Elegantly Tearful

Viviana Durante Company's debut at the Fringe

Feature by Rebecca King | 19 Aug 2010
  • Lamentoso

Growing up in the 1990s, I owned a second-hand book featuring pictures of Viviana Durante as a student at White Lodge, as well as several video tapes recorded from the television by my long-suffering father. I watched these videos so many times that in the end the picture went fuzzy, and they helped shape my idea of what a ballerina is. While Durante’s perfection remains available on film to mesmerize ballet-hungry children, like the art form itself, this ballerina has evolved. Durante trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with the Royal Ballet for over fifteen years, dancing the full range of roles, from Petipa princesses to Macmillan mistresses, before leaving to carve out a freelance career.

This freelance career now brings the, Viviana Durante Company to Edinburgh, debuting at the Fringe in a performance which will be “the first of many, we hope.” While she has previously appeared at the Fringe as an actress, this time Durante comes not as a performer but as a choreographer, bringing a piece “created specifically for Dance Base,” featuring Romany Pajdak and Erico Montes from the Royal Ballet, and the Hungarian National Ballet’s Henriett Tunyogi.

Lamentoso is “part of a larger work in progress” and explores “the story of Tchaikovsky's last days and his mysterious death, from drinking a glass of water infected with cholera. His last symphony had just premiered a few days earlier, and I think it's fascinating to explore the life of one of the great ballet composers through this extraordinary piece of music.”

This choice of subject matter is fitting for a ballerina who excelled both in the Tchaikovsky/Petipa collaborations as well as in Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s unparalleled dramatic works. Indeed, as a dancer, for Durante the most rewarding works straddle these two very different styles of ballet. She cites Aurora in Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty – with its Tchaikovsky score – “because technically it's the most demanding role a ballerina can take on and it's the pinnacle of everything you prepare for as a classical dancer,” and Manon in Macmillan’s eponymous ballet “because it's such an intensely passionate dramatic role, and also because I was working with Kenneth MacMillan who for me is still the finest dramatic choreographer of all and is my greatest inspiration.” The choreographer hopes her piece will elicit tears from its audience. With Macmillan as inspiration, and Durante as choreographer, this is neither surprising nor unlikely.

This foray into choreography and direction represents a step forward for this intelligent ballerina. Promoted to Royal Ballet principal at the age of twenty-one, freelancing and performing as a guest artist has seemed a necessary step, allowing her “the freedom of finding out who you really are as an artist and choosing the work you want to dance. It's also great to experience other companies and audiences - it makes you a bigger artist.”

She stresses, however, that her time at the Royal was also a necessary step in her evolution as an artist, and something which helped rather than hindered her development. Had she stayed at Covent Garden “I don't think my career would have stalled at all.” Her decision to leave came from a hunger to try something new. “I started dancing with the Royal Ballet at a really young age and I'd been dancing with them for a long time. It was my decision to leave. They were wonderful years and the Royal Ballet was my home, but in the end I needed to move away from home.”

Durante has moved away from home, but her roots in British classicism are not far from the surface. Lamentoso promises to retain and explore much of the tradition that has influenced her career. Ballet evolves, but its evolution is grounded in what has come before.

Lamentoso, 21 - 22, Aug various times, £5