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Leonide Massine Positano Prize 2004


by Patrizia Vallone

September 4, 2004 -- Positano, Italy

Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes influenced the destiny of dance even more than one might imagine. Who would think that the ancestry of the Positano “Leonide Massine” Prize for the Art of Dance could be traced back – albeit somewhat indirectly – to that famed dance company?

The year was 1917. Leonide Massine and the Ballets Russes were in Naples, dancing at the Teatro San Carlo. Afterwards, Russian writer Misha Semenov invited Massine to take a few days off as his guest at the water-mill he had bought in Arienzo, near Positano. Massine fell under the spell of the Amalfi coast, and was so enchanted with the three islets called Li Galli that he decided they must be his.

Massine finally managed to acquire the islands in 1922, and thereafter used them as a summer place for himself and his family. After his death, Li Galli were bought by Nureyev.

Alberto Testa – former dancer, now choreographer, dance critic, scholar and teacher of dance history, not to mention founder and artistic director of the Positano Prize – was chosen by Massine in 1952 to portray Judas in his "Laudes Evangeli", first performed the following year in Perugia and after that elsewhere in Italy and Europe. Testa recalls that the rehearsals of this “choreographic mystery” were held in Positano in August, and that Massine would arrive from Li Galli by boat in the morning and return there in the evening.

The idea of creating an annual dance award for Italian artists (who were, and often still are, obliged to search their fortune abroad) was born in 1969. In 1979, the year of Massine’s death, the Positano Prize was named after the great choreographer who so loved the area. A gala performance is held on the first Saturday of September, when the prize is awarded to promising young dancers as well as to étoiles of international fame.

This year, the difficult task of opening the evening was given to two young dancers from the Naples Teatro San Carlo company: Candida Sorrentino and Alessandro Macario danced the "Pas d’Esclave", a rarely-performed pas de deux from "Le Corsaire". Twenty-year-old Candida is very elegant, with beautiful long lines and very sure in her technique, while 24-year-old Alessandro, tall and sinewy, has the body of a danseur noble and a fine, powerful leap.

Alessandro Riga came next. He’s only 18, but is already more than just a promise of Italian dance. He was still in the Rome Opera Theater’s ballet school (he graduated last June) when Carla Fracci chose him to interpret principal roles in three ballets. Last April he won first prize at the Spoleto International Dance Competition, far outclassing all the other contestants. This evening in Positano he danced the variation from the third act of "Swan Lake" and "Anime Salve" (Saved Souls), a melancholy modern piece by Laura Martorana set to music by Vivaldi.

"Swan Lake" again, with Agnès Letestu and José Martinez, principal dancers at the Opéra of Paris, who performed the pas de deux from the second act with a great show of technique, class and elegance, followed by Corona Paona and Luigi Ferrone, of the Teatro San Carlo, who danced the sensuous pas de deux from Roland Petit’s Carmen.

Luciana Savignano, one of Italy’s greatest dancers, commemorated her dear friend and companion in art, Paolo Bortoluzzi (who died in 1993), with "Caro Paolo, ti ricordiamo!" (Dear Paolo, We Remember You!), a heartfelt and nostalgic solo piece by Susanna Beltrami with music by John Field.

Contemporary dance proper was performed by Fara Grieco and Maurizio Formiconi, who danced an excerpt from "Jaktà", created by Gabriella Borni to music by Sergio Rendine to commemorate Pablo Neruda on the centenary of his birth. Formiconi, who also an acting career, recited verses by the great Chilean poet.

"Swan Lake" was also the choice of Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg, of the London Royal Ballet, who danced the pas de deux from the third act, unfortunately without the variations. Alina, who is very young, won the audience’s heart with her grace and impeccable technique, while Johann was a perfect example of Danish elegance.

Tamara Rojo and José Martin, likewise principals of the Royal Ballet – how curious that none of the Royal Ballet dancers invited to Positano was actually British! – certainly got the all attention they deserved for the great virtuosity and brilliant technique they displayed in the pas de deux from "Don Quixote".

The Spanish flavor returned with Audrey Montaug’s performance of "Flamenco su Canzone", an original and intense piece set by the great dancer Maria Pagés to John Lennon’s "Imagine".

The evening ended with the Slave’s pas de deux from "Excelsior", the only grand 19th-century Italian ballet still in the repertory, well performed by Paola Vismara, principal of the Maggiodanza company in Florence, and Antonino Sutera, of the La Scala Ballet.

All the dancers received warm applause from the large and festive audience. A very satisfying performance, with a bonus: in the audience, surrounded by young admirers begging for autographs, sat handsome dance star Roberto Bolle, guest of honor of the evening.

Edited by Editor

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