La Scala and Nureyev, at home and abroad

The strong connection between Rudolf Nureyev and La Scala was recently honoured with a gala in Milan to mark the 80th anniversary of Nureyev’s birth and the 25th anniversary of his death.

La Scala showcased its étoiles, Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle, and added more glamour with the guest artists Marianela Nuñez, Germain Louvet, Vadim Muntagirov.

Along with the corps de ballet and students from the La Scala Ballet School the stars danced The Sleeping Beauty, Act 3, and the grand pas from Don Quixote as well as George Balanchine’s Apollo, performed by Roberto Bolle, Nicoletta Manni, Martina Arduino and Virna Toppi.

When Nureyev’s production of The Sleeping Beauty premiered at La Scala in 1966 he said the Petipa masterpiece first performed in St Petersburg in 1890 was “the Parsifal of ballet”. His own production was “very long and very lush” and faithful to Petipa.*

Nureyev’s Don Quixote premiered in Vienna, also in 1966, and was revived for the Australian Ballet in 1970 (Nureyev danced as Basilio, with Lucette Aldous as Kitri), then a decade later, it was staged at La Scala, again with Nureyev as Basilio and this time with Carla Fracci as Kitri.

The gala’s third ballet, Apollo, acknowledged Nureyev’s love of the Balanchine ballet and his many performances as Apollo at La Scala, in Vienna, Amsterdam and London.

Nureyev’s Don Q connection with La Scala and Australia continues this year when, in November, La Scala will bring the ballet to Brisbane as part of the international ballet series held each year at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

Local audiences will see the same choreography they know from the Australian Ballet’s production but with different sets and costumes.

La Scala, a company that has never before toured to Australia, is making its mark this year not only with the Brisbane season in November but also in the cinema when its new production of Le Corsaire will have a brief Australian season in Palace cinemas beginning on June 22.

The principal dancers in the film are Nicoletta Manni as Medora and Timofej Andrijashenko as Conrad.

Coincidentally, both dancers were in Australia this week to publicise the upcoming La Scala tour. Along with Federic Olivieri, the artistic director of La Scala and Maria Di Freda, the general director of the company, they visited Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

In Sydney, their last stop, Olivieri told me he had watched the Don Q film that premiered in Australia in 1973. Co-directed by Nureyev and Robert Helpmann, the film starred Nureyev as Basilio (again) and Aldous as Kitri.

To complete the Don Q connection it might be a good idea for some dancers in the Australian film to be in Brisbane during La Scala’s season, among them Aldous, Francis Croese, (Lorenzo), Colin Peasley (Gamache) and Marilyn Rowe (the Street Dancer and Queen of the Dryads). They would have some good stories to tell as would at least eight other people whose names are in the film cast list and who played the roles of matadors, gypsies, Cupid and the fandango dancers.

Olivieri was generous with his own stories when he met dance writers in Sydney last Monday (4 June).

His knowledge of the international ballet world is impressive as you would expect, as Olivieri’s career spans many decades, from his training in Nice, his prize winning moment at the Prix de Lausanne, then his time at the Paris Opera Ballet School, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Hamburg Ballet, the MaggioDanza troupe and his directorship of La Scala Ballet School before he became the artistic director in 2016.

* Nureyev, the Life, biography by Julie Kavanagh

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Le Corsaire, La Scala, 2018, Nicoletta Manni, Timofej Andrijashenko and Mattia Semperboni, photo © Brescia e Amisano

Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko in rehearsal, photographer unknown

Rudolf Nureyev

Apollo, © The George Balanchine Trust, Roberto Bolle, Virna Toppi, Nicoletta Manni, Martina Arduino, photo © Brescia e Amisano

Don Quixote, La Scala, photo © Brescia e Amisano

Nureyev at La Scala after Le Corsaire pas de deux,1966, photo © Erio Piccagliani

Frederic Olivieri, photo © Brescia e Amisano