Over his extraordinary career, Italian danseur Roberto Bolle has come to personify excellence, grace and hard work, becoming the only man simultaneously to hold the positions of étoile for Teatro alla Scala in Milano and principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in New York. Since entering La Scala Ballet School at the age of 12, he’s danced with the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet in London, the Staatsoper in Berlin, The Tokyo Ballet in Japan and the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, among others.
Like the late physicist Stephen Hawking, he’s attained a level of public recognition that transcends the constraints of his professional field, being recognised by those who otherwise have little interest in ballet. And, like Hawking, he’s mastered the art of talking to everybody.
Bolle projects an enchanting mix of marvellous body, delicate heart and cultivated mind, all presented with a natural shyness that makes him simply irresistible. He’s now 43, but somehow still acts like a well-bred schoolboy: never too loud and always eager to learn or try something new, like his recent on-screen reinterpretation of the final scene of Dirty Dancing with Italian entertainer Virginia Raffaele.
Ask the Piedmont native why he’s so private about his personal life and he’ll tell you it’s because he doesn’t need to say much. He reveals everything about his soul through his body. We caught up with him in Milan.
In a glittering career, you’ve achieved almost everything a dancer could dream of, so what do you dance for today?
Dancing still gives me joy, just like the day I started. What you see when I’m on stage is the very best part of me. It’s my way to express myself and to experience intense and unforgettable feelings. And it leads me to another dimension, a magic world. Right now, I could say that I am reaping what I sowed, but the truth is that I keep sowing.
Nature vs. nurture: in the world of dance and beyond, is success based on intuition or constant learning?
You need to be passionate about dancing. It takes time to channel your emotions through your body, to release and communicate them. Discipline, dedication and self-
sacrifice are part of the game, which can be tough. Sometimes it’s like a prison: you have no time to hang around or spend a weekend with your friends. You have a strong commitment to the audience, and you cannot let them down.
Then is it worth it? Do you ever regret missing things in your personal life?
Success is not the only answer. On a personal level, ballet shapes your mind, teaching you to face life. I was an introvert by nature, and I managed to connect with others, I increased my self-confidence and went beyond my limits. I acknowledged the importance of daily work to get great results and to overcome the stress.
When I first got the chance to dance in a significant theatre, I was so scared. I felt inadequate, almost panicking, until I managed to tell myself just to do my best and to live that moment to the utmost. After so much sacrifice, it would have been a shame not to enjoy it.
Have you got a ritual before your shows?
I try not to, even though it’s easy to be trapped into superstition. I guess we all tend to create a routine – like wearing the same tracksuit, or putting on the right shoe first – but deep down I know it doesn’t make sense. Apprehension is part of the game, just like getting connected to the audience. As the curtain opens you perceive the people in the dark, the way they hold their breath before you start.
Is there any artist that you dream of dancing with?
I love duets, especially unusual ones. I did a few shows on Italian TV where I truly enjoyed pairing with Virginia Raffaele, one of our best comediennes. I must confess, though, that my dream would be to dance with Madonna, for I admire the way she keeps reinventing herself.
Has ballet evolved into a man’s world? What is your experience as a man within the industry? Has the perception altered?
Before entering La Scala Ballet School I was bashful and didn’t share my dancing ambitions with other kids, and that probably protected me from being mocked. Then I moved to Milan, where my whole world gravitated around ballet, so I never had trouble. I know I was lucky; still, things have changed a lot in the last few years, and I believe a danseur is nowadays widely accepted.
What about the toughest challenge of your career?
Injuries are the worst thing that can happen when you’re pushing yourself to the extreme. My body is powerful, so I’ve never had big problems; still, sometimes you have to stop, and it’s hard to accept that you’re human, not an engine. Also, if you think about it, engines can break too, it’s part of the game.
Do you ever not feel like dancing?
Not really. I may be tired, but I’m always longing to go on stage. Compared to other artists, we don’t work every night, we do a maximum of three shows a week, so we can’t wait to dance.
What makes your life fun?
Spending time with my “family” of colleagues. That’s what I call that bunch of people I grew up with at La Scala School. We’ve known each other for such a long time, we studied together, and we shared so much. Some of them are now part of La Scala Ballet, which means that we train together when I’m dancing in Milan. We work hard, but we do have lots of fun in the rehearsal rooms. La Scala is my home, a place where I perceive real friendship, affection, and respect. Then, of course, I love to have dinner or go to the cinema with my friends, and I like the show days very much.
Aren’t you stressed at all?
There’s excitement in the air, but it’s a moment I quite enjoy. The good thing is that I can take the afternoon off to relax. After I rest a little, I eat something, and it’s time to dance.
Wherever you go, people know you even if they don’t go to the ballet. Today you’re a famous dancer, but what do you see as your legacy for the future?
If someone should talk about me in 3018, I’d wish for it to be not just because of my success. My biggest goal is to be remembered as a man who spread the culture of ballet. I want people to get in touch with it, to create a bridge they can go through to feel its beauty and finally to love it. That’s why I created Roberto Bolle and Friends gala nights touring around the world: to break barriers.
Photography Giovanni Squatriti
Styling Giuseppe Ceccarelli
Make-up Adalberto P at Freelancer.IT
Hair Valerio Sestito at Freelancer.IT
Photography Assistant Paolo Scassa
Styling Assistant Nicholas Bartolamasi
Retouching by ZumStudio