Appointed by Nureyev étoile of the Paris Opera in 1986, with a career that has marked the history of dance, he is the new director of the Scaligero Ballet. Arrived in full pandemic, he told Sky Tg24 in a long interview. “Today I’m behind the scenes, I’m here to give all my experience to the new generation”
“The lack of an audience is extremely frustrating. That silence at the end of a performance is something very heavy. But the Scala dancers are very brave. They find themselves at home due to the stops due to Covid or following a positive swab, then they return with the same motivation, with the same strength and go on stage. It is a very strong message that they send to me ”. Manuel Legris is the new director of the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Arriving in the middle of the pandemic last December, he found himself starting a whole season in streaming. We met him on the occasion of the show Tribute to Nureyev and he told us about the many daily difficulties due to the health emergency but also his memories, those of a dancer who has marked the history of dance. Like when, in 1986, he was nominated by Nureyev étoile of the Paris Opera on the stage of the Metropolitan in New York.
Teatro alla Scala, streaming “Homage to Nureyev”. The review
Unable to make long-term plans due to the pandemic, what are your first goals here at La Scala as director of the Corps de Ballet?
It is a very complicated time for everyone. It is really difficult to think about the future and I am trying to plan day by day and to find a psychological occupation for the dancers as well. I’m not in a normal socket of functions. I try to give a dynamic to the dancers, to prepare them mentally for when we can finally go back to doing shows in front of an audience.
What are the difficulties of staging a ballet in this context?
The hardest thing actually is that we are bound to the virus, something always happens. Swabs first positive, then negative (with reference to the error in the swabs that had forced to stop rehearsals and postpone the show Tribute to Nureyev, ed). Coming home is really frustrating and so is the lack of an audience. I must say that the dancers of the Scala are really very brave. They find themselves in their room in isolation, then they return to the room with the same motivation and go on stage. It is a very strong message to the new director, we must face this moment and win together. When the public returns, the shows will be great.
He posted on Instagram a video of the applause he received after his first Albrecht on the stage of the Bolshoi in Moscow. How do you compensate for that applause that is not there today?
There is absolutely no compensation. We have done, and we are preparing, various evenings in streaming … in the eyes of the dancers you can see that there is an important physical effort, an artistry that you want to give to someone but then, in the end, there is a very heavy silence . I hope this silence will end soon because it is something that is very difficult to accept.
The first of La Scala, “A riveder le stelle” with Domingo and Bolle
The exceptional nature of this period brought the dance, for the first time, to the premiere on 7 December. How it was born Verdi Suite, an example of bright and light dance?
Superintendent Dominique Meyer had the nice idea of associating ballet with the opening night of the opera season. When I decided to create something it was one of the worst moments of Covid, you shouldn’t have touched it. I did a choreography that was imposed on me by the virus. I chose some dancers and only did solos and twos, avoiding contact. It was frustrating but also a good exercise. Verdi’s music inspired me a lot.
In Seeing the Stars again we also saw the famous pas de deux del Nutcracker in the version choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev. Now theTribute to Nureyev… What did the flying tartar represent for you?
Well lots of things. He was my conductor for 6 years at the Paris Opera, I was part of his group Nureyev and Friends. We danced everywhere, we did a lot of shows especially in Italy. He pushed a whole generation of young dancers. I did the first Don chisciotte alla Scala prepared with him in just one week. I owe him a lot and it is an honor for me today to organize a tribute to a personality like Rudolf Nureyev who has forever marked the history of dance.
Scala, “Sylvia” opens the dance: love and power between myth and reality. VIDEO
Do you have a precise memory of Nureyev?
Many memories, many, many. It is very difficult to choose one, we have lived many experiences together, many trips. A special moment was certainly my appointment as an étoile at the Metropolitan in New York. It was the first of Raymonda and I shouldn’t have been dancing but on the morning of the show Nureyev came and informed me that I would be dancing in the evening. I didn’t understand why. “Don’t ask questions and dance!” he told me.
I was supposed to dance with Sylvie Guillem with whom I hadn’t rehearsed. But everyone told me I had to throw myself. They probably sensed that something exceptional was going to happen. So, at the end of the show, he took the microphone and walked through the audience. “I nominate Manuel Legris étoile of the Paris Opera,” he said. I have so many memories that I keep in my heart.
Do you think that Nureyev could have influenced you also in the choreography? In Sylvia I was struck by a similar use of small, fast, very complex steps and great musicality.
Well yes for sure, but not only him. I had a French school behind me. Nureyev gave me direction but I choreographed with my school and my musicality. Obviously when you become a choreographer you are not influenced by a single person but Nureyev was a great teacher.
He was étoile of the Paris Opera in truly golden years. Sylvie Guillem, Patrick Dupond… you made the history of dance. In retrospect, what were your strengths?
I arrived in an incredible time. We had all the great choreographers of the moment with us: Balanchine, Kylián, Robbins, Mac Millan, Forsythe, Neumeier. I did the first of Manon with MacMillan casting me for that role. And then again Béjart, Nureyev. All characters that have marked the history of ballet and we have had them for us. Of course, we also had talent, but meeting these great masters represented absolute wealth. It was a unique moment, a chance, I don’t know if it was destiny but it was special.
And what are the strengths of the La Scala Ballet Company?
There is a beautiful energy that I appreciated when I came to do Sylvia. They are very open dancers, there are strong personalities. When you arrive at La Scala there is a style, a footwork, a magnificent story in this theater.
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He invited Carla Fracci for a masterclass for Giselle, is this the beginning of a new collaboration?
Yes, for me it is something absolutely normal. I followed the evolution of ballet in Italy. Luciana Savignano, Liliana Cosi … there are always magnificent dancers in Italy and people who have marked the history of dance. I am respectful of the place where I am. I am now at La Scala, I am here for the Scala dancers and for the theater.
She said: “Being on stage and dancing well is the best thing in my life. From the age of 5 I have done everything to succeed. The phenomenon is inexplicable, I just need to enter the scene to be happy “…
That’s it, it’s my life as a dancer. Now I am behind the scenes and I see the show but I have as much pleasure to be in the hall and see the work I did with the dancers than what I had when I danced. There is no frustration, it is something natural. A normal change and it’s something I want to give to the new generation.
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