Our interview with Roberto Bolle
The great étoile talks from his beginnings to his desire to popularize ballet
He is the world’s most famous Italian dancer of all time. A statuesque physique, extraordinary technical mastery and total dedication to classical ballet. Étoile at Teatro alla Scala since 2004 and for 10 years (2009 - 2019) Principal Dancer of New York’s American Ballet Theatre, Roberto Bolle can be credited with having popularized classical ballet by reaching out to a diverse and very large audience with live shows such as Roberto Bolle and friends and OnDance.
What ignited your passion for ballet dancing?
It was a spontaneous passion, which I developed by watching ballet dancing on television, but it became immediately an all-absorbing passion. No member of my family was a classical ballet lover, although they all became passionate about it over time by following my career. I was very young, about five years old, when I told my mother that I wanted to study ballet dancing for the first time. She said that if I had not changed my mind one year from then, she would have explored the possibility of sending me off to a ballet school. The following September, I began studying in Vercelli and then, at the age of 11, my mother took me to Milan to the Scala Theater for an audition. There was this clear path ahead of me, a hard yet clear path.
Is there any anecdote about your years training at the Scala that you would like to share with us?
I remember how deep my relationship with the theater had become. It was my hideaway. I wasn’t too fond of the family I lived with when, at the age of 12, I had left my home in Trino Vercellese. So I spent as much time as possible at the theater. I would hide where I could not be seen to watch the shows. I have never forgotten that feeling, I can still feel it sometimes.
What is Milan to you?
Milan is home to me by now. I have been living here since I was 11 years old. I have a very deep bond with this city which I still enjoy exploring on foot. When it seems that you know everything there is to know about Milan, then something else surprises you. And it is the city of opportunities, so it was for me as a young ballet dancing fan, and so it is for the thousands of kids looking for a springboard to success.
How would you describe the Scala Theater’s audience?
The Scala’s audience is unique of its kind. There are a lot of foreigners, but also many season subscribers and I have noticed that, in the past few years, there are also many young people among the audience. It is still an aspirational phenomenon: people want to go to the Scala Theater at least once in a lifetime. And the truth is, if you’ve been there once, you can’t wait to go back.
What are your favorite places in Milan?
I enjoy wandering about the downtown streets, the old Milan where there are no cars and cabs can hardly make it through the narrow streets. I like going to museums and churches. They fill me with a sense of peace. I go there often and stop for a moment to get my thoughts together.
What quality as a dancer matters the most in your career?
A professional dancer is a mix of different elements: technical mastery, interpretation and key physical requirements. Besides the physical characteristics which are a gift of nature, everything else comes with hard work if you want to become a great dancer.
Talent is natural, but is there a way to become gifted without being born with it?
No, but you can become a good professional. Excellence requires a magical mix of talent and dedication, plus a good base of innate physical qualities.
What roles have you loved the most?
The roles you play are like the songs you listen to in life: each has a memory attached to it and you love it for one reason in particular. Romeo is a role which marked the most important stages of my career, Des Grieux the sign of a reached expressive maturity. Bolero is one of my favorite roles. Right now I am very intrigued by contemporary characters which describe the torments of today’s man with modern rhythm and movements.
You have managed to bring classical ballet to a wider audience. What initiatives are you the most fond of?
Well, one of the media that helped me the most to achieve this goal is television. The Danza con me show was watched by millions of people. And then the OnDance Festival, which kept dancing in the spotlight even during the lockdown period and which every year brings dancing to the streets of Milan with events, shows, workshops and open-classes thanks to which anyone can experience new disciplines with top-level teachers. Now we are working on the creation of a general dancing database in Milan, a guide to the best dancing places for lovers of all age. And, last but not least, the Roberto Bolle and Friends Gala, which is the show I have been staging for over twenty years, always the same as format, but always different in terms of cast and program, with which I have brought dancing across Italy and the world. A powerful and very popular cultural tool. We will be back with the Gala in June, at Teatro degli Arcimboldi. It is always a pleasure to be able to perform in Milan.
Does television still fulfill the mission of bringing beauty and elegance to a wider audience?
Definitely. The Danza con me operation had something miraculous about it. This year, with live shows still on hold, bringing Danza con me back to television means keeping the connection with the audience alive, expanding it, keeping the focus on the world of performing arts, which has paid a high price to this period of fear, uncertainties and crisis.
The previous shows were very popular and featured many guest stars. What surprises does this year’s Danza con me have in store for us?
It is going to be a very beautiful show because of the many and varied dancing performances. Wonderful dancers, such as Svetlana Zakharova, Melissa Hamilton and Marianela Nuñez, will be performing on the show, as well as movie, music, theater and television stars. The hosts are the magnificent Serena Rossi and Lillo, who is very funny and also a surprisingly good dancer.