Martina Arduino and Marco Agostino in Paquita © Brescia - Amisano

Gala Fracci

La Scala pays tribute to Italian greatest ballerina. A mixed evening with some sparkles.

By Alessandro Bizzotto

Twelve pieces, from Petipa to Ratmansky, create a program that celebrates Carla Fracci, entrusted to company dancers with a few guests.

For the third time La Scala Theatre included in its season a ballet gala to celebrate Italian greatest ballerina, who passed away in 2021. A feast of dance and not only a tribute to Carla Fracci, as it incorporated excerpts from ballet the Milanese star never danced, the Gala Fracci went on stage last April 19 to an audience whose reactions were mixed. A calculated blend of classical and contemporary styles entrusted mainly to company dancers, with a very few guests.

Alice Mariani and Nicola Del Freo in Donizetti Pas de Deux © Brescia – Amisano

The opening pas de deux, the famous duet from Act Two of Swan Lake, is a safe choice which allows ballet director Manuel Legris to value the female corps too and provides a kind of lyrical atmosphere that can suit the beginning of a gala. Well partnered by first soloist Timofej Andrijashenko, soloist Maria Celeste Losa danced Odette with technical carefulness yet without shivers of spiritual emotions.

If La Sylphide Act Two pas de deux does not impress and first soloist Claudio Coviello as James is having an off night technically, the 2023 creation Luce, choreographed by dancer Andrea Crescenzi to music by Philip Glass, proves to be a somehow provocative fusion of post-classical sensitivity and theatricality, with soloists Linda Giubelli, Domenico Di Cristo and Navrin Turnbull sculpturally moving between shade and light.

The audience bursts in the first genuine display of enthusiasm when principals of the Royal Ballet Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov enter the stage to dance The Sleeping Beauty Act Three pas de deux. Welcomed by a loud applause, the principals flawlessly execute the adagio. Muntagirov’s flashy leaps and landings in the male variation light up the stage. Nuñez delivers her usual muscular precision. The coda is greeted by thunderous ovations.

Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov in The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux © Brescia – Amisano

Principal Nicoletta Manni reprises La Luna, the solo Maurice Béjart created for Luciana Savignano, probably made famous throughout the world by Sylvie Guillem. Manni’s physicality is less fluid and harmoniously elastic then Guillem’s, but the variation, set to Bach’s mesmerizing adagio from Violin Concerto No. 2, is soothing and hypnotic, and Manni bravely takes up the challenge of giving new life to one of Savignano’s signature roles, infusing it with her own personality.

The grand pas de deux from Paquita closes the first part of the gala. First soloist Martina Arduino and Marco Agostino fearlessly launch into this classical challenge with zest. Arduino shows expressive qualities and character in addition to confidence.

Right after the intermission comes another highlight of the night – Legris’ own Donizetti Pas de Deux, set to Act Two music of Gaetano Donizetti’s La favorita, to which Petal Ashmole Winstanley had already created a pas de deux named precisely La favorita. The choreography itself is over-elaborated and baroquely affected, but first soloists Alice Mariani and Nicola Del Freo ooze assurance and elegance, shining through the steps with brave security. She is a marvel, confident in turns and powerful when jumping. He is an attentive partner and has explosive tours-à-la-seconde besides a buttery precision when landing from jumps. The applause, at the end of the pas de deux, is loud and vigorous.

Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi in the pas de deux from Diamonds © Brescia – Amisano

An extract from Petit’s La Chauve-souris Act One adds some comedic fun to the gala, with first soloist Virna Toppi as a neglected wife and soloist Christian Fagetti as her loyal friend.

Principal of the Dutch National Ballet Olga Smirnova dazzles in Balanchine’s Pas de deux from Diamonds. It is unfortunate the audience responded so normally, with no flash of enthusiasm, to the adagio which gave the impression of not suiting this kind of gala. However, Smirnova majestically mastered Balanchine’s emotional choreography and style – her sumptuous stage presence was electrifying.

The extract from Act Three of Ratmansky’s new Coppélia , chosen to close the gala, was judged by someone as too long. Again, it is a way to provide some visibility for the corps as well as for the soloists. Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko execute the steps trying to make the most out of the new choreography, and evidently leading the company with gusto.