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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Next generation of ballet stars to shine at Abu Dhabi Classics

To be a student at Milan’s Accademia Teatro alla Scala is as much a psychological test as physical one

‘Gymnopedie’, with choreography by Roland Petit for La Scala. Photo by Alessia Santambrogio
‘Gymnopedie’, with choreography by Roland Petit for La Scala. Photo by Alessia Santambrogio

To study at Milan’s famed Accademia Teatro alla Scala means early morning starts: the students wake up just after sunrise, have breakfast and start limbering up for a full day of classes as they learn various techniques and styles and from some of the world’s best instructors.

The brain gets a workout as well; nestled between those dance sessions are academic classes where they learn subjects such as maths, Italian and science. The all-round approach makes the institution one of the world’s best, with some alumni going on to be top world dancers.

Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre’s leading soloist is La Scala graduate, Jakopo Tissi, and another alumnus is former Royal Ballet principal dancer Mara Galeazzi. In an interview with The National, she described life at the academy as gruelling, yet ultimately rewarding. “There is an element of giving up on certain things in life,” she said. “But if you have the passion for it, you don’t really think about that too much.”

School of life

That combination of passion and perseverance will be on display on Friday night when students perform a showcase as part of Abu Dhabi Classics. The students will take on select pieces from productions including La Bayadere, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie and August Bournonville’s Napoli.

True to the academy’s educational approach, managing director Luisa Vinci said the Abu Dhabi show is akin to an important field trip. “The students are very excited to come,” she told us from Milan. “These shows are very important for their development, but not only when it comes to performance, it is also about seeing the different cultures of the world. We are all excited about visiting and learning about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

The close to 20 dancers performing in Abu Dhabi are aged between 16 and 18, but their youth masks their experience and resilience. Some of them have been with the academy since the age of eight, and have sacrificed a traditional family upbringing in a quest for excellence.

How to make it at La Scala

The emotional price of a La Scala education is high, and so Vinci says the audition process for any of the 34 courses at the academy is based on psychology as well as performance. “What is their motivation? That’s one of the things we look for in the speech that they give us in an audition,” she says.

“As well as the talent, which of course is important, we need to see if the students have the psychological capacity to stay in the ballet for up to eight years and to learn in a hard way. For example, one of our courses is made of 1,600 hours a year. It is not easy.” Vinci describes the ideal La Scala student as “a positive competitor.”

He says dance academies can arm students with life skills that will keep them in good-stead. “You learn patience and that life is about give and take,” Vinci says.

La Scala Academy Rising Stars will perform at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi on Friday. Tickets are from Dh50 and are available at www.ticketmaster.ae

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