24-year-old Giuseppe Picone, a talented soloist of the
American Ballet Theatre, was seen in Hong Kong in early October during
the company's Far East tour. This tall and handsome Italian-born dancer
was a dashing Espada in Kevin McKenzie's production of Don Quixote,
and showed off his noble classical style in the Sleeping Beauty
pas de deux, and his dazzling virtuosity in Le Corsaire pas de
deux. After a rehearsal in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on 5 October,
Picone told me about his exciting career so far.
Kevin Ng: Giuseppe, you joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) as
a soloist in 1997 after dancing with the English National Ballet (ENB).
How did that actually come about?
Giuseppe Picone: It was just
time to leave because I wanted at that time a longer career with a bigger
company such as the ABT. I knew very well Susan Jaffe (who was then
a guest of the ENB), and we were talking. I was only 21 years old at
that time, and I felt that ABT is a place to be for my future. I didn't
want to wait to become a principal and then leave; it's better to leave
a little bit earlier. I thought that it's best to join the ABT as a
young dancer, instead of having to start all over again if I were to
go when I am much older. If you become a resident principal of a company,
it will be very difficult to leave afterwards, because you've made it
there, and you feel that you are going to be given anything. So I left
before I became a principal. There we go, that's why.
Were you happy at ENB? Did you dance a lot of roles?
I was a senior soloist. I did Square Dance, Romeo and
Juliet (Nureyev version), Giselle, Who Cares? etc.
Tell me about your experience in Balanchine's Square
I danced the caller, the principal male role. I got a wonderful
review, because Clement Crisp wrote (in the Financial Times)
that I looked like a prince, as Bart Cook did with the New York City
Ballet. Actually, Crisp, Nicholas Dromgoole and some other London critics
were very upset that I left England, because they were looking forward
to my future career in England.
You danced a lot of leading roles when you were a senior
Dancing Romeo and Juliet made me get promoted to a senior
soloist, and I was only 19 years old. Actually you don't only get principal
roles because you are a principal. I believe that when you have the
capacity to be a principal, or if they see you having a future as a
leading man of the company, they will give you the principal roles even
as a soloist. At the ABT I only do principal roles, it's been two years
now that I have been doing principal roles. Last year, just when I was
going to get to get promoted, the worst happened. I had an injury, and
missed my promotion to a principal. But it's OK, I am now fully recovered
and I'm coming back.
Who did you mainly dance with at ENB?
In the beginning it was Ambra Vallo (now a soloist of the Birmingham
Royal Ballet). And then Lisa Pavane, Agnes Oaks, Daria Klimentova. And
I was going to dance with Tamara Rojo (now a Royal Ballet principal),
but then I left right before she joined.
At the ABT, you did some roles which you had already
danced at ENB, e.g. Etudes. What else?
Yes, I did right away Etudes, and Romeo and Juliet
(MacMillan version). And I got the opening night of Cinderella
(Ben Stevenson's version), I danced with Julie Kent. And then I did
Le Corsaire with Nina Ananiashvili on the opening night in New
York. Le Corsaire was a big hit, and New York really embraced
it. There was a new ballet made on me and Paloma Herrera called Disposition
choreographed by John Selyer. Then I did the opening night of Anton
Dolin's Variations for Four, with Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel,
and Maxim Belotserkovsky. I did La Bayadère with Paloma
Herera, and Giselle with Julie Kent and Amanda McKerrow.
So you danced far more roles with ABT than before.
With ABT, when we dance, we dance many ballets eight weeks in a
row. With ENB, we would do three weeks on tour at one time, but with
the same ballet.
Was it boring then?
It wasn't boring, because ENB helped me to find out what a role
was about. We rehearsed a ballet for such a long time, and also subsequently
performed it for such a long time, e.g. Giselle. I did many performances.
When I got to ABT, they asked me to do Giselle in a week. And
I didn't have any problems at all, because I knew exactly what I was
going to do. So ENB was a very good company. It's a great company to
start off with, and they will give you a wonderful base.
But ENB is not a world-class company like the ABT.
Well, the world-class companies are the ABT, Paris Opera Ballet,
Kirov Ballet etc. New York City Ballet (NYCB) is another world-class
company, because it's a Balanchine company. It's a unique company.
Have you not thought of joining NYCB?
Balanchine's Square Dance was actually the first work that
I danced with ENB. People in Europe and here (New York) also see me
as a Balanchine dancer. Maybe later! When I guested with the Boston
Ballet for two years as a principal guest artist, I did Balanchine's
Four Temperaments and Divertimento No. 15. Actually, Anna
Marie Holmes, the director, chose me to do the opening night of her
production of Le Corsaire when I had only been in the ABT for
Last week, you danced La Bayadère in
Shanghai with Paloma Herrera. Was it your debut? I gather that the Shanghai
audiences did not have the best manners.
No it was my second time, I had done it in New York with Paloma.
I know about the audiences, but the performance went really well. It's
a joy to do it. And the Sunday night (actually China's National Day)
I heard from an Italian friend that you cancelled a
performance in Italy with Viviana Durante last summer. Have you been
doing much guesting in your native country?
I only cancelled my Sleeping Beauty in Naples because I had
to come with the ABT to China. Robert Tewsley took my place. But in
August I did a new ballet in Verona for a month, which was really wonderful.
We danced inside the arena and in the Teatro Romano. When I was 21,
I guested with the Rome Opera Ballet in Nutcracker; it was my
debut in Italy. I've also guested in Naples. In Italy, they always keep
asking: Where's Giuseppe? But again I am only 24, so I've
still plenty of time to go back to Italy. And I am still Italian!
You've already danced all over
the world at such a young age.
I was already a soloist at 16 years old with the Ballet National
de Nancy, Pierre Lacotte's company. With that company we toured all
over Europe France, Germany, Turkey, and many other places. Then
with ENB I toured England. With ABT, we toured many places like Japan,
where I had never been. And Hong Kong is just wonderful, it has truly
been an experience this week.
I've just come back from a wonderful gala in Epidaurus,
Greece. Paloma and I danced the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. There
were many stars from all over the world Yulia Makhalina from
the Kirov, Vladimir Malakhov, Nicolas Le Riche and Aurelie Dupont from
Paris Opera, Carla Fracci from La Scala, and Leanne Benjamin from the
Royal Ballet. I will return to Vienna State Ballet next June for another
gala. The company made a new piece for me before, called Blue Blood,
choreographed by Renato Zanella. I've also guested in Budapest. Both
cities were wonderful.
What a busy career you have.
My career has been quite fast right from the beginning. Derek Deane
pushed me very hard, which was wonderful, and same here at the ABT.
But you know, you can get a little bit frustrated if you've done everything
so young. Sometimes I understand that it's better to take your time
and not push too much.
What roles would you particularly like to do in future?
Well, Manon. This Royal Ballet production is one of my favourite
ballets. ABT has it, but we haven't done it for a long time. I'm looking
forward to doing Onegin next spring with Alessandra Ferri. This
role is normally given to macho dancers, but I am happy to be doing
it at my age of 24. It will be quite a busy schedule at the Met. I'll
be doing Cinderella (Ben Stevenson's production), Giselle,
Swan Lake (Kevin McKenzie's production), Shades Act of La
Bayadère, Merry Widow, and Nutcracker pas de
deux. I like to really work for a role. So if I don't have enough time
to guest with a company, e.g. if I only have three days, then I will
But your manager won't be too pleased if you refuse!
You have a manager, I presume?
In Italy, I have my brother who takes care of everything, because
it's very difficult for me to deal with the Italian taxes. Everywhere
else I do it by myself, it's very easy. I have a fax machine. Sometimes
I don't like to have somebody who is with me all the time. I heard Sylvie
Guillem does it all by herself as well, she's got nobody to manage her.
Maybe I'll have a manager later on, if I feel that I've too much to
Which choreographers do you particularly admire?
William Forsythe, though I've never danced any of his works yet.
I just dream to dance a ballet of his, e.g. In the middle.
And which male dancers from the past do you admire?
Rudolf Nureyev. It's always been Rudolf, and it will always be Rudolf.
Nureyev is someone whom I always look up to, as he is such a charismatic
person on stage. You see, this is the difference between Nureyev and
Baryshnikov. Nureyev never had what Baryshnikov has - the turns, the
purity of classical style, wonderful legs and feet like we dancers understand,
e.g. feet pointed, amazing extension in arabesque, and proportion. Rudolf
had none of these, but he was an artist, and he was ballet. He was charismatic,
he knew what he was going to tell the public every time he went on stage.
Meaning: I am a prince he was a prince; I am
nobody he was nobody on stage; I must leave
he did leave. And that's the difference between him and everybody
else. And we should look up to him for this.
Has Nureyev actually coached you then?
No, I am too young; but I saw his Petrushka in Naples when I was
12 years old. I've seen him on videos of course. Another wonderful amazing
dancer is Vladimir Vasiliev. And someone who really gives me a lot is
Kevin McKenzie who's really helped me a lot. Also our principal dancer
Guillaume Graffin who's taken over ballet-master duties, he's really
helping me a lot.
What about your coaches at the ENB?
Woitek Lowsky was a ballet master with ENB when I was there. He
also used to be with the ABT for a long time, but he's dead now. And
David Wall I was like his little baby. He was the person I missed
the most after leaving ENB. I really missed him, because he worked so
well with me and we really understood each other.
Which ballerinas do you admire?
Altynai Asylmuratova I admire her a lot. Of course I admire
our ballerinas in ABT, I admire Alessandra Ferri a lot. And the Paris
Opera ballerina Elisabeth Platel who retired from the company recently.
Another one who is already an etoile and is coming up as a big star
is Aurelie Dupont, she's actually quite amazing. We are very good friends.
I heard that the Kirov's Uliana Lopatkina is quite amazing, but I've
never had the pleasure of seeing her. So these are probably the ballerinas
of the future.
You seem well informed about other companies.
After ABT, I really enjoy watching the Paris Opera Ballet. The way
we dance at ABT is wonderful, and I find the Paris Opera really wonderful
too. They have two theatres and more facilities than us. And also I
have many friends there like Aurelie [Dupont], Nicolas [Le Riche], Elisabeth
Platel. It's good that we can share our news.
"ABT is a great company, one
of the top in the world."
Let's turn the subject away from ballet for a second. What are your
My relaxing moments are to have my overseas friends calling me and
talk. We e-mail or phone each other, and we try to keep in touch with
photos. I really miss them a lot, though of course I have friends in
I like bowling, and going to the disco like a normal guy.
I like the beauty of the parks. I used to love going to the parks in
England, and now I love going to Central Park. I love listening to the
music, and reading of course. I always choose something that will fill
me with something inside, e.g. a biography. I try to go to museums sometimes.
I like tennis, but I don't do it any more, because I used
to grow muscles on my right arm, but not my left arm. So that's quite
difficult, and my teacher didn't want me to. I used to play football,
and that was also not so funny to do. My teacher was always telling
me, You have black marks everywhere! My legs were all black,
because people were just trying to get the ball and sometimes they got
my legs instead! So my teacher asked me to stop.
But ballet is, of course, a big part of my life. I respect
myself a lot, because I was not born in the ABT, like some American
dancers who live in New York and trained in the School of American Ballet.
It's easier for them. Nicolas [Le Riche] trained in the Paris Opera
Ballet School. I was born in Naples, which was not really compatible
with ballet. In order to learn what ballet really means, I had to go
away. I went to study in Rome, and I was in Nancy at the age of 16.
I arrived in England when I was 17, and moved to New York when I was
21. I am proud that I've made it, because I love ballet so much, and
it hasn't been easy for me to do ballet.
Which are your favourite roles?
Two. One is Romeo either MacMillan version or Nureyev version.
The other is Albrecht. I also like La Bayadère, Sleeping
Beauty, Swan Lake, and Cinderella.
I believe that Des Grieux in Manon is one that
will take my heart, and I know that. I'm looking forward to Onegin.
I am someone who likes technique, I always work for my technique, but
I really love artistry and acting. I love acting roles. But what's funny
is that I can do both, and that's exciting.
Anton Dolin's Variations for Four is really hard.
It's pure dance, and I've never danced anything so hard in my life.
The four of us were completely on the floor after the curtain went down.
It's something that I shouldn't tell you, but it's the truth!
In this ballet, I did both the first and fourth variations.
Sometimes I did the first in the afternoon, and then the fourth in the
evening. There was another cast Vladimir [Malakhov], Julio [Bocca],
Jose [Carreno], and Marcelo [Gomes]. But Maxim [Belotserkovsky] and
I did nearly all the performances. I did four in Paris, and four in
New York. We were dying!
This ballet is not done a lot by other companies, because
you need six to eight good male dancers (to cover for any injuries).
And ABT really has such good dancers. But we always say that we hope
we will never do it again!
Are you happy in the ABT?
ABT is a great company, one of the top in the world. Kevin McKenzie
has done a great job, bringing everything together again after Misha
left, and he is bringing up new young dancers. Irina [Dvorovenko] and
Max [Belotserkovsky] are older than me, but Paloma [Herrera] and Angel
[Corella] are my age. Then there's Gillian [Murphy] and Michele Wiles.
Michele, who danced Queen of the Dryads yesterday afternoon, is another
This is wonderful. Kevin McKenzie is bringing up another
generation of dancers, as much as Misha did. Misha built Susan Jaffe,
Julie Kent (actually Kevin also built Julie), Christine Dunham, Amanda
McKerrow, Alessandra Ferri. And now you have Kevin McKenzie's dancers,
and so you are not going to regret that Baryshnikov is gone, because
Kevin did choose some really wonderful replacements, let's put it this
way. I believe that Angel [Corella] will replace Julio Bocca. I always
enjoy watching Julio, he's such a great artist. I like to think that
Maxim [Belotserkovsky] and I, who are both tall dancers, will replace
Kevin. Jose [Carreno] is his own. I really think that it's a great,
great, great company!
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Edited by Azlan