Two stars become the “Moon”

Two stars become the “Moon”

Ahead of the upcoming Gala Fracci, Luciana Savignano has passed down the choreography for La Luna, which Maurice Béjart created for her in the 1970s, to Nicoletta Manni

032 Brescia e Amisano ©Teatro alla Scala

Maurice Béjart created the solo La Luna in 1976 at La Scala for prima ballerina Luciana Savignano for Adagio from the Concerto in E Major by Johann Sebastian Bach within the ballet Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné. Those dazzling seven minutes of dance encapsulate like a treasure chest Béjart's artistic universe and gestural language through Savignano's evanescent femininity. It reaches us today through the performance of Maurice's Italian muse. On invitation from Ballet Director Manuel Legris, Luciana Savignano has recently shared the choreography of La Luna to Nicoletta Manni, the current prima ballerina of La Scala, who will perform it for the first time at the Gala Fracci on April 19, 2024. This special event marks not only the passing of the baton from one prima ballerina to another, but also displays the important distinction between the two eras of ballet and two different ways of being a star on stage.


VC Ms. Savignano, how was La Luna born? Did you feel like a muse back when Béjart created it?

LS The solo La Luna came about very fluidly, naturally. Béjart and I put it together quickly. When Maurice would give me directions, it was as if I had already absorbed them, I don't know where, how, or why. This was the magic that then steered my whole journey. Béjart saw in me an underlying melancholy. In the solo, there is a delicate way of posing and hiding, the woman-star resembles me. Therefore, I feel like La Luna is mine: it contains my soul, it is a deep examination of myself. The movements of the arms are fundamental because they start from the chest, from the area of the heart. In the future, I would like to be remembered for La Luna more than for Béjart's Boléro. Now I entrust it to Nicoletta and the times to come.


VC Ms. Manni, Béjart brought out a very magnetic femininity in Savignano. The powerful magic of a woman. How do you relate to this idea of the eternal feminine, as an artist and as a person?

NMWatching this solo, I imagined many stories that needed to be told before I even knew the secrets of the ballet’s origins. I see it in two ways: there is a little girl who still wants to be a little girl and to display the spontaneity of her more instinctual nature, and then there is the woman who matures with time. There is nothing exaggerated in the steps and gestures. Because, here, femininity is not sensuality but intimacy and spontaneity.


VC The life of a dancer can be studded with great encounters, but also with missed encounters because they are impossible, but these can be recovered through images and testimonies. Ms. Manni, what is "your" Béjart?

NM I have not had the good fortune to meet Maurice Béjart, nor to dance one of his choreographies. This is my first time. But thanks to Savignano, I have the great privilege of interacting with her and reliving what Béjart gave to her. It is a unique passing of the baton: otherwise the true essence of the solo would be lost.


VC One the most delicate aspects of dance is the question of transmission: today we have sophisticated technological support. However, the passing of a role is an artistic experience embodied by the body. Something that no video can show. Where did you start to pass on the baton?

LS This is the first time I am passing on a role I created. I was very excited because I didn't really know what was going to happen. The most fundamental thing that I can convey to Nicoletta is what I felt; however, it is up to her to search within herself for what resonates most with her. Everyone is different. Nicoletta cannot make a bad copy of my Luna; it would be wasted. Likewise when playing characters like Giselle, each person offers her own interpretation.

NMToday we are accustomed to rushing, to videos. To have the person who created a role in front of us is the greatest gift. It’s the only way to keep what it was alive. During rehearsals, watching Luciana as she showed me the solo, I said to myself, "How beautiful is the way she performs the movements or tilts her head.” I was in awe. It is clear that on me, it is not the same, and I had to find my own way of being la Luna. It would not be right otherwise.


VC What does it mean to be a choreographer's muse? It is a creative relationship that is totally open, in which the performer puts herself out there, from a personal perspective as well, and stands before a creator who has chosen her. It is a relationship of mutual esteem but also the intersection of different personalities....

LS I don't know what "being a muse" means. But I do know that with any choreographer, not just Béjart, I have always been very aware of their gaze: how the choreographer looks at me and how I receive that look. A gaze starts a process that goes beyond everything else, imparts a sense of confidence or takes it away from the performer. There is no need for a lot of words in the studio; they are not necessary.

NM The most beautiful aspect of the relationship between a dancer and a choreographer is when a sense of complicity is established. The choreographer understands the performer without much explanation; they make a movement that already exists in the performer's body. It is a very rare union with a one-of-a-kind result. Alexei Ratmansky is one of the choreographers I wholeheartedly trust. I trust him and I respect him. Even when, at the beginning, I felt as if I was not embodying the choreography he was creating, I knew that he would eventually take me to another level. That is an important level of growth for a dancer.


LS You belong to two very specific and different historical moments: Savignano, a star of the golden age of major artistic figures in the 1970s and '80s; Manni, the embodiment of today’s prima ballerina, in a company in which chorality prevails over the individual performer. How do you view the other's generation?

LS I recently saw the contemporary performance Smith/León e Lightfoot/Valastro. The La Scala Ballet has reached incredible heights; the dancers are far too good, dare I say. Today, technique has become an obsession. It is important but should not be exaggerated. Art should be seen as a whole, and technique should never be at the expense of interpretation, of personality.

NM I always view the golden years of ballet as a time when the best things happened. Today, dance has evolved, so has technique, but our greatest fortune today is to be able to work together like this, which gives us the opportunity to savor what has come before and carry it forward. Today, La Scala Ballet is at an excellent level for several reasons: age, talent, generational turnover, quality of the choreographers we work with. Thanks also to the vision of Director Manuel Legris.


VC The sense of belonging to La Scala, the fact that you are representing it and the Theatre as a prima ballerina, even in relationships abroad: what did it mean, or does it mean today?

LS I have always felt like La Scala is my home. I grew up in this Theatre as an artist and as a person. For me, this is a homecoming after several years, and it is nice to find people who remember me fondly. I was curious to see what was going on in the studio – Legris has done an incredible job. It is a world that is no longer mine, though, because today there is no time to stop and think about how a port de bras should be done. Today's world is like that.

NM This is true. Today we live in a race against time, even dance has adapted, and it is not always a good thing. Now, dancers must deal with multiple styles, classical and contemporary, whereas before, you could choose one repertoire over another. Today, within a season at any opera house, there are completely different performances. On the positive side, it opens up your view of dance; you are ready to put yourself out there for everything. It is a challenge. On the other hand, one should have more time and be more focused on choices. But this is how it is. My promotion to prima ballerina was also a surprise because of this, because it seemed to belong to a forgotten era. Instead, it happened.

Valeria Crippa
Translation by Alexa Ahern