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500 Years of Italian Dance:

Treasures from the Cia Fornaroli Collection

by Rosella Simonari

December 2 , 2006 -- Vincent Astor Gallery, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, New York City

Exhibition curated by Lynn Garafola and Patrizia Veroli

When Walter Toscanini, son of the renowned conductor Arturo, decided to start donating his collection of dance material to the New York Public Library in 1955, he insisted on having his name replaced by that of his wife, Cia Fornaroli, who had passed away a few months before, and who had been a famous Italian dancer during the 1910s and 1920s. The collection comprises all sort of material dealing with mainly Italian dance, from ballet programmes and illustrations to rare manuscripts and volumes on dance.

From October 17, 2006 to January 20, 2007, the New York Public Library organised a beautiful exhibition which showed some of this material, together with a few other items from other relevant collections. The title, “500 Years of Italian Dance: Treasures from the Cia Fornaroli Collection”, was particularly exemplary of Toscanini’s attempt to document the fact that “Italy played a seminal role in the genesis and development of Western theatrical dance.” 

As scholar Patrizia Veroli has highlighted in a recent study, Toscanini tried to promote a modernisation of Italian dance, founding the magazine “La Danza” together with journalist Paolo Fabbri and becoming dance critic of the magazine “Perseo”, based in Milan. He produced and created a book of photographs on his wife, and he insisted that a proper reform should be based on a cultural approach to the teaching of dance and to ballet courses opened for male dancers.

He probably began collecting material on Italian dance from 1919, after he met and fell in love with Fornaroli, who was an acclaimed dancer at the time. Unfortunately, a proper modernisation of dance in Italy did not take place, and “his dream was transfused in his passion for collecting material”. This was also due to the rise of Fascism in Italy during the second half of the 1920s.

Toscanini was openly antifascist and this led La Scala to fire Fornaroli from her position as director because of her relationship with him. That is why Toscanini and Fornaroli left Italy to go to the United States in 1938. A great part of Toscanini’s interest and passion for Italian dance emerges then through the richness and preciousness of the material he collected. Walter Toscanini was a great collector, and this exhibition is a refined taste of all his devotion to his wife and to his country.

The exhibition, curated by dance scholars Lynn Garafola and Patrizia Veroli, was housed in the Vincent Astor Gallery and was divided into three main sections: “The genesis of a Tradition – Renaissance and Baroque Dance”, “Romanticism” and “Virtuosity and Spectacle”. The first section was maybe the most intriguing, as it presented material which does not usually appear on dance history manuals. In many cases, Renaissance dance is totally omitted, while the very first treatises on dance that we know of do come from Renaissance Italy.

One is Fabritio Caroso’s “Il Ballarino” [The Dancer], published in Venice in 1581. In the exhibition, there is one plate taken from that treatise, showing a portrait of Caroso himself aged 46. Other treatises put on display are those by Cosimo Ticcio, Cesare Negri, Arcangelo Tuccaro and Antoine Arena. In particular, Tuccaro’s manual employed the device of the dialogue for his work and emphasised the role of gymnastics in his approach to dance.

An interesting illustration from this section is “The Feast of Salomé” by Israel (Israhel) van Meckenem. The figure of Salomé was quite popular in Renaissance art, and in this engraving “the theme appears in the upper vignettes, while the main image depicts a contemporary scene of dancing and music-making”. Another interesting image is an etching by Jacques Gallot, “La Guerra d’Amore” [The War of Love], on seventeenth-century horse ballets which were quite popular at the time.

Also there is an engraving of dancer Teresa Fogliazzi as Psyche (ca. 1758). Fogliazzi was the wife of Gasparo Angiolini, dancer, choreographer and dance writer who became famous for his ‘danza parlante’, that is ‘dance that speaks’, a sort of new approach to dance which incorporated narrative and highlighted the fact that action had to be made “visible”.

Angiolini pushed for the renovation of ballet as much as his rival in this debate, Jean-Georges Noverre, who promoted the ‘ballet d’action’ in his “Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets” [Letters on Dancing and Ballet]. Both Angiolini and Noverre’s works are represented in the exhibition through precious and rare editions. Other images deal with portraits like the one of dancer and ballet master Salvatore Viganò or the one of Armand Vestris, whose family members included many professional dancers.

The second section is dedicated to the Romantic Age, and it presents the portraits and related material of famous nineteenth-century Italian dancers, such as Marie Taglioni and Carlotta Grisi. There is a whole series of images referred to the Taglioni dynasty. As it is specified in the explanatory notes present on the New York Public Library site, “dance dynasties played a key role in the history of Italian ballet well into the nineteenth century”, and the Taglioni family was probably the most famous one.

Among the portraits and pictures, there are a couple dedicated to Salvatore Taglioni, Filippo’s brother, who worked as choreographer mainly in Naples, and another one by Emilien Desmaisons with Marie-Paul Taglioni (daughter of Paul, Marie’s brother) as the Flower Fairy in her father’s “Thea, ou le Flée aux Fleurs” (1847?). Another lithograph by T. H. Maguire from a drawing by A. E. Chalon (1845) shows a celebrated pas de quatre with Marie Taglioni as the standing figure and Fanny Cerrito, Lucille Grahn and Carlotta Grisi “paying homage around her”. With the harmony and delicacy of the ballerinas portrayed, it “exemplifies the iconography of the Romantic Ballet”.

Other lithographs show the taste for local colour typical of Romantic Ballet. There is one by Roberto Focosi showing Marie Taglioni in the ballet “La Gitana” [the Gypsy], dated 1841, another one by Achille Devéria with Lisa Noblet as Fenella in “La Muette de Portici” [the Dumb Girl of Portici] (184-), an opera-ballet set in Naples, choreographed by Jean-Louis Aumer. A couple of colour lithographs show a typical Italian character dance, the tarantella, one of which has been chosen as the leading image for the exhibition. 

The third section is dedicated to various important figures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Carlo Blasis, a ballet theorist and pedagogue whose method laid the basis for the “scuola italiana” [Italian school]. In particular, he advised his students to cultivate their spirit as much as their technical ability. Apart from an engraving portraying him, the exhibition provides some copies of his treatises, such as his 1830 “The Code of Terpsichore. The art of dancing: comprising its theory and practice and a history of its rise and progress from the earliest times intended as well for the instruction of amateurs as the use of professional persons”.

Blasis’ first seven students to acquire international fame were called the “Pleiades”, and near his portrait there are a few presenting some of these famous ballerinas, such as Flora Fabbri and Marietta Baderna. “Beginning in the 1820s, the European dancers braved long sea journeys to tour the United States”, and among them there were many Italians. One of them was Domenico Ronzani who, together with his company, inaugurated the Philadelphia Academy of Music. The colour lithograph by B. F. Smith, Jr. shows his “Grand Ballet Troupe”.

This section also presents images of the “last glories of the Italian School”, such as Virginia Zucchi in an autographed photograph, with a couple of lines dedicated to Caterina Beretta, Carlotta Zambelli (who was the last ètolies at the Paris Opèra) and Carlotta Brianza who made her debut in 1883 in Luigi Manzotti’s “Excelsior”.

Manzotti’s “Excelsior” became famous for its grandeur, as more than five hundred people took part in it. The exhibition shows a fragment of its filmed version, made by Luca Comerio in 1913 with the first two scenes. This ballet was an allegorical celebration of science and progress, and it toured in several Italian and European theatres after its first performance at La Scala in 1881.

Another key figure to ballet history was that of Enrico Cecchetti, who, after dancing all over Europe, returned to Italy in 1880 and danced in many of Manzotti’s choreographies. In 1910, he joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and “created memorable roles in founding works of ballet modernism,” such as the Old Showman in “Petrouchka” (1911) and the Doctor in “Pulcinella” (1920).

He also created his own teaching method, which became particularly important to the development of British ballet. In the exhibition, there are several objects dedicated to Maestro Cecchetti, such as some posters in French with his “Daily Barre Exercises”, a Russian caricature of him and a photo portraying him as “the Chief Eunuch in the Ballets Russes production of Schéhérazade”.  

The last part of this section is devoted to Cia Fornaroli herself. She trained at La Scala and “made her debut as première danseuse at the Metropolitan Opera” in New York during the 1910-1911 season. Arturo Toscanini had asked her to go to New York with him, and she had accepted. She then toured in Argentina and Spain.

The exhibition presents some photographs of her in various periods of her life and career. In one photo by Bragaglia, she appears in “Marouf”, an opera by Henry Rabaud performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. In a tinted photograph by Kitzler, she appears together with Ricardo Nemanoff in “Samson e Delila”, performed in Buenos Aires in 1920.

There is a “Letter from Enrico Cecchetti to Cia Fornaroli after his appointment as director of dance at La Scala, 1925”.  There is also a copy of the little book her future husband, Walter Toscanini, created for her in 1923, “L’Arte della danza e l’arte di Cia Fornaroli” [the art of the dance and the art of Cia Fornaroli].

Even though the Vincent Astor Gallery is not particularly spacious, at the end of this journey, one feels like a long and intense walk has been done, a walk inside the history of Italian Dance – an exciting incursion into the life and work of splendid ballet dancers and acute dance theorists who contributed to the growth and development of dance as an art form in its on right.

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