The Ballet Company

In 1813, the Imperial Regia Accademia di Ballo, the forebear of today’s Ballet School, was launched.

By Teatro Alla Scala

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

Balletic innovation
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

Courtly disarray

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 mania

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

Ballet declines
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

Contemporary stars
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

Credits: Story

Curated by James Imam and the Teatro alla Scala

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