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Carla Fracci: Brilliant Ballet Star With the Soul Born to Dance

Internationally acknowledged the queen of the Romantic ballet, she graced the stages of the most important theaters, leaving an indelible mark in history

Carla Fracci, world famous ballet dancer. (@ItalyinUAE, twitter)

Like many great artists, from Verdi to Mozart, never considered by educational institutions with a capital “i”, Carla Fracci also ran the risk of not being admitted to  La Scala Ballet School.

Ballerina Carla Fracci (@padfootbry, twitter)

Then, as the legend says, she was welcomed at the last moment: the last wheel of the wagon, not by virtue of a small, gifted body, but by a whispered “l’ha gaà un bella faccin”.  That shaky admission, still in Milanese dialect, has now gone down in history, like the whole extraordinary life of this artist who quietly left us.

Without telling anyone about her illness–a tumor–Carla, who would have turned 85 on 20 August, held a couple of masterclasses in January, launched in streaming, on Giselle for the La Scala Ballet Company, sent with insight by its new Director, Manuel Legris. She certainly did not spare herself, although she was already visibly exhausted, but it was believed this was due to her age; she went all out when showing, more than once, the secrets of a role of which she was and still remains, an unsurpassable paradigm to the dancers.

Margrethe Shanne, Yvette Chauviré, Alicia Markova and Carla Fracci in Pas de Quatre (wikimedia)

How did she then become a sort of “new Maria Taglioni”, that is, queen of Romantic Ballet, and recognized as such not only in Italy, but in the world?

Well, this is due to her indefatigable and insatiable passion for art that she had chosen, both to the ardent study, technical and theoretical, of the Romantic period to which the theatre director Beppe Menegatti, her cultured husband, submitted her, and with and for whom she has interpreted an infinite quantity of ballets.

Perhaps without Beppe that “nice little face” that then became a 20-year-old lithe body – pure light and charisma from the waist up, and a little more fragile in the legs, in the feet without an enviable instep-she would not have strategically traveled along the way of a true renaissance of Romanticism on point.

No Giselle, among the many that we have admired and still admire today, has ever managed to make us cry las she did, in the madness scene of the peasant girl betrayed by her love, when she runs, mad and desperate, into her mother’s arms before falling to the ground.

No Giselle, in the second act of the same ballet, was able to transform her body into a ghostly body, as dreamed by the Romantics of 1841, lifting the tutu in key moments, wrapping herself in her tulle to draw an impalpable icon of extreme and spiritual gracefulness.

Great Carla, who became Prima Ballerina at La Scala in 1958, but soon fled to New York to become, alongside Eric Bruhn, an icon also in La Sylphide, a more mischievous role, but no less relevant to her neo-nineteenth-century poetic strings. We know how much the Americans loved and praised her, especially at the American Ballet Theater.

But then the daughter of the tram driver and a worker who loved to dance at popular parties and dance halls must have heard the call of home.

The birth of a new project, meticulously created with her husband, made her the most famous dancer in Italy too. Having established a radiant company, the couple brought the ballet repertoire, but not only, to every hidden corner of the Bel Paese.

Carla Fracci in an interview. Photo: Wikimedia

Walking with her on the street, as has happened to me many times, meant repeatedly stopping for an autograph and a smile. And I would say that for many, Carla was the very symbol of ballet. Not that working hard meant that she didn’t enjoy her life, on the contrary.

She loved eating big plates of pasta, she loved the holidays, she loved her many artist friends: poets like Eugenio Montale, painters like Renato Guttuso, sculptors like Marino Marini, playwrights and actors like Eduardo de Filippo who, when she danced his Filumena Marturano, gave her the armchair of Titina, his beloved sister. All of them were fascinated by her charismatic personality, all were ready to give her a little of their art, or of their memories, perhaps to have in exchange also the caress of her velvet voice.

Carla was an actress in the television series, “Verdi,”  and a magnificent Giuseppina Strepponi; she was Tamara Karsavina in Herbert Ross’s film Nijinskij, she played Peter Ustinov’s Ballerine, always with that special naturalness that came from her character. If it is true that dance does not lie about even the most hidden part of the personality of those who dance, well, Carla lacked affectation, that stiff and useless haughtiness, which we see in even many good dancers.

Of course she knew very well who she was and what she represented in the world, given that she was called everywhere, in Cuba as in Japan, in Paris as in the Bolshoi in Moscow, but she did not like to feel like a diva or give up her freedom as a woman who was capable of laughing uproariously, of getting angry, of hiding her thoughts on life, politics and the evils of the world.

She would have liked to direct La Scala Ballet Company, instead she did it with great success, at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples for one year, and for ten (2000-2010) at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. She had a dream, to create a National Ballet Company, but it didn’t become reality. She always comforted herself, and not only for this disappointment, with affections: she had two adored grandchildren from her son Francesco.

Despite the rapid flow of her shows, also dedicated to Isadora Duncan, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ida Rubinstein, Artemisia Gentileschi – the last role danced six years ago – as in the canonical characters or not – Tatiana in one of her unforgettable Onegin at La Scala, but also that of the ax murderer Lizzie Borden in Fall River Legend by Agnes de Mille, and several times in the Civilization (and then the Light) of the second Excelsior by Filippo Crivelli, Ugo Dell’Ara, Giulio Coltellacci and Fabrizio Carpi – Carla gave to a salutary lesson to the ballet world.

Dancing is not about showing virtuosity and technique alone – even if she has worked madly on her body – but for that quid that comes from very internalized steps and movements, offered to the public to create empathy and feeling. No need to mention what a monument she has now become after this expected but sudden death – the body will be lying in state  in the foyer of the Teatro alla Scala today from 12 to 18 p.m. and the crowds paying their respects are such that it is impossible to enter. But it is important that she remains above all an example. It will serve the world of dance. All dance.



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