The tradition of ballet in Naples

Published in Focus
05 January 2016

Interview with Laura Valente, musicologist and artistic director of  ‘Positano Premia la Danza’. Ms. Valente takes us in discovery of the San Carlo Ballet School, the oldest in Italy.

Naples boasts a longstanding tradition with ballet starting from the San Carlo Opera House, whose ballet school dates back to 1812 and is the oldest in Italy. Ms. Valente, a musicologist and an expert in the performing arts, tells us that its stage has been graced by all of the world’s most famous ballet dancers.  In charge of communications at Teatro San Carlo for years, she is currently the artistic director of the Positano Dance Festival,  ‘Positano Premia la Danza’.

With is 203-year history, the San Carlo Ballet School in Naples boasts a longstanding tradition.

«That’s right! It was established one year before the La Scala ballet school, making it the oldest in Italy. In particular, its curriculum focused on training children. Individuals of the caliber of Salvatore Taglioni, Bianca Galizia and Anna Razzi, now the honorary president of the school, after having directed it until this year when she handed over the reins to Stéphane Fournial, have contributed to making it one of the world’s greatest centres of classical ballet training».

What type of education were ballet dancers subjected to at that time?

«A very strict education, infused with a strong civic sense. Moral standing was an essential requisite for the authorities and it wasn’t a question of wealth. The school was attended by lots of poor people, who were helped and supported. But it was necessary to possess moral rectitude in order to be accepted».

World-class dancers have graced the stage of the San Carlo Theatre…

Maksimova and Vassiliev, for example: a legendary couple who were totally in sync one with the other. Carla Fracci, a timeless icon of classical ballet, whose performances here ranged from dancing lead roles that elevated her to legendary stature to acting in the plays of Eduardo De Filippo. Nureyev, with his incredible stage presence and the unerring intelligence that he expressed in each of his roles. Roberto Bolle, the undisputed star on the Neapolitan scene in recent years but also Giuseppe Picone, the other ‘Italian’ dancing star who is gradually making his mark on the world stage. And then, above all, the brilliant, highly original Margot Fonteyn, the great mother of all classic and contemporary dancers, who brought her characters to life on stage, personifying them in a highly contemporary, communicative manner. A key presence for all those who studied the evolution of dance in costume. And then Barishnikov! The list is endless. For example, what about Bianca Gallizia? However, despite the purely classical trend that marked the 50s and the 60s, the San Carlo Theatre was also a prominent crossroads of contemporary experimentation».

What does being a part of the San Carlo Ballet Schol entail?

«Saying that you’re from San Carlo gives you prestige because it boasts a curriculum of the highest order. Neither short cuts nor the intervention of people in high-up places are allowed. They taught us that talent cannot be bought, it requires sacrifice and hard work. Although basic requisites include natural talent and the right physical build, you have to construct the rest with sweat, dedication and professionalism. And, in this case, the rest is 70%».

How important is the body for a ballet dancer?

«A ballet dancer’s body is a sacred temple. It needs to be trained and looked after, it should never yield to excess or vulgarity. The only excess allowed lies in the way you interpret a role, but the body is sacred. A lot of ethics are involved in being a ballerina: the only way that your body can combat the passing of time is by maintaining a high level of physical fitness in order to preserve it.  Injections or botox are not the answer to longevity, the secret lies in expressive intensity and a body that is maintained and looked after by working out and following a healthy regime. It is, in fact, from a world that epitomizes immaterial beauty that we receive a warning, an exhortation to remember that everything we achieve should be tackled in a serious manner. In ballet you have to earn your place on the stage. Our audiences are demanding and discerning and the body does not lie, it tells an honest story».

Which is the capital of dance today?

«Not Italy, unfortunately. However, I personally, have the honour of being the artistic director  of the Positano Dance Festival, ‘Premia la Danza’, which, for the past 43 years has been devoted to the colony of Russian ballerinas who have settled on the Coast. The whole world of ballet has passed through Positano. Today, the oldest and most prestigious Italian festival is focusing on bringing the ‘greats’ back to Campania. Although our festivals do their best, as far as ballet is concerned, nowadays, the truly great productions are staged by the Russians, the British, the French and the Americans. We deserve to get back this tradition».