Greater Tulsa Reporter
BALLET IN HIS BLOOD: Tulsa Ballet’s Artistic Director Marcello Angelini sits on the stage in Studio K where the first performance of the 2014-15 season will take place.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Marcello Angelini joined Tulsa Ballet as artistic director in 1995. His wife, Daniela, also teaches at Tulsa Ballet. They met at 17 years old in Florence, Italy, where they were both dancers.
Growing up with a ballet dancer for a father, Angelini didn’t stray far from his father’s example. Angelini, born in Naples, Italy, was backstage watching his father’s performances by the time he was six months old. He later enrolled at the ballet school of the San Carlo Opera House, where his father served as his teacher from age 13 to 17. Upon graduation, Angelini received one of two yearly government scholarships to study in the former Soviet Union. By age 21, he had become a principal dancer, first with the Deutsche Opera Berlin and then with Northern Ballet Theater, English National Ballet and Scottish Ballet.
Angelini’s 20th season with Tulsa Ballet starts Sept. 26.
GTR recently spoke with Angelini about his experiences leading up to joining Tulsa Ballet and beyond.
Greater Tulsa Reporter: What brought you to Tulsa Ballet?
Marcello Angelini: I always knew, even if I didn’t admit it to myself, that one day I would love directing a company. In fact, in retrospect, I think I knew that everything I was doing as a dancer was… to acquire the knowledge to finally do what I was meant to do in my life. And yet, when you are dancing, you are so focused on yourself and your performances… until you have an injury. At age 33, I found myself, for the first time, sidelined for two weeks because of tendonitis. Being restless, I called my agent and told him that one day I would love directing a company and since I was off (and very bored), I would like to know who was looking. I applied to Tulsa Ballet, but my manager warned me not to get my hopes up. He said that it usually takes half a dozen interviews before a candidate understands the process and is able to articulate his vision. After applying, I was offered another two years’ contract with the Cincinnati Ballet, and I signed guest contracts with the Scottish Ballet and the San Carlo in Naples and went on to business as usual. In the meantime, I seemed to progress through the (Tulsa Ballet) selection process and was granted an in-person interview. I so enjoyed meeting Tulsans and was surprised by the beauty of the city but went back to Cincinnati to dance Swan Lake. When I received the call from the head of the Tulsa Ballet selection committee, Mrs. Donna Bost, it was the first time the entire process became real: I had to make a choice. You don’t dance forever, so it was time to move on with life.
Coming to Tulsa was never supposed to be an end in itself but rather a trampoline to learn the ropes of the job. Up to that point, I had been dancing for 16 years with zero management experience. Within three years, the opportunities started coming, and they keep coming. Yet, I realize that what we are doing here in Tulsa is special, unique. I love this city and the people here. I think we are on the verge of fulfilling our potential as a community, and I want to be here to be a part of it, to lead the arts into the future of our city and state.
GTR: What do you enjoy about ballet?
MA: It’s hard to say what I enjoy about dance as dance is like one of the languages I speak. It’s just a way to communicate with the world except that dance is also the only language that never lies. You can lie with words but you can’t with body language; thus, I like the sincerity of the art form. I love the way dance can give us a glimpse into the soul of the dancers and the dance makers. I love the fact that you can use it to spark challenging conversations among people and use it to lead the cultural life of a community. I enjoy the physical aspect of it, the athleticism necessary to “fine tune” our instrument so that it can paint every shade of our soul. As an artistic director, I love seeing dancers develop from the time they join the company to the time they start rising through the ranks. I love to be able to offer them the right tools to grow, fulfill their potential and become the dancers they can be. And I enjoy being able to push the cultural envelope locally while being the talk of the dance world.
GTR: What are some of your greatest early memories?
MA: I enjoyed many facets of my profession, but mostly I liked dancing roles that had “lots of meat on the bone,” meaning roles that were multi-faceted, complex, and both intellectually and physically challenging. For example, I enjoyed dancing roles like Romeo in Romeo and Juliet or Albrecht in Giselle as well as roles like the Valet in Miss Julie or the Teacher in The Lesson. I loved to psychologically analyze each of the people I was supposed to become, understand who they were, why they were the way they were penned in the script, why they behaved and reacted the way they did in different circumstances. Once I knew who they were, then I could embody their mind and soul, which is the first and most important step to embody a credible character on stage. Once you know that person well and understand why he acts or reacts a certain way to outside stimulus, then you are not acting anymore, but you react naturally to what is presented to you. And that makes a credible Romeo or whatever role you are dancing. By the same token, one of the most challenging, and ultimately rewarding, experiences of my dancer’s life, was dancing beside Rudolf Nureyev, something I did for about a decade. I alternated with him in all the lead roles of the classical and neo-classical repertoire (Swan Lake, Coppelia, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Miss Julie, The Lesson) till he started calling me to dance his works as he was getting up there in age. Working with him was extremely challenging: if he didn’t like what you were doing, he would walk to you on stage during performance and slap you or kick you, but it was equally rewarding when you did well.
GTR: What do you enjoy as Tulsa Ballet’s artistic director?
MA: This company is unique. There is no other ballet company in our budget range that is good enough, and approved, to dance the works of the top choreographers in the world. It’s a challenge to keep our artistic and technical level up there with the big guys; our dancers need to be just as good and two times as versatile. We do with 30 dancers what other companies do with 50 or 60. For example, San Francisco, Boston and Houston ballets operate on budgets of $20-45 million, while our budget is $5 million. It’s challenging to keep our reputation up there, consistently, year after year. And yet, what we have built during the past 20 years seems to be set on solid grounds. There is no other ballet company in the country able to consistently maintain high artistic standards so that it can acquire the works of the top 10 to 20 choreographers in the world. I like that we are the exception, I love the reputation we have built around the world, and I love to be able to bring to Tulsa, which is now the place I call home, the same works by the same choreographers that people are enjoying in Paris, London, New York, Moscow or Sydney.
GTR: What performance are you most looking forward to this season?
MA: XX (Twenty), the last ballet of the season: it is made up of three pieces – Going for Baroque was the first piece I commissioned in 1998; Age of Innocence is one of my old time favorite short pieces; and there will be a piece by Ma Cong, a previous dancer with Tulsa Ballet who is now choreographing worldwide. He came here as a dancer, but we discovered him as a choreographer. He represents what Tulsa Ballet is doing for international ballet.