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Ballet Superstar Roberto Bolle Talks Favorite Dancers, Choreographers, and Katy Perry

13 May

Roberto Bolle - Photo Luciano Romano

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Luciano Romano

How does Roberto Bolle, Italian ballet superstar and one of Italy’s most beloved artists, find a moment to sit down and chat?

As principal dancer for both American Ballet Theatre and Milan’s La Scala Ballet, Bolle splits his time between the two companies, regularly darting between New York and Milan. He will kick off the ABT spring season on May 13 at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera House, after recently touring with the company in Hong Kong and Beijing. He’s danced for the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace and for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square; he’s performed principal roles for the Royal Ballet, the Tokyo Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, The Stuttgart Ballet and more. This fall he will be back as dancer and Artistic Director in Roberto Bolle and Friends, a gala of solos and pas de deux presented at NY City Center September 17 celebrating “2013 – The Year of Italian Culture in the United States.”

But luckily, one day, after ABT company class and rehearsals, and before stepping out on the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s star-studded annual Costume Institute Gala, Roberto took a few minutes to discuss his favorite choreographers and ballerinas, his upcoming Roberto Bolle and Friends, and what the future may have in store.

Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Roberto Bolle - Photo: Andrea Varani

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Andrea Varani

Who are some of your favorite ballerinas? Who do you love dancing with?

Ah, I love dancing with Svetlana Zakharova (Bolshoi) – she’s so perfect physically and technically – so beautiful. I also love Julie Kent – we’re working on Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country at ABT – a debut for us – working in a piece like that is very interpretive and emotional. Julie’s a great artist and I like to share the stage with her. Sometimes I miss Alessandra Ferri – she’s great – we hope to dance together again in the future.

Who are your favorite choreographers?

I will be dancing in ABT’s world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy at the end of May, in Symphony #9. I like the choreography and like working with Alexi – I think he’s one of the best choreographers now and one of the best in the world. He’s smart and fast and very demanding – it’s not easy – it’s very hard work and sometimes we have a short period of rehearsal time to put things together, working with the corps and principals. Everyone’s involved in the movement and it’s good – I love working with him.

I also love dancing Balanchine because I think he was a genius. One of his great masterpieces that I like is Apollo – I’ve loved it every time I’ve danced it. I have to say I also really like Kenneth McMillan – I’ve done Romeo and Juliet and Manon – he’s great because he used the technique to express emotions. It’s beautiful to be on stage and be Romeo and play the character, because you can actually dance and feel so much emotion. His work is a great combination of musicality/choreography /story. Antony Tudor‘s work is also very emotional, but Leaves are Fading is the only piece I’ve danced by him, and it’s a shame. I’d like to do more.

Tell me about Roberto Bolle and Friends

Roberto Bolle and Friends Gala is a performance I’ve been doing in Italy for the last ten years. I am dancer and Artistic Director. I choose the dancers and with them we choose the pieces to perform. The focus is on bringing ballet to the public, and we often do so in dramatic outdoor spaces. We’ve performed in so many beautiful and unique places in Italy – from the Coliseum to biggest square, the Duomo, in Milan. We’ve performed in an outdoor arena in Verona with 10,000 people in attendance. In Milan there were 50,000 people – it was like a pop event!

What gave you the idea to put this show together?

In the beginning the idea was to be like Pavarotti and Friends and what that did for opera – the idea of putting together friends and artists you admire and go on stage and do a sort of gala performance. Often we could bring together artists I admire who never had a chance to perform together, particularly in Italy.

Roberto Bolle - Photo: Luciano Romano

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Luciano Romano

What brings Roberto Bolle and Friends to New York City Center?

It was already a big achievement to celebrate the “Year of Italian Culture in the United States.” The embassy and the Italian Ministry of Culture wanted to bring the most important kind of events and performances here as part of that celebration. I am honored to be representing the best of Italy. The show will feature 10-11 pieces, almost all solos and pas de deux.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

In the future, when I stop dancing, I would like to be Artistic Director of La Scala. It would be great to have a company to work with, and to work with young people and promote and coach them, to be the director and do the artistic part as well.

How do you stay in shape? You actually look like Apollo!

I stay in shape from ballet – there’s no special routine at the gym. I eat well, stay away from junk food, and don’t eat carbohydrates like pasta and bread. But I do eat rice… I come from a part of Italy where they produce rice (Piedmont) – so, I eat lots of rice! Also, I stay away from sweets.

You are on your way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala, New York’s party of the year. I hear you’re sitting with Katy Perry. Who else are you going with and, most importantly – what are you wearing?

Actually, I’m a guest of designers Dolce & Gabbana, they’re friends of mine. I’m at their table and so is Katy Perry. What am I wearing? Well, Dolce & Gabbana, of course!

Walking red carpet at Met Gala with Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia

Roberto Bolle and Friends is presented by Artedanze S.r.l, in association with NY City Center. Acqua di Parma, the leading Italian lifestyle brand, is the Patron of this event. Performance on Tuesday, September 17 at 7pm. For tickets:

This story first appeared in the Huffington Post Arts/Culture page, May 9, 2013.

Addendum – the September 17 GALA was great! Have a look:

Final piece of the evening - Roberto Bolle in Prototype; Photo: xChanges vfx

Final piece of the evening – Roberto Bolle in Prototype; Photo: xChanges vfx

President of Acqua di Parma Gabriella Scarpa, dancer/artistic director Roberto Bolle and actress/producer Trudie Styler attend Acqua di Parma gala event

President of Acqua di Parma Gabriella Scarpa, dancer/artistic director Roberto Bolle and actress/producer Trudie Styler attend Acqua di Parma gala event. Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

Musician Michael Stipe and actress Toni Collette attend Acqua di Parma gala event with Roberto Bolle; Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

Musician Michael Stipe and actress Toni Collette attend Acqua di Parma gala event with Roberto Bolle; Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

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90 MINUTES TO NUTCRACKER

6 Dec

Twitter can be an amazing thing.

Ashley Bouder, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, tweeted on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, “I’ve got 2 tix to the 2pm matinee of Nutcracker today. DM me if you want them:)” It was 12:30pm and I live in New Jersey.

I was barely fixed up and my kids, visiting for the holiday weekend, were at the gym, but what the heck? George Balanchine’s version of Nutcracker opened at New York City Ballet the day before and I knew the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center would be a sold-out house. Plus, I hadn’t seen the NYCB version of Nut in maybe 15 years? Cool opp. I’d love to take a run in, on a whim. After a little Twitter back and forth with Ashley, I learned the tickets were complimentary and would be left at the box office under her name. The race was on. Depending on traffic, the ride could take an hour and a half or more. (Of course, Lincoln Center is only 30 minutes from my house if you leave at, say, 4am).

David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center

I called my kids – stop running, stop biking, stop lifting – one of you get in the car NOW – we’re going to Nutcracker. Both thought I was crazy, but one did run for it, and we were on our way. We made every wrong turn, hit every traffic light, crept though every midtown Manhattan jam up, but we made it to the box office with three minutes to spare and rushed to our seats. And were we glad we made it!

That heartwarming Tchaikovsky score! The party scene! The growing Christmas tree! Those fabulous children from the School of American Ballet! And then the wonderful Act II variations in the Land of Sweets, with the beautiful Sugarplum Fairy and all of its inhabitants…. I was excited and I was loving it. I was so excited that after the first act I stumbled upon Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins in the rear orchestra and went up to him to say the company was excellent, Nutcracker was better than I ever expected, hadn’t seen the show in many years, better than ever… what was I doing?? Shut up!

There was excitement in the house. In the “viewing room,” where we were seated, bitter words were spoken to parents about rustling children and their whispers during the overture; people were fussing, moving around and not sitting still. Someone was making noise with candy wrappers… not the usual crowd at the Koch Theater. But Nutcracker is never the usual crowd – not only is the audience filled with children (us older folk should give them some wiggle room re decorum), but those very children were dressed to the hilt – most all little girls were in party dresses,  many with large petticoats, some even wearing “Santa” dresses, in red velvet with white fur trim. One little girl had a silver crown on her head! The ballet was a show, and the audience was a show. Even during intermission a dancer was posing for fundraising photographs with children. That is Nutcracker.

For me, there is nothing like Balanchine’s version, and I think NYCB does a stellar job. The reviews were good – even the normally persnickety New York Times was pleased. (Be sure to read Tobi Tobias’ Arts Journal blog on this season’s NYCB’s Nutcracker– she summed it up well)!

By the way, Ashley was a fine Dew Drop. The phrasing, execution and musicality of her dancing is a delight.  Thank you, Dew Drop, for a great afternoon. What could be a more wonderful and spontaneous way to kick off the holiday season then a “Twitter” Nutcracker?

NYCB will have a live telecast of Nutcracker on December 13, which will be on view in more than 500 movie theaters cross-country. On December 14, PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center will present the ballet. The NYCB season runs through December 31, 2011.

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