Carla Fracci obituary: Italian ballerina was universally acclaimed

Milan-born child of tram driver and factory worker was star of stage and screen

 Carla Fracci in Giselle at La Scala: She could skim, apparently effortlessly, across the stage with incredible lightness. Photograph: Erio Piccagliani via Teatro alla Scala

Carla Fracci in Giselle at La Scala: She could skim, apparently effortlessly, across the stage with incredible lightness. Photograph: Erio Piccagliani via Teatro alla Scala

 

Born: August 20th, 1936

Died: May 27th, 2021

Carla Fracci, who has died aged 84 of cancer, was Italy’s prima ballerina of the 20th century. She was admired throughout the country, where she danced in many cities, at summer festivals and on television. From 1967, she became a regular guest with companies such as American Ballet Theatre, but her first loyalty was to Italy.

In discussing ballerinas who were key to national identities, Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp noted in Ballerina: The Art of Women in Classical Ballet (1987) that: “Fracci speaks for Italian dance, for something both gracious and graceful. Her warm temperament and style recall Italian bel canto in balletic terms.”

From the 1960s, whenever new ballets were created in Italy, it was the hope of the choreographer and producer that Fracci would wish to be part of the project, and she played a vital role in securing a stronger appreciation of ballet in Italy than it had had in the first half of the century. Fracci was universally acclaimed as a great Romantic dancer: she could skim, apparently effortlessly, across the stage with incredible lightness.

Born in Milan, she was the daughter of Luigi Fracci, a tram driver, and Santina Rocca, a factory worker. To avoid bombing during the second World War, Carla was sent to stay with relatives in the countryside. Returning to Milan after the conflict, she was accepted by the ballet school attached to La Scala.

Breakthrough role

It was in May 1949 that Fracci took the opportunity to appear as a mandolin-playing page in the Sadler’s Wells Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty on tour to Italy. It was Fracci’s first stage appearance and the first time she had seen ballet independent of opera. Margot Fonteyn danced Aurora and was a revelation to the 12-year-old Carla: “It was then I really knew I wanted to become a ballerina. I looked and looked at her. I studied her every move . That’s when I really began to work very, very hard in my ballet classes.”

In 1954, Fracci graduated into the ballet company at La Scala. Her breakthrough came in 1957 when she substituted for Violette Verdy in the title role of Cinderella and the following year was promoted to ballerina.

The same year, Anton Dolin was reworking his Pas de Quatre, originally a divertissement for a quartet of ballerinas of the 1840s, for the Nervi festival in Genoa. Noting the rising star’s resemblance to Fanny Cerrito, who had danced in the original, Dolin asked the young Fracci to join the established ballerinas in his production.

Male superstars

During her long career, Fracci danced with most of the male superstars of the ballet. Her partners included Rudolf Nureyev, with whom she danced The Sleeping Beauty, La Sylphide (recorded in the 1972 documentary I Am a Dancer) and Juliet in his Romeo and Juliet, also filmed. She introduced Mikhail Baryshnikov to Italy at the Spoleto festival in 1975 in John Butler’s Medea; a duet that meditated on rather than retold the legend.

But it was with the Danish danseur noble Erik Bruhn that Fracci formed one of the great dance partnerships of the 20th century. It was a combination of opposites, described as “a meeting of ice and fire”. He was blond and restrained, she dark-haired and sprightly, but for a decade – following their first joint appearance in 1962 when he invited her to dance an extract of La Sylphide with him on the US TV show The Bell Telephone Hour – they had a perfect rapport.

In 1964, Fracci married Beppe Menegatti, the theatre and opera director, librettist and producer, whom she had first met at La Scala when she was 17 and he was Luchino Visconti’s assistant. In 1969 she gave birth to a son, Francesco, now an architect.

The partnership with Menegatti was more than domestic as he presented Fracci in many productions, including The Seagull, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Blood Wedding. Fracci was also remarkable as a dancer-actor in evocations of the world of early 20th-century dance commissioned by Menegatti: a homage to Isadora Duncan.

Fracci is survived by Beppe, Francesco and two grandchildren. – Guardian News and Media 2021