La Valse / Symphony in C / Shéhérazade is a daring triple bill, and it was admirably performed by a very fit Teatro alla Scala Ballet company. This very well balanced programme was conceived by Mauro Bigonzetti - one of the most internationally acclaimed Italian choreographers of the 21st century - during his time as director of the Milanese company. The two pieces alongside Balanchine’s masterpiece (Symphony in C) were world premieres: Shéhérazade was created by Eugenio Scigliano (who has made a name for himself in many works including pieces for Aterballetto and Balletto di Toscana Junior) and La Valse was choreographed by Stefania Ballone, Matteo Gavazzi and Marco Messina, three dancers of the company.
These three brave choreographers not only had to create to the music of La Valse following in the illustrious footsteps of masters such as Nijinska, Fokine, Ashton and Balanchine, but they had to choreograph together. Taking this into account, the results of this abstract ballet were particularly homogeneous with very ethereal partnering sections which featured a strong use of the upper body and reminiscences of fragmented quasi-waltz movements, as suggested by Ravel’s music. A soundbox-shaped structure that rose from the backdrop surrounded the scene and succeeded in both embracing and amplifying the moderately contemporary movements. The bronze and ivory-coloured costumes inspired by the 1920s didn’t really highlight the movements of the dancers and the shoes gave a slightly peculiar look to their feet. The silent prelude was effective in emphasizing the ensuing growing tension of the score, which cumulates in a dancing ecstasy, as envisioned by the composer.
As a choreographer, Bigonzetti definitely knows how complicated it is for young emerging talents to get a career started. Historically, La Scala’s mission has been more concerned with preserving the great repertoire than investing in young choreographers, but this admirable initiative does credit to the management of the theatre. The general manager Alexander Pereira has already demonstrated a willingness to nurture up and coming young generations, giving the opportunity to singers from the Academy of Teatro alla Scala to perform in Operas, by programming special productions for children and now by encouraging young choreographers as well. Hopefully similar future initiative will overcome the lack of a new generation of Italian Choreographers. As the great John Cranko said talking about the Noverre-Gesellschaft: “Choreographers need light, stage, dancers, costumes, time to rehearse and last but not least: an audience.” In fact without this successful Stuttgart platform, groundbreaking masters such as Neumeier, Kylián, Forsythe, Duato and Scholz might not have had the chance to discover and develop their talents. I would love to see a similar framework in Milan to foster creativity and allow younger dancers of the company to experiment with choreography.
The centrepiece of the evening was Symphony in C, originally called Le Palais de Cristal, George Balanchine’s nod to France, the birthplace of classical ballet. This showed an incredibly fit, clean and well drilled company, despite the resilient Balanchine steps. Especially noteworthy was the joie de vivre expressed by the first couple of soloists, the radiant and sparkling Martina Arduino with a very secure and Prince Charming looking partner Timofej Adrijashenko, who performed with great musicality and maturity, despite their young age. Then the rising star Nicoletta Manni and étoile Roberto Bolle both lit up the stage with their beautiful lines, flying in graceful jetés and executing the adagio with notable aplomb and in perfect symbiosis with the orchestra. Dancing became 'music made visible' last night exactly as Mr.B would have wished for, thanks also to a world-class performance by the orchestra that, under the direction of Paavo Järvi, perfectly respected the composer’s wishes and the needs of the dancers.
Scigliano’s Shéhérazade was a denunciation of female oppression and a tribute to all women that have been victims of femicide. It left the audience breathless. The exotic ambience of the opening tale of the One Thousand and One Nights is only hinted at, largely replaced by a dramatic, symbolic and suggestive use of lighting by Carlo Cerri. Alessandra Vassallo was a Zobeide full of passion, grief and sorrow with very smooth and dynamic movements, highlighted by the "dance-friendly" costumes of Kristopher Millar and Lois Swandale. Scigliano’s style is fresh, dynamic and well-suited for a classical ballet ensemble as well.
This performance shows that the Italian school of dancing is of a very high standard, since more than 90% of the ensemble studied at an Italian Academy. I am confident that newly appointed director Frédéric Olivieri will only strengthen ties with the Milanese Ballet Academy and reinforce the connection between education and professional work even more.
Even though Balanchine used to say that “Ballet is Woman”, I’m sure that last night, he would have had to recognize that, for most of the audience members, the real star of the evening was in fact a man named Roberto!