Giulietta is the title of a new evening of dance for the Italian summer, and where better to open the mini tour than in Giulietta's hometown: Verona.
One of the Juliets of the evening was played by ten-year-old Julia Balzaretti, the daughter of former Paris Opera Ballet étoile and current director of the Rome Opera Ballet, Eleonora Abbagnato, who played an adult Juliet. The piece – called Giulietta, and one of the three main works of the programme – was conceived by the choreographer-dancers Sasha Riva and Simone Repele: a young girl, in her makeshift hideaway made from bedsheets, reads the prologue of Shakespeare's play with a torch and imagines herself older with a Romeo of her own. However, even in the girl's fantasy world, the story ends in tragedy. Riva and Repele mounted their story to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy played by two excellent pianists who were onstage throughout the evening – Marcos Madrigal and Alessandro Stella.
Riva played Romeo as an Italian 1950s wide-boy with an exaggerated swagger, seducing a shy Abbagnato who was dressed identically as her younger self. Repele plays young Juliet's imaginary friend – it is his voice in her head that we hear reciting the Shakespeare sonnet at the opening – accompanying her towards adulthood. Riva and Repele have a unique vocabulary of movement, often clown-like with tragi-comic touches, and their playfulness was ideal for creating a naïve world for Julia Balzaretti to inhabit. Julia was totally believable in her role being mercifully devoid of cutesy acting.
Abbagnato oozes class in everything she does. She doesn't have a warm stage presence but a fascinating one – she's very cool and very regal. Maybe she's not the first dancer who springs to mind for Juliet, but in this piece she is an imaginary older version of the little girl and not Shakespeare's Juliet. Indeed, she comes across as a mother onstage as she is, offstage, to Julia.
Giulietta closed the evening, but Abbagnato was again superb in the pas de deux from Uwe Scholz's Rot und Schwarz (based on Stendhal's novel Le Rouge et le Noir) with which it began. Scholz used music from Hector Berlioz's symphonie dramatique Roméo et Juliette for the intense love duet. Abbagnato danced with the recently promoted Michele Satriano who is now a primo ballerino with the Rome Opera Ballet. A white cross above white bedsheets represented her dilemma as she is torn between her desire for the young antihero of Stendhal's novel and being true to her husband and her religious faith. He is flippant, she earnest. The contrast between passion and prayer, and the stop-start, yes-no nature of this long and stamina-demanding pas de deux is a gift for dancers who are able to inhabit a character and the convincing performance at Verona earned them vociferous applause.
The central work of the evening was a new creation by Giorgio Mancini called Rainbow, Love & Peace to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story Suite for two pianos. The only woman (Rebecca Bianchi, étoile of the Rome Opera Ballet, making a return to the stage after giving birth to her fourth baby three months ago) is in red while the five men are in black. As they discover the colours that they too have inside they lose their black outer garments and each one is a colour of the rainbow, representing peace and LGBT+ rights: there is a gay love duet between the Vienna State Opera étoile Davide Dato and former Mariinsky dancer Vsevolod Maievskyi. The idea is fine, the music is wonderful, but the steps are those of the centre-work in a ballet class – though that was probably the idea – with the one who turns, the one who jumps and so on, as they discover their strengths and show off their technique. For this to truly work and excite the men would have to be perfectly together which is difficult for an ad hoc group: aside from Bianchi, Dato and Maievskyi, there was Tommaso Beneventi (Swedish Royal Ballet), Lorenzo Aliberti (Ballett X Schwerin – Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater), and again Michele Satriano (Rome Opera Ballet). No matter, it is an exuberant piece with its heart in the right place.
Linking the three main works were Riva and Repele in their piece Blanc e noir to music by Charles Ives. They were enchanting and elegant as they led the two pianists to their pianos with religious solemnity as the lights came up, and tender and full of pathos in their short duet.
Giulietta, with its thematic threads of colour and love that linked the various pieces, was an ideal programme in both length and mood for an exceptionally warm Veronese summer night.
Daniele Cipriani's production, Giulietta, was performed on 19 and 22 July 2023 at the Teatro Romano in Verona, and at the Nervi Festival on 23 July.
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.