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Landing Firmly, Gracefully on Her Feet

Dance: The classically trained founder of 12-year-old Balletto di Toscana overcame financial hurdles to launch a company with a modern bent.


When Italian ballet dancer Cristina Bozzolini decided to start a modern-dance troupe 12 years ago, she knew she'd be bucking the odds.

"It wasn't hard finding dancers and even an audience, because I relied on famous choreographers at the beginning," said Bozzolini, a onetime member of Florence Opera Ballet who brings the company she formed, Balletto di Toscana, to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa for three nights starting tonight.

"What was hard was raising money. There is very little culture for dance in Italy. All the public money is given to opera and music."

It's ironic in that the foundations of ballet were laid 400 to 500 years ago by Italian dance masters. Even then, however, the story was similar, for they worked not so much in their own country but for the courts of 16th and 17th century Paris, where the art form began its flourishing tradition.

So although Italy has always produced astonishing dancers, its first serious ballet company--Aterballetto--was not formed until 1979.

"It's a miracle we are surviving as well as we are, and we are doing very well," Bozzolini she said recently through a translator from a tour stop in Durango, Colo. "But it's a very difficult time anyway. It's not easy to have a company, and it's impossible [now] to start one."

The troupe does about 80 performances a year and has received more public money recently. But it still relies on box office for more than half of its 2.5-billion lira (about $1.4 million) annual budget.

Bozzolini had been part of the Italian dance scene in the way that most dancers are, as adjuncts to opera productions. She had been a principal dancer in the Florence Opera Ballet for many years.

"I was mainly a classical dancer," she said. "But I always admired modern and contemporary works and wanted to dance them. So I decided to create a company to concentrate on this kind of work because I had had so little possibility in doing it.

"I realized very early on much more was happening in the world than what we were doing."

Bozzolini formed her troupe along lines she regarded as ideal. Her dancers would be trained classically--that is, in ballet. But they would perform in a modern-dance style.

"I had this vision of a company of soloists," she said. "So Balletto is a company without a star. All the dancers share leading roles and exchange roles. Each dancer is an individual."

The 16-member company, mainly Italian but including dancers from Canada and France, is making its first U.S. visit. The tour began last month in New Jersey with a few casualties and concludes in Brazil on April 27.

"A lot of people got sick with the flu," Bozzolini said. "Now with the altitude in Colorado, a lot of people also are not feeling so well. But we are tough workers. We're holding up pretty well."


Since its formation, the company has given 70 premieres, including works by European choreographers such as Nils Christe, Christopher Bruce and Hans van Manen, as well as by younger Italian choreographers such as Fabrizio Monteverde, Massimo Morricone and Mauro Bigonzetti.

The troupe will be dancing Bigonzetti's "Mediterranea" in Costa Mesa.

Bigonzetti is one of Bozzolini's discoveries.

"I commissioned his first company choreography in 1991," she said. "I soon realized that what I wanted for the company was exactly what he had in his choreography. The kind of humanity and energy throughout the piece was exactly what I wanted.

"But also he had a good balance between classical choreography and newer, more modern ideas. So because we made a good connection, I've commissioned many works from him."

This work is a 70-minute ballet with no intermission. The music consists of recordings of music from Greece, Spain, Turkey, Italy and France. (It also includes Mozart's "Alla Turka" Sonata.)

"It's an abstract work with some underlying meaning that embraces all the cultures of the Mediterranean Sea," Bozzolini said. "It's about acceptance of diversity in cultures. There are two male principal figures that carry the work through."

How does the choreographer get unity from that diversity?

"That you have to see," she said.

Bozzolini called the piece "optimistic and idealistic," although the choreographer has never said anything about it. "If he were here, I don't think he would say anything. He'd much rather people see the ballet and get the work for themselves."

The relationship has been important both for the choreographer, now director of Aterballetto, and for the company.

"It has helped both him and us to grow," she said. "Commissioning works directly on the dancers has helped each dancer in a particular way. It has helped to develop their personalities and technique."

* Italy's Balleto di Toscana will dance Mauro Bigonzetti's "Mediterranea," a full-length ballet choreographed to a compiled score, today at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Performances continue Wednesday and Thursday. $10-$28. (714) 556-2787.

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