The series of ballets set on chamber music launched in 2015 at Teatro alla Scala continued this season with Progetto Händel. After Heinz Spoerli’s Cello Suites and Massimiliano Volpini’s The Lovers’ Garden, La Scala commissioned a new choreography from Mauro Bigonzetti, giving him the precious opportunity to create on the most iconic couple of the ballet world: Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle. One might think that you could never go wrong with these two étoiles, but believe me, you could. A choreographer is like a movie director and a screenwriter together: if the cast of playing actors is stellar, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the result will be impressive. Bigonzetti on the other hand, exactly hits the target, prompting a standing ovation of almost 20 minutes.

Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle, <i>Progetto Handel</i> © Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano
Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle, Progetto Handel
© Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano

“The golden boy of Italian Choreography” already created previous works inspired by Handel’s music such as InCanto and Come un respiro for Aterballetto and Festa Barocca for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He now returns to his great love for Baroque music. This new two-part abstract creation highlighted the physical abilities of 20 stunning dancers, the majority of whom are not even soloists. This indicates not only the fact that the level of the entire company is high, but that Bigonzetti is very good at creating for different types of dancers, respecting their idiosyncrasies and emphasizing them. The women danced with such a grounded and secure contemporary technique as if they weren’t on pointe, but it is indeed the use of pointe shoes that gave their sculpted legs the right extra elongation in order to pursue the standards of classical ballet as well. 

The fil rouge of the evening was a flow of energy that the dancers seemed to transmit to each other through a long human chain when the curtain rose.

Teatro alla Scala Ballet in <i>Progetto Handel</i> © Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano
Teatro alla Scala Ballet in Progetto Handel
© Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano

Even if they later detached from each other, they gave the impression that this strong connection was present throughout the whole evening; the narrative circle closed itself in the final ensemble section when they were so synchronised it appeared as if they were moved by a master puppeteer. Even though there was no scenery, the creative team succeeded in creating a musical, visual and choreographic crescendo. Starting from an intimate black and white atmosphere, accompanied only by James Vaughan’s admirable piano playing, the ballet bloomed into a more baroque and choral scene with five instruments in the orchestra pit. Helena de Medeiros‘s costumes effectively contributed by giving the evening the right “contemporary baroque” touch, with corsets and small skirts inspired by ruffs that smoothly followed the dancers’ movements.

Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company in <i>Progetto Handel</i> © Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano
Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company in Progetto Handel
© Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano

Each dancer started performing a little sequence, a sort of “appetizer”, with choreographic references to what they were going to perform later on, as if to define their individual characters. Then the ballet relentlessly started delighting the audience through a series of solos, duets and group sections. Especially noteworthy were two perfect choreographic miniatures, represented by two very challenging duets danced by the couples Antonella Albano partnered by Timofej Adrijashenko, and Agnese di Clemente with Gioacchino Starace. Bigonzetti’s style pushed the dancers beyond their physical limits, with his typical sudden changes of dynamics, his complex use of arms and his ability to transform classical technique into the most up to date movements 

The highlight of the evening was the pas de deux created for Zakharova and Bolle on Handel’s famous Suite in D minor HWV 437, which even the non-Baroque music enthusiasts in the audience surely recognised thanks to Stanley Kubrik’s Barry Lyndon. At this point something hard to convey in words happened. It wasn’t only these two étoiles’ perfect technique, it wasn’t their beauty either, or Zakharova’s sky-high extensions: it was the timeless illusion of peace of mind that they transmitted, hypnotizing and transporting the audience to another dimension. The result was a triumph with waves of endless applause as if the demanding Milanese audience was asking for a figurative encore.

Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle in <i>Progetto Handel</i> © Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano
Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle in Progetto Handel
© Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano

Over the years Zakharova and Bolle have demonstrated they have much in common: not only do they both have the perfect bodies for the 21st Century ballet canon, plus their impeccable technique and exquisite beauty, buta they are also very intelligent dancers and hard workers. Only through intelligence and modesty could one achieve not only such a successful career, but find the courage to throw oneself into something unexplored. When you are that famous taking risks acquires a different value, as the spotlight of the international press is constantly on you. I believe that Bigonzetti was the first choreographer who has managed not only to create steps for them and their beauty, but to sculpt their movements. Last night they were not two ballet dancers dancing a contemporary piece, but to my eyes they were contemporary (which are two very different things) and contributed in creating a new page of choreographic history. This might become a turning point of their careers: if they are willing to take more risks in the future and experiment with different styles even more, they might extend their careers following in Sylvie Guillem’s footsteps.