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La Scala Opens
Valentina Bonelli reviews the opening gala at La Scala in Milan
After six months of lockdown, La Scala Ballet returned to the stage with a gala especially conceived with the new anti-Covid rules. An evening of great expectations, with a more symbolic than artistic value: it was starting again that was important. With only 700 spectators out of a capacity of 2000, the effect in the theatre was strange, with all those empty stalls, even six following in a row, and the boxes occupied by one person (you can sit only beside a relative). A very safe set-up, with every spectator, admitted after taking their temperature, forced to wear a mask all the performance long.
To celebrate the event, all the La Scala board was in the audience: the new superintendent, Dominique Mayer, and the outgoing ballet director, Frédéric Olivieri, greeting us from the royal box together with choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti. La Scala Orchestra, placed on the back of the stage to keep distance, received a long applause while entering, the musicians too wearing masks. The covered orchestra pit became a very effective stage, extended towards the audience, with dancers entering from the stage boxes.The ballet programme also strictly respected Italian rules, according to which it is possible to dance on stage only if keeping distance or in a solo or as a couple living together.
Chosen to open the gala, the pas de trois from Le Corsaire gave the chance to dance together to partners in life Martina Arduino as Medora and Marco Agostino as Conrad, along with (a distanced!) Mattia Semperboni as Ali. The choreography was taken from Anna-Marie Holmes’s production restaged at La Scala in 2018. Considering their many months of inactivity, doing class and practising at home without any support by the company, the three dancers were brave to debut with such a technical piece. Principal Martina Arduino is a strong dancer as a technique, as she proved in the fast manège of piqués in her variation and in fouettés (double for the first ones) in the coda. Soloist Marco Agostino, a dancer with a talent for character roles like Conrad, was appreciated for his bold attitude and joy in jumping. Reprising the role of Ali in which he first made his mark, corps de ballet member Mattia Semperboni proved again how talented he is, although rarely scheduled in principal roles. His entrées are powerful in the Russian style taught by Holmes, the manège of coupés jetés in his variation is sharp, but especially impressive are the tours à la seconde in the coda: Semperboni is a natural turner, an unrivalled specialist of pirouettes.
Principals Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko were the other couple on stage. They danced the bedroom pas de deux from Roland Petit’s Carmen, a suite in their repertory now a favourite for galas. Rehearsed by Luigi Bonino, Manni and Andrijashenko challenged themselves, as they don’t represent the classic Carmen and Don José imagined by the choreographer. With her more contemporary than feminine body and attitude, she conquers with the sharp execution of her variation, portraying a Carmen of the new generation in her way of seducing Don José. Fair and Nordic instead of dark and Mediterranean, Andrijashenko has an unexpected side, seductive and sexy while dancing his variation torero style, lighting a cigarette while looking at Carmen, mining the erotic moments of the choreography.
Guests Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli, by now an artistic couple, chose once again to present the 'abandonment' pas de deux from Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc, premiered last summer at an Italian festival. In the meantime, they have refined their instinctive yet touching interpretation, showing a more confident execution: as is known, Bonelli, unable to rehearse with Preljocaj, learned the piece from Ferri. Romanticism was still more prevalent than eroticism, but there was a more conscious seduction from the woman and a more excited abandonment in the man.
For a female distanced couple, Mauro Bigonzetti signed a new pas de deux on Mozart’s music, Do a Duet, choreographed in his typical style: pointe shoes, body contractions, flexed feet, arms moving furiously. Pas de deux created to perform in galas are becoming a speciality for Bigonzetti. This time he chose two versatile dancers, Antonella Albano and Maria Celeste Losa, a principal dancer and a soloist with quite different bodies: the first short and strong, the second tall and light. A little divertissement, appreciated by the audience.
Étoile Svetlana Zakharova, who joined La Scala after a ten-hour flight and difficult connections, danced her pièce de résistance, The Swan, a harp and a cello on stage. A miniature that shows more and more suffering over twenty years, following the changes to the ballerina’s body, increasingly slender and abstract, expressive through her arched feet in bourrée, the lightness of the port de bras, her tragic face.
In contrast, the Prince variation from Nureyev’s Sleeping Beauty, danced by principal Claudio Coviello, was a hymn to musicality, a symphonic poetry as Tchaikovsky’s violin. The best performer of Nureyev’s ballet at La Scala, Coviello transformed the (too) intricate combinations of the choreography in a natural flow of steps, sharp yet exquisite in embroidering the little batteries, soft in the ballon during the high jumps. His face is always inspired by the role, even in a gala.
After a regulated interval, the second part of the gala was devoted to a favourite ballet in Roberto Bolle’s current repertory, Maurice Béjart’s Boléro, a guarantee for selling out for La Scala at every performance, even in Covid time. While the Italian fans of our étoile crowded the theatre and acclaimed his performance, some critics don't appreciate Bolle’s interpretation, especially the older generation, remembering the dancer symbol of this ballet, Jorge Donn. Bolle, in excellent form at 46 and after the lockdown, got up, danced and succumbed on the red table in a totally different way: a contemporary idol, a sculpted man of perfect beauty, algid and distant, he dances to be adored.