Friday, 1 July 2016

From Italy with Love

Cristiano Principato and Friends, Gala for Alessia, Silvio Pellico Theatre, Trecare, 28 June 2016

Trecate is a small town in Piedmont about 25 miles to the west of Milan and 4 miles to the east of Novara. Its Wikipedia entry could hardly be briefer:
"Trecate is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Novara in the Italian region Piedmont, located about 90 kilometres (56 mi) northeast of Turin and about 9 kilometres (6 mi) east of Novara.
It harbors a major refinery complex for fuels and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), serving northern and central Italy.
It is served by Trecate railway station."
Tramping round the town centre on Monday night looking for somewhere to eat I was reminded of the small Northern mill towns such as Rawtenstall in Lancashire or Birstall in the West Riding. There is a parish church, a town hall, a market square, a small park, a few bars and ice cream parlours and an old fashioned cinema which doubles as a theatre. That's just about it.

Cristiano Prinipato, one of the most promising young dancers and choreographers of the Dutch National Ballet, comes from Novara.  In order to raise funds for a local charity called Casa Alessia he persuaded 11 of his chums from the Dutch National Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Vienna State Ballet and Jas Art Ballet to perform with him in the cinema cum theatre. From the Dutch National Ballet he brought Emilie Tassinari, Giovanni Princic, Thomas van Damme, Yuanyuan Zhang and Priscylla Gallo. From La Scala he brought Giulia Lunardi, Edoardo Caporaletti and Gaia Andreano, from Vienna Elena Bottaro and from Jas Art Federico Ginetti and Filippo Valmorbida.

Each of those young artists gave his or her time for free and travelled quite considerable distances in the case of the artists from the Dutch National and the Vienna State Ballets. They had very little time to rehearse together since several of them flew in on the day of the performance. Cristiano had to make most of the arrangements even down to the lighting design from Amsterdam. He did all that on top of his full time job as dancer and choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet and he has only recently celebrated his 21st birthday.

When I featured Cristiano just after he joined the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet (see Meet Cristiano Principato of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company 3 Dec 2014) I wrote:
"Cristiano's immediate ambitions are to work hard this year, to learn what he can from his teachers, to enjoy every performance and generally to become a very good dancer. He hopes to make a career with the Dutch National Ballet. In the long term his dream is to direct a major company where he can create new ballets. He has loved choreography ever since he was a child.
His passions outside ballet are travelling, reading (especially contemporary fiction), cinema, pop music, good food and the company of good friends.
Here is a another young man who knows where he is going and I shall follow his career with interest."
On Tuesday night this remarkable young man showed his potential to fulfil all those ambitions.

The Gala for Alessia was not dissimilar to the programme that the Junior Company takes on tour around the Netherlands every week. It consisted of 17 pieces that spanned just about everything from Bournonville to Brandsen. Cristiano contributed two of his own works to the programme: the opening solo Tempo and Palladio which his company had premiered a few days earlier in New Moves.  Valmorbida contributed Acqua to the show. He and Ginetti also offered their Giorni d'Orfantotrofio to the show. Other new works iwere Ted Brandsen's Replay and Ernst Meisner's Elegy and Embers. The rest of the programme consisted of extracts from Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Coppelia, La Sylphide, Flower Festival and The Sleeping Beauty.

I don't know how much ballet comes to Trecate or even Novara but it is unlikely to be very much. There is, of course, plenty of ballet at La Scala and other theatres in Milan but Milan is an hour's train journey away and La Scala is even more expensive than Covent Garden.  It is likely that for some members of the audience Tuesday's gala was their first experience of ballet.  If that was the case I cannot think of a better introduction than Cristiano's programme.

The evening began with Cristiano's Tempo which he danced himself. He is a tall, athletic and has a particularly expressive face. Clearly he loves music and expresses it in every fibre of his being. The music he chose for the piece was interesting. Its composer was Emilie Simon and the piece was rich in texture. I could be wrong but one of her instruments sounded like a didgeridoo which I have heard only once before in a classical arrangement. It was a great start to the show.

Giovanni Princip continued the momentum with Eric Gauthier's Ballet 101. He is another tall, athletic and altogether impressive dancer. I had seen him dance Ballet 101 before in Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart in Amsterdam (see Giovanni Princic in Ballet 101 20 Feb 2016). I told him then that his performance was the best that I had ever seen. Tuesday's performance was even better. Much of the fun of the piece comes from the dialogue with such phrases as "Let's keep this classical" as the dancer raises his fists in 28th position and "Oh ho your 40th position looks a lot like your 25th" followed by creaking as he bends his knee. English is not spoken as much in Trecate as it is in Amsterdam so some of the jokes may have been lost but they still enjoyed the piece.

Cristiano followed with Emilie Tassinari in Ted Brandsen's Replay.  Emilie is another dancer to watch. She is super talented and very focused (see Meet Emilie Tassinari of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company 6 Dec 2014). On stage she is very strong, very fast but also very delicate with superb technique and a mastery of detail. I have been one of her fans ever since I first saw her in Amsterdam in February 2015. I was even more impressed when I saw her in Cinderella later that year and more still when I saw her at the Meervaart in February. She is an excellent partner for Cristiano and when they dance together they are magnificent

The next piece was an extract from Petipa's Don Quixote which was danced by Gaia Andreano. It is a delightful variation but not easy to dance. In performing this solo, she showed charm as well as virtuosity. It was the first time I had seen Andreano and I am sure I shall hear a lot more about her even if I cannot see her very often. I cannot remember the last time La Scala Ballet visited London or even whether it has ever come to this country.

 Next came the seduction scene from the black act of Swan Lake danced by Giulia Lunardi and Edoardo Caporaletti. This is a ballet I have seen many times and I know the choreography very well. Nevertheless I learned something new from these dancers. Caporaletti danced the pas de deux in a way that suggested second thoughts. Perhaps he was beginning to cotton on that Odile was not Odette. Sensing those thoughts Luardi drew him back in line with a sharp slap on the shoulder. I should be interested to know whether this was the dancers' own interpretation or whether it is in La Scala's production. Had I been able to stay longer in Italy I could have found out for myself as La Scala danced Swan Lake last night.

Giovanni and Emilie followed with a very different portrayal of Siegfried and Odette-Odile from the white act. In this pas de deux Emilie showed her mastery of detail and her delicacy and Giovanni demonstrated his sensitivity. It is a lovely piece and one of which I never tire. There cannot have been many dry eyes in the house after that performance.

Two fine solo performances by the principals of Jas Art Ballet followed Swan Lake. Filippo Malborbida was a great Franz in an extract from Coppelia and Federico Ginetti an equally impressive James in his variation from La Sylphide. I was so impressed by their performances that I googled their company. I could not find a website but I discovered a Facebook page which stated:
"Productions for Theatres and Private Fashion and Commercial Events - Music Video Clips and TV under direction of Sabrina Brazzo International Etoile Dancer,"
Now Sabrina Brazzo is a name that I did know. A distinguished ballerina contemporaneous with our own Darcey Bussell  she can choose the very best young dancers in Italy for her company. Clearly Ginetti and Valmorbida are among the best.

The first half finished with Palladio which I believe I previewed on 4 June 2016. In the video about the ballet Cristiano explains that it is about a young girl who breaks her heart but recovers and moves on. It explores her sadness but then her strength as she creates new relationships.  Cristiano cast all the Amsterdam dancers in this piece including himself. This is a very sophisticated work and quite a remarkable piece for one so young. Though completely original I could see the influence of Meisner - but not just Meisner for I was also reminded of Jerome Robbins. Balanchine and Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane. Most choreographers' early works are quickly forgotten but I don't think this will be one of them. I think it will be performed time and again, I might add that I think it will be popular in England as Cristiano's choreography is well suited for dancers trained in the English style.

After the interval there was a film about the brief life of Alessia Mairati, her vision and mission, her premature death in an air crash, the charity that her father, Giovanni Mairati, had founded in her honour, the work that it has done in different parts of the world and its resettlement project for former child soldiers in Burundi. Following the film Mr Mairati mounted the stage to thunderous applause and gave a short interview to the compere. Tickets for the show were free but envelopes were provided with the programme for anonymous donations. The pile of envelopes was pretty high by the time I left the theatre and if any my readers around the world wish to add to the kitty there is a giving page on the charity's website.

The rest of the show was themed on Africa and Alessia. The starting point was the pas de deux from The Pharaoh's Daughter which I found particularly interesting as that ballet is rarely performed in this country and I have never seen it before. It is a typical Petipa formula with entree, adagio, variations and coda which Cristiano danced impressively with Elena Bottaro. For me this was one of the high points of the evening. I should very much like to see the rest of the ballet and shall look out for it somewhere in Europe. It is in the Bolshoi's repertoire but it is not one of the works that they are bringing to London this month.

The commentator explained that Alessia loved flowers which was the cue for Bournonville's Flower Festival danced exquisitely by Thomas van Damme and Priscylla Gallo. I have seen Thomas more often than any of the dancers and he is another of my favourites. He is tall and graceful with a commanding presence but he is also a dance actor who can tell a story better than most. Priscylla I have seen only once before but her qualities shone through at once. Clearly another superstar in the making she reminded me of her compatriot Roberta Marquez. Together Thomas and Prisyilla were exquisite.

The commentator listed some of the challenges to Africa. The existential threat of drought caused by climate change was expressed in Valmorbida's solo Acqua which he danced himself. How can one express that concept in movement? Ketil Bjornstad's onomatopoeic music helped as did the fluidity of  Valmorbida's choreography and dancing.  A most impressive work.

War is another existential challenge to Africa and many of the conflicts that have arisen there in modern times have been been over minerals and in particular diamonds. That thought resonated with me as my late spouse came from Sierra Leone, a country that was devastated by a particularly savage civil war. It would also have resonated with members of the Dutch National Ballet since one of their company's most popular dancers was a victim of that same civil war. The connection with diamonds was expressed by Gaia Andreano in her Diamond solo from The Sleeping Beauty. It is a beautiful dance which Andreano performed well but in the context also full or irony.

The disruption of war was confronted in Meisner's Elegy which was perhaps the most moving ballet of the evening. Both English National Ballet and the New Zealand Ballet have staged commemorations of the centenary of the First World War and Ballet Black commissioned Christopher Marney to create War Letters which has recently been revived by Ballet Central,. Nothing is more poignant than Meisner's work. A duet by Cristiano in airman's blue and Emilie in a simple blue floral dress. The parting was as palpable as Romeo's and the fear and anxiety symbolized by Emilie's push to her lover. My regard for Meisner, which was already high, soared even higher. So too was my regard for his dancers who translated his steps into movement.

War leaves children fatherless and in many cases motherless too.   Much of Casa Alessia's work is for children and especially orphans. But orphanages can be loveless and often brutal places as Michaela DePrince reminds us in Hope in a Ballet Shoe. The shock and pain of sudden bereavement and absence of love was addressed by Ginetti and Valmorbida in Giorni d'Orfanotrofio or Orphanage Days which they created and danced to the music of Yann Tiersen.

But sometimes there can be happy endings such as where the sleeping princess in the forest is awoken by her beau or a child in an orphanage grasping a photo of a ballerina becomes a dancer with one of the finest companies of Europe and rises meteorically through its ranks. Thomas and Yuanyuan danced the awakening scene from The Sleeping Beauuty. I have seen Sibley in that role and more recently Aliya Tanykpayeva. Neither of them danced it more convincingly than Yuanyuan.

Last year Meisner was my joint choreographer of the year for creating Embers.  It moves me in a special way. I have now seen it four times and I love it a little more each time I see it.  Thomas and Nancy Burer introduced me to the work and they dance it beautifully. I experienced it in a different way when Cristiano and Priscylla danced the piece on Tuesday night. Never has it seemed more beautiful.

The emblem of the Casa Alessia is the sunflower. Members of the charity wear sunflower yellow t-shirts.  When the dancers appeared for their standing ovation each of the women artists received the most beautiful sunflower bouquet. But as I clapped and cheered from my seat a lady appeared with the same bouquet and presented it to me. A card that was attached to the cards read "Mrs Lambert Grazie di Cuore". It was signed on behalf of Mr Mairati, the dancers and the Friends of Alessia.   It was one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received. It was not possible to bring the flowers back to Holmfirth but I found a home for them with a family in Italy who will enjoy them as much as I do.  I have however brought back their essence in the card and photo and these I shall never forget.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fabulous gala and SO lovely that you were given a bouquet too, what a lovely gesture. Thanks for your detailed report.