It’s 2021, and ballet is carrying on. The Ballo del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma has given us two lovely, carefully crafted, highly cinematic ballets. While they certainly work better onscreen than they would onstage, that is rather the point at the moment. That the dancers were masked throughout cannot be ignored, but neither, really, can this decision be judged. It must be remembered that the decision of whether or not masks must be used is, very often, not made by the artistic director of individual companies, but rather imposed by local government. If companies want to work and dance, in many parts of the world today, masks are forced, and in this situation; whatever one’s personal views; it is unfair to pass judgement on companies that are doing everything they can to keep working. Furthermore, it is beyond the role of a dance critic to comment upon, or attempt to evaluate, epidemiological measures.

Rebecca Bianchi in Baroque Suite
© Yasuko Kageyama | Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

What is quite well within the role of a dance critic is to analyze and evaluate how well any sort of handicap is successfully integrated into a production – be this a last-minute substitute due to injury, a stage that is too small or in poor condition, or…in 2021… some performances require the face of every dancer to be forcibly obliviated. Like all the world’s great art forms, ballet is stronger than anything the world can throw at it.

The ballet of Opera di Roma rose to the occasion majestically. Baroque Suites was shot in wide range, creating a grand feeling of expansion through the ages, showcasing the beautiful, classical physiques of the dancers without focusing on their faces. Bodies curled, folded and floated, their lyrical movement augmented by Laura Biagiotti’s gorgeous, sweeping costumes. She skillfully distracted the viewer from masks by adding long gloves and utilizing a similar color for the women’s dresses, creating an ensemble, that, from a distance, worked beautifully. Lighting designer Fabrizio Marinelli and set designer Andrea Miglio were utterly invaluable in their work to create a world that was vast, open and expansive – there was a curious feeling of hope throughout this piece – a feeling that imminent flight away into a more comforting world might be possible.

Rebecca Bianchi and Giovanni Bella in Baroque Suite
© Yasuko Kageyama | Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

The dancers worked in distanced couples, likely, again, to appease regulations, but not obstreperously. Instead, it appeared that each couple was a world unto themselves. They swirled alone but together, tossed about like exquisite stars caught in a storm. The cinematography and lighting adroitly distracted from the dancer’s covered faces, keeping the focus on the beautiful world, rather than on individual relationships. The choreography was full of slow, high extensions, pulls and leans, floating lifts that appeared to naturally spring in an almost improvisational quality. Benjamin Pech and Eleonora Abbagnato’s decision not to utilize a corps de ballet, but rather pairs of dancers weaving in and out, was a lovely creative decision, and for a viewer uncomfortable with seeing masked dancers out of concern for their wellbeing, unobtrusively alleviated such discomfort by insuring that dancers were able to leave the stage at regular intervals and that none of the choreography required excessive cardiovascular output. The principal ballerina, Rebecca Bianchi, was beautiful in all ways, but ultimately, this was very much a successful ensemble work.

Baroque Suite
© Yasuko Kageyama | Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

Vivaldi Suite began in a similar vein, a wide-open environment, but the opening focused on soloist Claudio Cocino (allowed, initially, to dance alone unmasked). Michele Merola’s choreography began on the floor to a haunting vocal melody, and gradually Cocino stood, his lucid upper body rippling with emotion. He was joined by three masked women and, as he left, the sky appeared to move, perhaps signaling the passage of time. The choreography had a “Forsythean” feel; not in a particularly negative or even derivative way, but certain movements, such as creating a box with the hands and moving it to the side, or encircling the head with hands together, have become as recognizable in contemporary dance as is an arabesque in classical dance. All were used several times with only minor variations.

Claudio Cocino and Annalisa Cianci in Vivaldi Suite
© Yasuko Kageyama | Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

Vivaldi Suite was much more an ensemble work than Baroque Suite, different groups migrating in and out, and an earthier quality, resulting from both the greater amount of floor work, and the more pedestrian costumes (Anna Biagiotti creations). The pas de deux in Vivaldi Suite was a fairly conventional duet and lacked the otherworldly quality of the Baroque. However, the piece also had a strength and aggressive movement quality that provided an interesting counterpoint to Vivaldi’s fluttering score. Both pieces contended extremely well with the limitations of our time, providing very positive additions to cinematic dance, and can be viewed online, free of charge; a lovely gift from the company.

These performances were reviewed from the Opera di Roma video streams