"In Italy, they always keep asking:
'Where's Giuseppe?'"

 

 

An Interview with Giuseppe Picone,
Soloist, American Ballet Theatre
October 5, 2000

By Kevin Ng

 

 

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 Dance.
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 soloist.
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 four months.

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) was full.

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 always refuse.

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 handle.

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 outside interests?
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 ABT.

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 extraordinary dancer.

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 Ezaddin


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