We chat with Annalisa from Italy, where ballet originated from, about her dance journey and what is ballet like there right now.
What is professional ballet like in Italy?
Ballet in Italy has long history back in the centuries so it is or better say it was a big part of our culture. Unfortunately since the economic crisis started, ballet and dance in general has been considered from the Government as a “second level” art, and the economic resources allocated to the ballet are really few.
That’s not so good. So what do the Italians consider a first rate art?
Football! Oh wait, that’s not an art. I’m only joking.
It is sad, since ballet originated from Italy.
Yes, it is. I do believe that the Opera is still doing better than Ballet in terms of taking in cash and receiving support. This makes me sad because ballet is my art and passion.
Many theaters (and we have many) don`t have a corp of ballet because it is considered a waste of money….but on the other hand, we have really good professional dance schools. This whole situation is not helping. We produce many talented dancers but there aren’t enough jobs for everybody.
We have four national ballet companies and many more private companies here in Italy. Opera of Rome is one of the biggest national ballet company and it is the theatre of the capital. To have many private companies is a good thing of course, but private companies cannot really secure you a future, and if you are with a private company, sometimes you don’t even get a monthly salary. Even for our national ballet companies, sometimes you only get contracts for productions, instead of full time positions.
And all this while professionals have to maintain their form while finding work?
Yes, but there are many places for professionals to take class in the mornings for as little as 3 euros.
Will every little girl dance ballet growing up in Italy, like in Singapore?
Not every little girl but a lot of them! As for me I had to beg my mum to take me to ballet class! She brought me to the dance school on my 7th birthday. It was my present.
Eventually, I became more serious about ballet taking classes everyday until I entered Accademia Nazionale di Danza, also known as the National Academy of Dance in Rome.
Is hard to get into National Academy of Dance in Rome?
Well, when I did the audition, there were about 90 girls and they took in only 3. So yes it is very hard. I suppose it is because it is the only professional dance school of the State.
What is the National Academy of Dance in Rome like?
In general, you enter when you’re 10 years old. The vocational program is 8 years in duration, so you’ll graduate around 18 years of age. There is a boarding school connected, but it is optional. Some of us live in Rome and commute to the school right in the city. When I was around 15, I lived with my classmates away from the city.
In the Academy I had training 5 days per week and even sometimes on the weekend as well. This is especially when we have a show coming up or if we’re performing at a festival. We have general academic school, and start with dance classes at 3 pm up till around 8-9 pm with a small break in between.
We studied ballet, contemporary, repertoire and composition, plus history of music, history of art, solfeggio and theory of dance.
No Character dance training?
There has been some changes, like even though we had to study character in Academy because it was founded by a Russian teacher in 1940. It seems in the recent years, they have since removed the study of Character dance off the program.
There is so much character dancing in classical ballet though…
Yes…it’s true! I suppose the program is already as stressful as it is. We enter the professional dance school at such a young age. We had to go through many exams and psychological pressures as adolescents. It was really not easy for me.
For instance, there are two departments in the academy – ballet and contemporary. I started in ballet but I’m a graduate in contemporary. As I grew, the director thought I did not have the right body for ballet. Looking back, I’m glad for that choice because I felt it made me a better dancer.
I would say training at the Academy were some very tough times but overall many beautiful memories.
The training was at a high level of course, but I felt that the atmosphere at the Academy was not as competitive as other schools. The school was our home and when you live away from your family, you friends become your brothers and sisters and they are still my best friends now. One of my teachers was like a mother to me…she still is, you know what I mean?
I was also very fortunate…most of my teachers loved me so they were hard on me, harder than with others sometimes so I was really lucky! But only when I grew up then I understood that.
What an experience it must have been, spending your childhood at ballet in Italy. What is the recreational ballet scene like? Do people do ballet recreationally?
Mmm…there is not a really adult ballet scene but there are some dance center that offer professional classes in the morning with pretty famous teacher or ex-dancer to give the opportunity to freelance dancers and also adult dancers to take class. That is something that is missing in Singapore.
Yes, places like that in the United States its common. So if someone wants to learn ballet well into their adult years, there’s no opportunity?
I suppose some private schools allow adults to join the kids’ or children’s classes. Yeah I agree that doesn’t sound too appealing. That is why I was really surprised to see many adults doing ballet recreationally in Singapore. I think it is actually pretty cool.
Although I also feel that the ballet culture in Singapore is very different compared to Europe.
How is it different?
I feel that the dance scene has so much more potential than what it is now.
Firstly, there is no professional school here, no professional classes for ex-dancers or freelance dancers.
Also, the dance schools in Singapore all teach RAD or CSTD, which feels pretty much like a business. Singapore feels like a well-to-do country who can afford to send their children to learn ballet, but maybe because of these recreational businesses, it is quite hard to develop a larger, more professional dance scene. Certificates are such a high priority here. When you study RAD or CSTD as a student, they give you a certificate here and so the mothers are happy.
When I went to watch the Superstars of ballet in the Esplanade, I was taken aback by the responses of the audience after the performance of each artist. Each of them perhaps received one minute of ‘seat-clapping’ (meaning audience remain in their seats while clapping). These international artists are used to standing ovations and long clapping in Europe. I mean, these are considered some of the best dancers of the world. I guess it is not the culture of long standing ovations and clapping here.
Yes, I suppose we don’t have that culture of long standing ovations and clapping!
Anyway…what I loved most in Singapore was Chen Wei’s classes. He is so good!
Really? Why do you like his class? He’s so crazy.
Ahahaha…I bet to u to find a good teacher that is not crazy! His classes are hard as heck. I like his adagio and big jumps. I think because his class was what I needed in that moment when I was there. I only liked his classes..all the others, not so much.
Were your Italian teachers so crazy?
Ooooh…my dear! You can’t imagine! I had a lot of Russians teacher too. Chen Wei is the sweetest if u compare to them.
Hahahahah really??? Compared to them he is sweet? *nearly chokes*
Also…yes! Ya, believe me.
Well thank you so much for talking to us! We are both touched and inspired by your passion for the art, and we are so glad to have met you in this short span while you were in Singapore.
Being a ballerina is every little girl’s dream but few reach that goal. It’s a hard life and you need a lot of luck. Once you graduate, you must continue training and audition as many places as possible, even flying around the world to do so. But once you get your chance, it is wonderful! Your passion becomes your job and that is the best thing that can happen for you.
Annalisa now dances at the Staatsoperette Dresden in Germany.