Maia Makhateli and Alessandro Staiano in 'Swan Lake' © Andrea Ranzi -Studio Casaluci

“Swan Lake” Italian way

Ricardo Nuñez’s version of this classic is on stage in Bologna at the Teatro Comunale with Maia Makhateli thrilling the audience as a guest. Alessandro Bizzotto brings us on stage and in the wings

The ballet season of the Teatro Comunale in Bologna opens this year with a classic among the classics: “Swan Lake”. The choreographic version is the one by Ricardo Nuñez, created for the Teatro San Carlo of Naples twenty-five years ago. The corps de ballet from the Teatro San Carlo performs.

On stage as Odette/Odile, the virtuoso Principal of the Dutch National Ballet Maia Makhateli opposite Italian rising star Alessandro Staiano, a Soloist of the San Carlo.

As I reach the stage door of the theatre one hour before the performance and I am led to the closed foyer, I can barely hear some musicians rehearsing. The orchestra, tonight, is the one of the Comunale, led by Aleksej Baklan. The curtain is still open – on stage, Staiano rehearses a few steps of his Act I variation.

The theatre, with its four tiers of boxes, a small royal box and gallery with a ceiling looks stunning yet smaller than I imagined.

Maia Makhateli and Alessandro Staiano in ‘Swan Lake’ © Andrea Ranzi -Studio Casaluci 

As the green curtain (perfectly matched to the new green seats) rises, a kind of safety curtain painted with a reproduction of Mikhail Vrubel’s “The Swan Princess” appears as a background of a short prologue. Then, Act I begins and a Klimt-like set design hits the eyes: green and blue trees as wings plus golden, green and red costumes.

The pas de trois boasts sprightly but sometimes brittle cast, with cheerful Sara Sancamillo and Claudia D’Antonio teamed with Salvatore Manzo, whose variation is fiercely danced.

As Siegfried, Staiano has a princely attitude, but it is not easy to understand where his reluctance comes from.

When he meets Makhateli’s Odette, he is stunned, slightly bewildered. Makhateli, for her part, is coolly enchanting: pale and gorgeous, she dazzles with technical assurance and her glamourous allure. Her flustered Odette has a still human yet creamy charm. After the White Swan pas de deux, the audience is ecstatic.

The partnership between Makhateli and Staiano is a solid one and, surprisingly, it reaches its best with the Black Swan pas de deux in Act 3.

Act 1 © Andrea Ranzi – Studio Casaluci

Her feet work is astonishing, while he proves to be a strong allegro dancer too. After the adagio, graced by a long balance by Makhateli, both the variations are exquisite – he soars nobly through the air, while her long, floating phrasing as Odile is superlative. The coda drives the audience crazy, particularly Makhateli’s fast, consecutive double fouettés.

The swans would need a more refined legs work in Act 4, but the corps are quite well united.

There is even a happy end – the evil Rothbart dies, and Siegfried and Odette can happily live their love dream.

I come across Maia Makhateli on the stairs that lead to her dressing room at the Comunale. She looks calm and energized, even after dancing one of the most difficult female roles of the classical repertoire. As we take a seat in her dressing room, we don’t start talking about the performance, but about her two year old son. «I miss him», she tells me, «I’ve never been away from home for so long since becoming a mother».  She is thrilled to dance with the San Carlo company, however. «I am so proud of this invitation» she reveals as I help her taking her tiara off her head, «I happy to be here! I danced two performances of “Swan Lake” with the company in Naples and now I am on tour with them here in Bologna. Their welcome has been so warm – I really wish them all the very best».

«This is not the toughest version of this ballet I performed» she adds, «yet being Odette and Odile is always a challenge, particularly on a new stage such as this one».

Maia Makhateli and Alessandro Staiano with the San Carlo corps © Andrea Ranzi

When I ask her about the partnership with Alessandro Staiano, she has no hesitation in saying she totally trusts him. «He came to Amsterdam to see me dancing Rudi van Dantzig’s “Swan Lake” last month and to rehearse with me – it is so easy working with him! He is both attentive and reliable».

Staiano shares her enthusiasm. «She is fantastic» he tells me when I reach his dressing room twenty minutes later, «she is not just a very gifted ballerina, she is also very collaborative and a true professional. Watching her dancing is a thrill, working with her is a gift».

The toughest part of this version of “Swan Lake” for the male lead? «Siegfried variation in Act I. It is very similar to the one Nureyev created for his own “Swan Lake” – it is slow yet it demands stamina and precision».