Italian Companies

Ambivalent

“Manon”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
July 08, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. N.Manni (Manon) and R.Clarke (Des Grieux), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala Given the mind-boggling speed with which Western culture is changing, La Scala’s live stream of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon felt like a relic from the good old days of ballet. Unlike other staples of the classical repertory—Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, or The Nutcracker, for example—with a spiritual dimension that serves as a source of inspiration in difficult times, Manon has the opposite effect. Based on Abbé Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut (1731), it dives deeply into the social swamp of early-18th-century France and in the real swamps near the then-French colony of Louisiana. Rabble and the poor crowd the streets and the upper class’s silk and satin façade barely hides their rotten morals. Sex, money, and power reign in everyday life, and, for women, alluring men is the only way to secure an existence. Not a single soul remains untainted in the sex-and-crime-ridden love tragedy of Manon.

3. D.Di Cristo (Chief of the beggars) and ensemble, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala2. N.Del Freo (Lescaut) and ensemble, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala Its eponymous heroine, initially the epitome of purity and inner beauty, falls for fur, jewels, and status just as all the rest do and realizes too late that she has made herself a captive of ephemeral glitter. Manon’s faithful lover, Des Grieux, is so imbued with his idea of the good, true, and beautiful that he struggles to keep her from being led astray. Only gradually does he man up and free Manon from the grip of her wealthy suitor, Monsieur G.M. Des Grieux and Manon escape to their love nest, but Des Grieux, blinded by bliss, again acquiesces to her fascination with wealth. While both waste away precious time instead of fleeing, the noose is quickly tightening for them. Monsieur G.M. takes revenge by shooting Manon’s brother and arresting her for prostitution. Des Grieux accompanies Manon on her way to the penal colony in Louisiana and there, by stabbing a brutal jailer for raping Manon, Des Grieux finally put his foot down. However, it is too late for a happy ending.

4. R.Clarke (Des Grieux) and N.Manni (Manon), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala5. R.Clarke (Des Grieux) and N.Manni (Manon),“Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala The story of Manon is anything but uplifting unlike the quality of the performance, which was indeed uplifting. The courtyard of the inn near Paris brimmed with cocky, fleet-footed beggars (led by a crafty rascal danced by Domenico Di Cristo) and saucy demimondes parading their charms. Yet the sauntering gentlemen and their dressed-up companions couldn’t hide the fact that this was a sleazy place. In such surroundings, both Nicoletta Manni’s Manon and Reece Clarke’s Des Grieux reminded me of fresh, white linen that has fallen into the muck. Clarke’s elegant lines seemed an extension of his soul’s ideals to which he aspired with pathos. He was a pure-minded young man who, for a time, rested within himself.
7. N.Del Freo (Lescaut), N.Manni (Manon), and G.Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala 6. G.Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), N.Manni (Manon), and N.Del Freo (Lescaut), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala Perhaps that was why Clarke seemed fully absorbed in the choreography rather than in the fond eyes of his Manon. Once alone with her in his lodgings, he turned into an attentive lover with unleashed, deep passion. Was the faint smile on his lips as Manon was swarmed by suitors at Madame’s brothel party an expression of despair or a lack of comprehension? In any case, his glance as he lay his heart at Manon’s feet was irresistible.

8. M.Arduino (Lescaut’s mistress), and ensemble, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala9. N.Manni (Manon), G.Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), N.Del Freo (Lescaut), and ensemble; “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla ScalaManni’s Manon was an affirmation that she merited her nomination for this year’s Prix Benois, albeit for a different role: Medora in Le Corsaire. Manni’s dancing was immaculate, her nuanced acting utterly convincing, and her entire performance pure joy.
Although he was a well-mannered gentleman on the surface, Gabriele Corrado’s Monsieur G.M. turned out to be a scumbag inside. Incongruent, too, were the façade and real character of Manon’s brother Lescaut (Nicola Del Freo). At first sight, he appeared to be a caring young man but was in fact utterly corrupt and, at times, sottish. I don’t know why his mistress (Martina Arduino) put up a brave front when his alcohol odor and glassy stare cried out for a thorough dressing down. Perfectly lascivious, she knew how to sell herself, and I think she certainly got hold of a new suitor once Lescaut had met his untimely death in a bloody showdown.
11. G.Starace (Jailer) and ensemble,“Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala 10. R.Clarke (Des Grieux), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala The jailer (Gioacchino Starace) who received the shipload of female convicts in Louisiana was immediately disgusting. A violent, arrogant bastard, he ticked all the boxes of stereotypical rotten penal system staff.
A smart whore mistress to the core, Madame (Francesca Podini) satisfied the appetite of all of her brothel’s clientele. Her business seemed to go very well, though her employees were sometimes absorbed in catfights.

Paul Connelly and the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala contributed a well-versed rendition of Jules Massenet’s score.
12. N.Manni (Manon) and R.Clarke (Des Grieux), “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala

Links: Website of the Teatro alla Scala
L’histoire de Manon” – Trailer
“L’histoire de Manon” – Making of
Photos: 1. Nicoletta Manni (Manon) and Reece Clarke (Des Grieux), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
2. Nicola Del Freo (Lescaut) and ensemble, Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
3. Domenico Di Cristo (Chief of the beggars) and ensemble, Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
4. Reece Clarke (Des Grieux) and Nicoletta Manni (Manon), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
5. Reece Clarke (Des Grieux) and Nicoletta Manni (Manon),Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
6. Gabriele Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), Nicoletta Manni (Manon), and Nicola Del Freo (Lescaut), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
7. Nicola Del Freo (Lescaut), Nicoletta Manni (Manon), and Gabriele Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
8. Martina Arduino (Lescaut’s mistress), and ensemble, Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
9. Nicoletta Manni (Manon), Gabriele Corrado (Monsieur G.M.), Nicola Del Freo (Lescaut), and ensemble; Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
10. Reece Clarke (Des Grieux), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
11. Gioacchino Starace (Jailer) and ensemble,Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
12. Nicoletta Manni (Manon) and Reece Clarke (Des Grieux), Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, Teatro alla Scala 2024
all photos by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla Scala
Editing: Kayla Kauffman

Dancer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2024

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Bolshoi Theatre © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre 2. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by Igor Ustinov © Benois Center Thirteen dancers from eight companies are nominated for this year’s Prix Benois. Of the seven women and six men, two dance in China, Hungary, and Italy; one dances in Japan, and six in Russia. Next week, the laureates will be announced in an award ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Here’s a short overview of the nominees in alphabetical order by company names:
(more…)

Additional Thoughts

“Coppélia”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
December 17, 2023 (online broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Andrijashenko (Franz) and L.Di Pasquale (Coppélia), “Coppélia” by A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala 2023, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla ScalaAlexei Ratmansky’s latest piece is a new version of Coppélia for the Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala. A recording of its premiere on December 17th can be watched on Medici TV. In her review on December 18th, the New York Times dance critic, Roslyn Sulcas, praised the “wealth and detail of nuance” that Ratmansky brought alive. “He has infused [Coppélia] with new life,” she wrote, “as if a carapace of formulaic presentation and interpretation has been cracked open.”

She’s right, it’s an ambitious production in many respects – an asset for the company. At times though, Ratmansky’s wealth of detail feels like a continuous bombardment, as if he is overeager in combining an abundance of steps with plenty of flourish and excessive acting. His unconventional, fresh approach suffers from his striving for exceptionalism. And though I understand that as many dancers as possible should be involved, I’d have preferred a less crowded village square to better show off the pas de deux of the leading couple – Nicoletta Manni (Swanilda) and Timofej Andrijashenko (Franz). (more…)

Twice as Tragic

“Swan Lake”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
September 27, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Celeste Losa (Odette), “Swan Lake” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Teatro alla Scala 2023 © Teatro alla ScalaLast Wednesday’s livestream of “Swan Lake” was the third such event since Manuel Legris took over the artistic reins of the Teatro alla Scala’s ballet company in December 2020. What a pity that I missed the previous livestreams – “Le Corsaire” and “Romeo and Juliet”!

La Scala dances a version of Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake” that, if I’m not mistaken, is the one he created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984. As all of his ballets, this one has jam-packed choreography. Last time it was shown in Milan in 2014 under the directorship of Makhar Vaziev. After Vaziev left to the Bolshoi Ballet in 2015, La Scala’s company entered unsteady waters. Legris’s guidance seems to be returning the company to its previous standards. Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi (former colleagues at the Bolshoi and meanwhile at Dutch National Ballet) guested in the leading roles twice. The livestream was given to in-house soloists – Maria Celeste Losa (Odette / Odile) and Navrin Turnbull (Prince Siegfried). (more…)

An Insidious Cultural Erosion

“La fille mal gardée”
Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Teatro Costanzi
Rome, Italy
May 06, 2023 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Simkin (Colas) and R.Bianchi (Lise), “La fille mal gardée” by F.Ashton, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2023 © F.Sansoni / Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Two performances of Frederick Ashton’s hilarious “La fille mal gardée” in sunny Rome – doesn’t that sound irresistible? Laughter is inevitable when Lise, the wayward peasant’s daughter, mischievously arranges tête-à-têtes with her lover Colas. That’s how I’ve experienced “La fille mal gardée” previously.
This time, though, the laughter stuck in my throat. Too much did the overexcited quirks of Lise’s mother Simone – a role traditionally danced in drag – remind me of reality. A reality that – at least in some of the western countries – has been shaped by the LGBTQ+ community’s persistent effort to be celebrated within mainstream culture. Bearing in mind some of their avid advocates (the transgender model Dylan Mulvaney, for example, or the drag queen Joshua Kelley who recently was appointed the US Navy’s first digital ambassador), I don’t find Simone funny anymore. And worse, the moment a sense of reality sneaks into Ashton’s village folk, the characterization of Alain (Simone’s favorite son-in-law) as the village idiot becomes unbearable too. Though of marriageable age, he clings to his wealthy father’s coat-tails like an infant. Lise disdains him; the village youth laughs down at him – and so do we. But isn’t he actually the victim of nasty bullying? (more…)

Ill-chosen

“Notre-Dame de Paris”
Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Terme di Caracalla
Rome, Italy
August 03, 2022

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2022 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Notre-Dame de Paris” by R.Petit, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2022 © F.Sansoni / Teatro dell’Opera di RomaThe Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is in the enviable position of being able to relocate their performances to impressive antique open-air venues during the warm months. While the 2021 summer performances took place at the Circus Maximus, this year the company returned to its traditional stage at the Baths of Caracalla. I watched the final performance of Roland Petit’s “Notre-Dame de Paris”, based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

The ballet tells the tale of the disabled Quasimodo (bell-ringer of Notre Dame in late medieval Paris), his master Claude Frollo (Notre Dame’s archdeacon), Esmeralda (a beautiful Romani woman), and Captain Phoebus (Esmeralda’s lover). In a departure from Tikhomirov & Burmeister’s take on the story for the Stanislavsky Ballet (their “La Esmeralda”), Petit stripped down the original plot to its nuts and bolts. (more…)

What Became of …?

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Ballet School
Teatro Nazionale
Rome, Italy
May 2021

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Starace (Oberon), C.Onesti (Titania), and ensemble, “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by A.Delle Monache, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Ballet School 2014 © Y.KageyamaEarlier this May, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma unearthed an archival recording of a 2014 performance by the opera’s ballet school: Shakespeare’s romantic comedy (or, rather, satire on romantic comedy) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, choreographed and directed by Alessandra Delle Monache. Her genre-spanning production is grounded by the explanations of a narrator (Giulia Tomaselli, a student of the Accademia Nazionale D’Arte Drammatica Silvio d’Amico, Rome) who helps us sort out the tangle of romances blossoming in the forests outside Athens. It’s an understandable move, since – unlike in other productions – two of the four couples (Hermia & Lysander, Helena & Demetrius) are dressed so similarly that mixing them up is inevitable. (more…)

Galloping Fate

“Carmen”
Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

Rome, Italy
February 09, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Salvi and A.Ramasar, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama It is said that Czechs are good storytellers. Such generalizations are prone to rebuttal but that’s not the case for Jiří Bubeníček. He has delivered an array of fine pieces over the last years: “Faun”, “The Piano”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night” – to name just a few. His new narrative ballet, “Carmen”, which premiered at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in early February, is convincing too. It’s intense, coherent, and fresh.

When we talk about “Carmen”, it’s easy to think immediately of Bizet’s opera, which failed at its premiere in 1875 and still won international acclaim after the composer’s premature death. Dance aficionados might also know Roland Petit’s 1949 ”Carmen”-ballet and Alberto Alonos’s 1967 “Carmen- Suite”, which both condense the source plot to around forty minutes. The pieces’ literature source – a novella penned in 1847 by Prosper Mérimée (1803 – 1870) is less popular. This is where Bubeníček dug deep. (more…)

La Scala’s Tasteless New “Cinderella”

“Cinderella”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
January 15, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Albano, D.Gazzo and V.Toppi, “Cinderella” by M.Bigonzetti, Ballet Company of Teatro alla ScalaLast Friday a huge crowd queued up in front of La Scala, eagerly waiting to gain entry for Mauro Bigonzetti’s new “Cinderella”. Just ten minutes before the performance was to begin did things finally get going. Passing policemen, who lined the entrance area, people hurried to their seats. Only a few minutes late the curtain went up.
What had happened? The police had decided to do bag checks but, having started much too late, necessarily had to stop to not overly delay the performance. Later, the young Italian woman sitting next to me told me that “Italians already feel safe when police are within sight.” (more…)

And Now?

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
September 26, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Murru and ensemble, The Sleeping Beauty by M.Petiba and A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala, photo M.Brescia and R.Amisano Six months after Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” received its premiere in Costa Mesa, California, with American Ballet Theater, gracing the company’s 75th anniversary, European audiences now have the opportunity to enjoy the lavish production as well. It premiered on September 26 at the Teatro alla Scala, which shouldered the costs of the project with ABT.

Today’s traditionally known “Sleeping Beauty” is the result of adaptions and changes made since the piece’s premiere in St. Petersburg in 1890. (more…)