Dancing Nijinsky, dancing a puzzling role. A conversation with Francesco Gabriele Frola
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
TORONTO – After the triumphant tour in Paris with the National Ballet of Canada, returned to his (new) Canadian home, Francesco Gabriele Frola is ready to take the stage at the Four Seasons Centre to dance the intriguing role of Vaslav Nijinsky in John Neumeier’s ballet.
Nijinsky is the name of the legendary male dancer who was known as “le dieu de la danse”, the god of ballet. His brief and troubled life is worth the heroes of French Bohemianism: handsome, god-like-talented and cursed.
A few hours before the opening night of the second production of the season, we have met Mr. Frola, grew and raised in beautiful Parma (Italy), to talk about his career and the man he is about to embody this week (November 23 matinée and 25).
Gabriele, for how long have you been with the National Ballet of Canada and what is your role within the company?
I have been here for seven years. I started dancing when I was very young, in Parma, at the Professione Danza ballet school. I then moved to Germany where I studied with the Hamburg Ballet, and afterwards I crossed the ocean to go to Fomento Artistico Cordobés ballet academy in Mexico, a place that I consider a second home. In 2010, I finally arrived in Toronto. I was promoted to first soloist in 2015.
What do you like about working here?
It is a company that invests a lot of energy in young people and takes many risks. They assign principal roles to young, emerging artists in top-level productions. That’s what happened to me too: the first time I danced in Nijinsky as a soloist, I was still in the corps de ballet, four years ago. It is a risk that not every major ballet company is willing to take.
What are your thoughts about the tour in Paris?
Nijisky is one of my favourite ballets. Before travelling to Paris, I read a very interesting and insightful book by Richard Buckle, “Nijisky. A life of Genius and Madness”. This reading made my Parisian experience complete, one of a kind and even more special. In Paris, we danced in the same theatre where Nijinsky premiered the Sacre du printemps in 1913, a ballet set to the extremely complicated score of Igor Stravinsky. The audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was in turmoil as it was watching a ballet considered scandalous. Nijisky got on a chair and started counting the measures, shouting to the rest of the dancers. For me it has been a unique experience to be there, on the very same stage where Nijisky stood in 1913.
What was the reception of the audience in Paris?
I danced the role of Nijisky for two shows. I reckon the Parisian audience has been very welcoming and warm, and has highly appreciated the production. Perhaps, the real fear was towards the critics.
And how would you overcome that concern?
Well, I think of it now, while I am talking to you. Frankly, I have never thought of it in this specific case. Nijisky is a ballet for myself, more than for the others. I am pretty selfish with this choreography: I dance it for my own pleasure, since I love it so much. Therefore, fears and concerns fade away and vanish as soon as I am on stage dancing.
In other words, there are roles that you dance for the others as well?
Of course. I believe that every dancer feels more comfortable in certain roles, rather than others, no matter how difficult they are. This ballet, like many others, is a way to tell a story, but it also requires you to live it in first person before enacting it. It is a unique feeling, a very peculiar state of mind.
What do you like the most about this role?
It is a role that allows you to scan and explore the multifarious palette of human feelings. There is everything: failure, disillusion, a family flashback, the relationship with Diaghilev, we see Nijinsky’s wife, then Diaghilev dies, we witness the moment of madness. More commonly, a classical ballet is monotone, the viewer can find a single, uniform sentiment. This ballet is nothing but truth. I feel I have the chance to bring back to life Vaslav Nijisky.
What strikes you about Nijisky’s personality?
He was and is a very multifaceted character. I find very fascinating and provocative what he used to think and write in his diaries, that I read when I was very young, pages that bewitched me. In the eyes of the world, he was merely mad. To me, his insanity is a madness of art. As you read and as you dance this role, you understand how difficult it is to separate the man from the dancer, and viceversa.
After Nijisky, what are your future plans?
A couple of interesting projects, I cannot reveal too much. I can certainly tell you that I will be once more the Nutcracker this December, a Christmas classic. About the rest, we’ll see.
We wish Mr. Frola a brilliant career, ad majora and good luck.
[John Neumeier’s Nijisky runs through November 26, 2017].