A little over a week ago, I had the joy and pleasure of watching what is probably one of the most famous ballets of all time- Tchaikovsky’s emotional and dramatic masterpiece, ‘Swan Lake’. Choreographed by Enada Hoxha and Gerd Vaso, with orchestral conductor Dian Tchobanov leading the musical accompaniment, the dancers of the Teatrit Kombëtar të Operës dhe Baletit took to the stage.
The ballet itself was mesmerising and hypnotic, just in the way that a great production of Swan Lake should be. But this year’s production had a bit of a twist, asides from the heartbreaking storyline and the graceful elegance of the dancers, a slightly contemporary injection had been incorporated. It seemed like the scene was very much set with a 1940s and 1950s American twist- there was almost Charleston-esque moves, lots of shoulder shaking and jazz hands, and even some finger clicking which added a fun and quirky dimension to the performance, without detracting from the majesty of the classical choreography.
The role of Odette/Odile was danced by prima ballerina Adela Mucollari, with Fatjon Lito in the role of Seigfried. I was particularly impressed with the way that Adela played the two diametrically opposed characters- it was hard to tell whether it was a different dancer, and her transformation between the two offered so much more than just a costume change. I felt that the dancers played their parts so well that even someone not familiar with the storyline, would have been able to follow it.
My only disappointment with the production was the slight anticlimax at the end- the death of Odette and Seigfried and their ascent to the heavens above the lake should be one of the most poignant and emotionally charged parts of the performance, but blink and you will have missed it. That said, the rest of the show, the realisation by the dancers, and the beautifully intricate and sparkly costumes made for a truly magical interpretation if Swan Lake- I wish I could see it again!
A few days later I was lucky enough to meet with Adela (Odette/Odile) and Fatjon (Seigfried) to find out more about both the production and their careers in the world of ballet.
Adela started ballet dancing at the age of four when her mother, who dreamed of her becoming a ballerina, put her into lessons. At the age of 10, she transitioned to the National Ballet School where she intensified her training and honed her technique.
She dances the Vaganova method, a ballet technique that was developed by the Russian dancer and pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) and that was based on the teaching of the Premier Maitre de Ballet, Mairus Petital in the 19th century. The method fuses certain elements of the traditional French style from the romantic era, with the athleticism and virtuosity of the Italian Cecchetti technique. It is an extremely athletic and technical form of the dance that focuses on the movement of every single part of the body in equal measure. Vaganova believed that this approach increased consciousness over one’s body and therefore created a harmony of movement as well as a greater expressive range.
She trains for between 6 and 8 hours a day, 6 days a week and having days off or letting her intense regimen slip are not options.
“To be a ballet dancer you need to have a passion for what you do, and dedication- you cannot have a day off to go and see friends, you cannot stop and then start again- you have to continue every day to be the best.”
A show such as Swan Lake typically takes around 2 months to prepare for, and during this time her training intensifies. Technical training, practising the choreography, stretching, and rehearsals are constant and ensuring her body is in top condition at all times is the only way that she can keep up.
Adela adheres to a strict diet and refrains from drinking or smoking. This helps her to retain her fitness and her focus and to keep up with the gruelling schedule that is required of her. She has been the prima at the Teatrit Kombëtar të Operës dhe Baletit for around four years now and after watching her dance, it is clear to see how she has managed to hold onto her title for so long.
Doe eyed, graceful and willowy, Adela is every inch the prima ballerina, and in fact, I feel like a giant wilderbeast in her presence. As well as dancing the lead role in the company’s productions, she also runs her own ballet school where she teaches youngsters how to follow in her footsteps. She also teaches Zumba and it is clear that this woman’s life is well and truly dedicated to dancing.
I was very intrigued to speak to her dancing partner, Fatjon. Having experienced Albania for almost a year now, I was curious to find out how a young boy would end up in ballet lessons- something that may seem unusual in such a patriarchal society.
Fatjon started dancing ballet at the age of 10, again it was a dream of his mother and as he began to take lessons it became clear that he had a talent that should be developed. Following a similar path to Adela, he progressed to the National Ballet School and then the Teatrit Kombëtar të Operës dhe Baletit where he holds the position of danzatore.
He admits whilst laughing that he is not quite as strict with himself as Adela is. Whilst he puts in as much training time as she does and is without a doubt as passionate and driven as she is, he tells me he does like a drink and a cigarette in his spare time.
Fatjon tells me that although ballet dancing is not something usually associated with men in Albania, he does get the respect he deserves. People understand the gruelling time that is required to perfect one’s skills and the high levels of athleticism that is required to stay on top. He does, however, talk about the lack of up and coming male dancers.
“Most young boys, they just want to play football. To get them to come and do ballet instead is not an easy thing”.
“Perhaps there is talent that we not find yet because they are still playing football and not dancing.”
It makes me wonder if the pool of male Albanian ballet dancers will eventually dry up because of the opinion that ballet dancing is “just for girls” or that it is not something masculine. I worry that those that could be interested or that could have a special talent, would be dissuaded from pursuing it for fear of being teased. One look at Ftjon and the way he dances as well as the fierce and passionate way in which he talks about his profession, and it is clear this is not a career that should be dismissed.
Ballet is an art, a discipline, and a form of athleticism and it was wonderful to see such talented dancers do Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece justice.
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