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 and to the development of a group of étoiles that, in the mid-nineteenth century, conquered theatres across Europe and America and included Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, Sofia Fuoco, Lucile Grahn, Augusta Maywood to name just a few. In 1890, another great master, Enrico Cecchetti, was called to Russia, to the Imperial Theatres of Saint Petersburg where he carried the Italian style of teaching academic technique, and where he was fundamental in raising pupils such as Anna Pavlova, Michail Fokin, Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky; their very names suffice to understand the artistic heights they reached, particularly when, called by Sergei Diaghilev, they displayed their greatness in Paris and throughout the world in the Ballets Russes. Cecchetti joined Diaghilev’s company in 1910 and remained with it until 1918, before concluding his career as the director of the Ballet School at the Teatro alla Scala.

And so, ballet at 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 – an adored international star of the ballet right up to her death in May 2021 – Liliana Cosi, Luciana Savignano, Paolo Bortoluzzi. Guest appearances were made by Margot Fonteyn and Yvette Chauviré, Vladimir Vassilev and the never-to-be-forgotten Rudolf Nureyev, who from 1965 became closely associated with La Scala, which retains many of his choreographic works in its repertoire, while his favour with the public bordered on fanaticism.

Meanwhile, the Ballet Company of La Scala continued to grow 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, China and Australia. The expressive and technical appeal are guaranteed by two star names: 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, by Elisabetta Terabust, who died in February 2018. Terabust was La Scala’s energetic director between 1993 and 1997 - when she recognised the worth of Alessandra Ferri, La Scala’s Prima ballerina assoluta from 1992 to 2007 - and again, briefly, in 2008. In 2009, Makhar Vaziev became the first Russian, or rather Ossetian, director to head La Scala’s Ballet Company. His guidelines were clear from the start: reinforce the most distinguished repertoire of the twentieth century; revive the traditional classics, often in the original Russian reconstructions; provide opportunities for young dancers and choreographers; bring back to the podium great conductors, both as a further attraction and as a sign of the prestige required by La Scala’s ballet productions.

He was called back to Russia by the Bolshoi Theatre in 2015, but Vaziev left a technically impeccable Company – with the lyrical Svetlana Zakhorova, étoile who had already taken over from Alessandra Ferri in the 2007-2008 season – in the hands of Mauro Bigonzetti. However, this world-renowned Italian artist was very soon forced to abandon the post due to health problems. In October 2016, the leadership of the Ballet Company was again entrusted to Frédéric Olivieri, previously director between 2002 and 2007. With renewed energy, he enlarged the hierarchy with Nicoletta Manni, Claudio Coviello, Virna Toppi, Martina Arduino and Timofej Andrijashenko as principal dancers, and Massimo Garon, Marco Agostino, Vittoria Valerio, Federico Fresi, Alessandra Vassallo, Christian Fagetti, Nicola Del Freo and Maria Celeste Losa, as soloists. One of his achievements are the ties with the Balanchine Trust, thanks to which he obtained A Midsummer Night’s Dream (often performed on tour) and The Nutcracker. The repertoire grew with the most important names of modern and contemporary ballet, too: from Jiří Kylián to Jerome Robbins, from Angelin Preljocaj to Wayne McGregor, and with the return of Ferri. Changes in the Superintendency – from Alexander Pereira to Dominique Meyer – brought with them, in December 2020, a new director to the Ballet Company: the Parisian, Manuel Legris, nominated an étoile in 1986 by Rudolph Nureyev, who was then head of ballet at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris. Legris trained at the Paris Opéra school and entered the Company skipping over all the levels of hierarchy, thanks to his talent, and became a real virtuoso. He has danced everything, been requested globally and courted by the principal choreographers, thanks also to his versatility. After bidding the Opéra’s stage farewell, he directed the Wiener Staatsballett and associated Ballet Academy from 2010 to 2020, making the Viennese Company an ensemble of international renown and beginning to create choreographies. At the Teatro alla Scala, during the pandemic, he arranged some very popular mixed streaming programmes including some masterclasses with stars such as Carla Fracci, who before her death led one on Giselle, and Alessandra Ferri. The guidelines of his time as director have remained firmly based on tradition and openings towards the new, which means opportunities for the young, with rapid mobility of roles, also for additional dancers, with Nicola Del Freo, Marco Agostino and Alice Mariani become principal dancers, Linda Giubelli, Camilla Cerulli, Gaia Andreanò, Agnese Di Clemente, Caterina Bianchi, Mattia Semperboni, Navrin Turnbull, Domenico Di Cristo and Gabriele Corrado new soloists. A new start always means names, faces and bodies to be discovered and exalted thanks to the language of the ballet.

Marinella Guatterini