think that TikTok supports creativity even in children who don't study dance. Some videos are brilliant, and the kids develop techniques to memorise intricate gestures so quickly that when Julia imitates them, I find it hard to keep up with her.
Eleonora Abbagnato was talking to the Corriere della Sera's Valeria Crippa.
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.