La Scuola di Ballo in scena nell'800Teatro Alla Scala
Ballet academies were rare in Italy - only the Teatro San Carlo in Naples ran one at the time (since the previous year) - and La Scala’s was soon considered among the world’s finest. Dance students flocked from far and wide, with French newspaper Le Figaro reporting in 1847 that the principal ballerinas of 44 European and American theatres had been trained in Milan.
Pas de quatreTeatro Alla Scala
The first troupe
The original corps de ballet, founded at the same time as La Scala in 1778, comprised 50 males and females (at a time when women were prohibited from performing onstage elsewhere in Italy, particularly in the Papal States). Before long, it was internationally revered.
GluckTeatro Alla Scala
That was owed partly to the arrival of Florentine Gasparo Angiolini, who choreographed some of the first ballets at La Scala. Within three years, he transformed Milan into a leading European ballet centre to rival avant-garde Vienna and Stuttgart.
Angiolini was already a ballet legend. In 1762, he choreographed the Vienna premiere of Gluck’s reformist opera Orfeo ed Euridice; the year before, he worked on the same composer’s ballet Don Juan ou Le festin de pierre.
Frontespizio dell'OrfeoTeatro Alla Scala
If Gluck’s Orfeo revolutionised opera, Angiolini’s choreography for Don Juan did the same for ballet. Rather than the usual acrobatic firework displays, his own brand of "action ballet" consisted in real drama, and characters with whom the audience could easily identify.
Lithograph depicting the dancer and choreographer S. Viganò by G.GallinaTeatro Alla Scala
In 1804, the celebrated Neapolitan choreographer Salvatore Viganò transferred from Vienna to La Scala. That was a loss for the Austrian capital, not least because the provocative dances of Viganò’s wife, the Spanish ballerina Maria Medina, were known to send the Viennese court into disarray.
Medina ViganòTeatro Alla Scala
Many of Viganò’s principal Viennese productions would transfer to Milan, and dance’s prominence in the city grew further. Indeed, between 1801 and 1815 there were more ballets in La Scala’s repertoire than operas.
Lithography the composer L.V.Beethoven (1841/1841) by G.GrevedonTeatro Alla Scala
Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus was the highest-profile arrival. Swiftly composed to a libretto by Viganò, its 1801 Vienna premiere was an immediate success.
Internal view of the Teatro alla Scala during a carnival party (first half of XIX century)Teatro Alla Scala
For its first outing at La Scala in 1813, Viganò concocted a mighty staging: an explosion of theatrical activity that put the theatre’s state-of-the-art stage machinery through its paces, astounding audiences. As the drama crescendoed, the number of dancers onstage steadily grew. "After ten years, the memory of that show is as fresh as if it were the first day, and it continues to fill me with wonder," wrote Stendhal.
frontespizio libretto PrometeoTeatro Alla Scala
It was the fruit of long, exhausting preparation. (Thereafter, staff humorously described laborious rehearsal periods as to practise "alla Viganò".) And it was a huge success. Prometheus was still running at La Scala in 1844, when it clocked up 80 performances in a year. "Canova, Rossini and Viganò, these are the glories of Italy today," remarked Stendhal.
Carlo BlasisTeatro Alla Scala
A tough regime
From 1837 to 1850, the school was directed by Carlo Blasis, one of the most influential ballet theoreticians of all time. Famed international students, including the American Augusta Maywood and Danish Lucile Grahn, arrived to study with him. Going in the opposite direction, ballet centres such as Paris, Warsaw, Lisbon and Moscow adopted Blasis's methods. Apart from its rigorous instruction, the school’s tough selection process was key to its success. Prospective students had to complete three years of training before being submitted to an entry exam. Those that were admitted trained for an additional three years while supported with a wage, and could continue as emeritus students thereafter.
Scuola di ballo Teatro Scala 1901-1902Teatro Alla Scala
But by 1911, balletic productivity was down, the responsibilities of the corps limited mainly to performing the dances in operas. Due to the World War I, the Ballet School was closed in 1917.
CecchettiTeatro Alla Scala
Awoken from a slumber
Milan’s ballet scene would reassert itself only in opposition to foreign traditions arriving from Russia after World War I. Ironically, the alien threat came from one of La Scala’s own. Enrico Cecchetti, trained in the italian academic tradition ushered by Carlo Blasis,launched his career in Milan and went on to become Europe's greatest ballet virtuoso. He joined the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, subsequently accepting a role at Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. The “Cecchetti method”, founded on that of Blasis, became the foundation of the company’s technique.
CecchettiTeatro Alla Scala
In 1920, the Ballets Russes arrived in Milan to perform avant-garde repertoire including Stravinsky's The Firebird. The Milanese rejected this modern form of dance. Awoken from a slumber, they rallied around their own ballet traditions. Music director Arturo Toscanini reopened the school in 1921, and in 1925 he appointed Cecchetti director. The maestro covered the role until his death 3 years later.
La Silfide 1968 Carla Fracci e Rudolf NureyevTeatro Alla Scala
Nureyev at La Scala
Rudolf Nureyev made his debut at La Scala in 1965 in Romeo and Juliet with Margot Fonteyn.In 1966 he also returned as choreographer of La bella addormentata with Carla Fracci. Nureyev's presence became constant in the following years with titles such as Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, La Sylphide.
Sogno Di Una Notte Di Mezza EstateTeatro Alla Scala
The school has formed an impressive number of stars since then. Carla Fracci holds a special place in audiences’ hearts, revered for her performances of extraordinary humanity. Alessandra Ferri, who forged a career in America after training in Milan, matched virtuosic technique with keen instinct for drama.
Don Chisciotte 1970 Carla Fracci e James UrbainTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Carla Fracci and James Urbain
Luciana Savignano Bolero 1980Teatro Alla Scala
Luciana Savignano exuded an exotic mystique well-served in works like Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Maurice Béjart’s solo La Luna.
Liliana Cosi Paolo Bortoluzzi - ll lago dei cigni 1975Teatro Alla Scala
Liliana Cosi, trained at the Ballet School before relocating to the Bolshoi, was the first Italian dancer to perform in Russia since the end of the 19th Century.
Roberto Bolle, GiselleTeatro Alla Scala
Roberto Bolle possessed requisite poise, sinewy strength and good looks to become the most celebrated male dancer of his generation.
L'histoire de Manon 2011Massimo Murru Sylvie GuillemTeatro Alla Scala
Massimo Murru, four years his senior at the school, is celebrated for his dramatic intensity.
Il lago dei cigni 2014 Svetlana ZakharovaTeatro Alla Scala
The Russian Svetlana Zakharova, “the Queen of the Bolshoi”, became La Scala’s first non-Italian étoile in 2008.
Don ChisciotteTeatro Alla Scala
The new generation
During the years of conducting the Ballet Company of Makhar Vaziev and then Frederic Olivieri a new generation of young dancers, many of whom trained at the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, appeared on the stage.
Photo: Nicoletta Manni
Romeo E GiuliettaTeatro Alla Scala
Among them the principal dancers Nicoletta Manni, Martina Arduino, Claudio Coviello and Timofej Andrijashenko.
Photo: Martina Arduino
Sogno Di Una Notte Di Mezza EstateTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Marta Romagna
Il Lago Dei CigniTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Claudio Coviello
OneginTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Timofej Andrijashenko
Etudes / Carmen - EtudesTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Alessandro Grillo
Roméo Et JulietteTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Mick Zeni
Pink Floyd BalletTeatro Alla Scala
Photo: Antonino Sutera
Curated by James Imam and the Teatro alla Scala