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Roberto Bolle, American Ballet Theatre's latest leading man

The Italian dancer, well-known in Europe, makes his Los Angeles debut in 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

July 12, 2009|Susan Reiter

NEW YORK — In his native Italy, Roberto Bolle has achieved a degree of popularity unknown to ballet dancers in this country. His chiseled, handsome features -- not to mention his hunky torso -- are featured in magazine spreads and advertising campaigns. But he is also the real deal: a tall, supremely elegant dancer with exceptional line, harmonious plastique and partnering skills that have kept him in demand among leading ballerinas worldwide.

"He's a perfect partner. He's so strong -- it's a pleasure. You can really abandon yourself. He's the strongest person I have ever danced with. For a woman, to be in his arms is very reassuring," says Alessandra Ferri, the celebrated ballerina and compatriot with whom he often danced and whom he partnered in her farewell performances two years ago.

In addition to the ballet company of La Scala in Milan -- his most long-standing affiliation -- Bolle, 34, dances with the Royal Ballet, where he was a favored partner of Darcey Bussell, and other major European troupes. But until this year, his appearances on American stages numbered only a handful, limited to New York City. He partnered Bussell in 2004 when the Royal Ballet performed a Frederick Ashton tribute program at the Metropolitan Opera House, and he brought a suave elegance and dramatic fervor to Ferri's final performances with American Ballet Theatre in Kenneth Macmillan's "Romeo and Juliet" and "Manon" on the same stage.

Kevin McKenzie, ABT's artistic director, liked what he saw enough to invite Bolle to dance with the company as more than a guest, and this year he became its newest male principal dancer. He was scarcely coddled as he adapted to the very different environment of an American company, dancing four leading roles with different ballerinas, none of whom he had partnered before. McKenzie described the process as "integrating him into the company, just seeing who resonates."

His attentiveness, inherently noble bearing and assured partnering allowed each of his new partners to shine brightly in familiar standards such as "Giselle" and "Swan Lake," as well as in "Romeo" and a lesser-known gem, Ashton's "Sylvia." His virtuoso abilities, offset by his inherently modest demeanor, won over audiences immediately, with a devoted following pitching bouquets at him as well as his partner during curtain calls.


Romeo's many masters

On Thursday, the first of ABT's five "Romeo and Juliet" performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Bolle will make his L.A. debut, dancing Romeo to Irina Dvorovenko's Juliet.

The company boasts a deep and impressive roster of male principal dancers, and each performance will feature a different Romeo. The quintet includes the company's stalwart experienced interpreters of the role: Marcelo Gomes, who dances with Paloma Herrera on Friday, and David Hallberg, who partners Gillian Murphy on Saturday evening.

Newer to the role are Herman Cornejo, the exceptional virtuoso who has long been a brilliant Mercutio in the ballet, who dances on Sunday (opposite Xiomara Reyes), and the tall, poetic, increasingly authoritative soloist Cory Stearns, who portrays the doomed lover on Saturday afternoon, partnering another rising young company member, Hee Seo.

Bolle has danced Romeo for virtually his entire career. The ever-popular Macmillan production was in the La Scala repertory, and he first danced the lead at 20. During a recent interview in the Metropolitan Opera House's press lounge, Bolle explored his abiding enthusiasm for the role.

"Romeo is a character that can really express all kinds of emotion -- love and passion and then desperation. There are so many emotional moments, which are so well supported by the music, which is fantastic. I discovered the role through the years, dancing with amazing ballerinas. Alessandra was the one I think I've danced the ballet most. We were researching the meaning of everything in the ballet -- for each moment of the story, the character, the emotion I could give to her and to the public. It was really special, to learn how not to pay too much attention to the steps but to think about the character and emotions, to enjoy finally -- you really can, in his role."

Not that he finds it easy, he emphasizes. "The role is very hard. The first act is killing, because Romeo is always there. So many things to do!"

Bolle's English is quite good, with a melodious accent and a charming penchant for pronouncing the final "t" in "ballet," and he punctuates his responses with easy laughter. Opting for the lounge's carpeted floor over the sofa, he stretched, folded and repositioned his long, tapered legs throughout the interview, after which he had a "Swan Lake" rehearsal. With every week bringing a new partner, Bolle had not yet spent as much time rehearsing "Romeo," the final of his roles during the season, but he and Dvorovenko, a Ukrainian ballerina who joined ABT in 1996, had worked on several pas de deux.

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