MaggioDanza in Florence, Italy, weaves current dance trends into its rich ballet tradition. What began in 1967 as a corps de ballet for the affiliated opera company has evolved into a group as polished as the city it calls home. Italy influences the company’s style, says Artistic Director Giorgio Mancini, because Italian dancers come together on the stage with the same kind of energy they would have if they were meeting each other on the street.
“Dancers from Italy are very interesting in their personality,” says Mancini. “We bring a lot of feelings and emotions about life.”
MD has attracted well-known dancers and choreographers since its inception. Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alexander Godunov were early guests with the company, and Karole Armitage directed it from 1996 to 1998. Before Mancini took his position in 2003, he directed the Geneva Ballet in Switzerland.
The company regularly performs full-length classics, and Mancini has expanded the repertoire to include more contemporary ballet, often including his own prize-winning choreography. He hires dancers who can adapt to the repertoire and who are confident and willing to take risks.
“These dancers are very capable in their technique, but they can also be very free,” he explains. MD performs in three theaters: Larger productions, such as Giselle, take place in the majestic Teatro del Maggio Musicale; avant-garde productions, such as Lucinda Childs’s upcoming première of Daphnis and Chloe, appear in the more modern Teatro Alla Pergola; and smaller, contemporary productions happen in the intimate Teatro Goldoni. During the summer, MD performs in the Boboli Gardens, an outdoor venue behind the Medici Palace.
Even though MD is based in one of the world’s most renowned artistic centers, Mancini still must educate audiences about ballet. He says funding for the arts is not automatically guaranteed, so as part of an effort to reach out to new patrons, he recently adapted a concert created for schoolchildren into an evening for regular audiences.
“As is the tradition here, the company is part of an opera house,” Mancini says. “People who come to our performances don’t always have a knowledge of dance.”
Honoring Mozart’s birthday, the “Mozart per Gioco” program in April 2005 featured classical ballet excerpts and a première by Mancini. During the first half of the performance, ballet mistress Christiane Marchant narrated as dancers performed a 15th-century court dance, a pas de deux from Les Sylphides, José Limón’s Chaconne and excerpts from other contemporary ballets.
Primarily, MD’s dancers come from Italy, having trained locally or at the Academia Nazionale di Danza in Rome. Others are from France or Spain, but few come from outside Europe because hiring noncitizens requires special visa procedures. All the company’s dancers have permanent contracts (except the 10 who work on a yearly basis).
Principal dancer Letizia Giuliani performed with the Metropolitan Opera in New York last September, dancing in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Dance of the Hours” in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, but like other MD company members who have worked abroad, Giuliani is committed to a career in her home country. However, MD has only three performances scheduled this season.
“Mancini is trying to work a miracle on such a low budget,” Giuliani says. “Italian companies are living in very difficult financial [situations]. The company needs much more!”
At A Glance:
Number of dancers: 43
Contract length: lifetime, with 10 dancers on annual contracts until
permanent positions open
Associated school: none
Auditions: by invitation
Christie Taylor covers dance for London’s The Sunday Times and is the ballet critic for The Irish Times.