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Ballet History


The Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala has a glorious past dating back to the centuries prior to the opening in 1778 of the world’s most celebrated musical theatre, which is still its home today. Even before the founding of the Imperial-Royal Academy of Ballet of La Scala in 1813, eminent choreographers such as Gasparo Angiolini and Salvatore Viganò held great influence over European ballet. Then, the illustrious teacher and theorist, Carlo Blasis, introduced the ballet into the Romanticist atmosphere, thus contributing to the technical innovation of its style. Enrico Cecchetti took the Italian style of teaching academic technique to Russia, from where it evolved around the world thanks to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes which he joined before ending his career at La Scala.

And so, the Ballet Company of La Scala entered the twentieth century, thanks also to remarkable choreographers from Diaghilev’s company such as Mikhail Fokin and Léonide Massine. New names arrived from the worlds of the free and expressionist dance of Central Europe, names such as Aurel Milloss, whom Arturo Toscanini charged with the task of rebuilding the Company following the Second World War. For his repertoire, Milloss invited great musicians and celebrated set designers and painters, as well as illustrious guests such as George Balanchine. In the 1950s and 1960s, La Scala became a stage open to the stars of the world of ballet. The choreographers Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart debuted in 1963 and 1971 respectively, while the étoiles included Carla Fracci, Liliana Cosi, Luciana Savignano, Paolo Bortoluzzi. Guest appearances were made by Margot Fonteyn and Yvette Chauviré, as well as Rudolf Nureyev, who became closely associated with La Scala from 1965, as did Alessandra Ferri in the 1990s.

More recently, the Ballet Company of La Scala has grown in international visibility, performing at the Paris Opéra, in the United States, at the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Mariinsky-Kirov Theatre in Saint Petersburg, in Germany, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Mexico and China. The expressive and technical appeal are guaranteed by three star names: Svetlana Zakharova, Roberto Bolle and Massimo Murru. But even some young principal dancers, soloists and members of the corps de ballet have been included in leading roles, initially by the much-loved Elisabetta Terabust, former director at La Scala (from 1993 to 1997, and again in 2007-2008) who recently died, and then by Makhar Vaziev (from 2009 to 2015), who also opted for internationally much-sought-after guests. In the conviction that, overall, a company should excel in rigour and versatility, great conductors have been called to the podium for the ballet, a further attraction for a Theatre and central to international musical life. An Italian, Mauro Bigonzetti, has alternated with Vaziev, albeit for only one season. Since October 2016, the leadership of the Ballet Company has again been entrusted to Frédéric Olivieri, previously director between 2002 and 2007. With renewed energy, he has enlarged the hierarchy and, today, among the principal dancers are to be found Nicoletta Manni, Claudio Coviello, Virna Toppi, Martina Arduino and Timofej Andrijashenko, while some of the soloists include names such as Massimo Garon, Marco Agostino, Vittoria Valerio, Federico Fresi, Alessandra Vassallo, Christian Fagetti, Nicola Del Freo and Maria Celeste Losa. From the ranks of the corps de ballet, young dancers are emerging, trained at the Ballet School, which is the Company’s - but not only - main source of new members, while also prominent entrées are frequently reserved for “additional dancers”. Olivieri is working to complement the academic repertoire with creations dedicated to the Ballet Company of La Scala: indeed, a great Company is distinguished by the care and attention it devotes to its young talents and by its ability to project itself towards ballet that reflects our times.

Marinella Guatterini