The most talented ballet dancers often come from the provinces. And, in the case of Italy, schools (there are more than 20,000) are genuine incubators for talent. They introduce children to music and rhythm, teaching them classical techniques and nudging the best – at the ages of 11 and 12 – towards the most prestigious academies.
This is precisely what happened to Roberto Bolle, who went on to become the primo ballerino, or first dancer, at Milan’s La Scala in 1996, at the age of 20. Since then he has had leading roles with the Royal Ballet in London and has been the Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre in New York, in addition to performing with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and numerous other companies around the world. He is an international star and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. And yet the seeds of this glorious career were sown in a small provincial town in Northern Italy in the 1980s when Roberto was still a child.
The name of the town is Vercelli and it was here that a young Spanish ballerina, Pilar Sampietro, moved after falling in love with an Italian. She set up a ballet academy where her pupils included Roberto. Sadly, Pilar is no longer with us, having passed away in 2015, but the Vercelli Dance Academy lives on and it continues to produce talented youngsters. And they will dance forever because, in the words of Anna Razzi, a former “Etoile” at La Scala, “in life you never stop being a ballerina.”