Obituary: Paolo Bortoluzzi
Wednesday 20 October 1993
MORE than most arts, dance suffers from the corruption of war. It is not only the absence of male dancers in the armed forces and the death of physical talent. Rather, it is the deflection of a generation into other priorities and values. It is the destruction of the bodies and minds upon which dance relies. During the 1950s, male dancing in Britain still showed the effects of this destruction. Dance in Europe suffered more profoundly from a generation wiped out, the destruction of theatres and training centres and pervasive moral confusion, especially in France.
Not until the early 1960s could one say a post-war generation had recouped this European loss. The Netherlands, Germany and Italy especially led a dance renaissance. Among the dancers who epitomised this new beginning was Paolo Bortoluzzi. At the Nervi Festival and with Milorad Miskovitch's Ballets des Etoiles in 1960, then with Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century Bortoluzzi caught the eye as a new-style classical dancer appropriate to a new age.
Born in Genoa in 1938, trained during the war years by Ugo dell'Ara and later by Nora Kiss, Victor Gsovsky and Asaf Messerer - teachers particularly responsible for Europe's dance revival - Bortoluzzi made his debut in 1956 with dell'Ara's Italian Ballet Company. He was a soloist for Massine at Nervi in 1960 and became a principal dancer soon after joining Bejart. Here was a union of talents made for each other. If Bortoluzzi represented a new male brilliance in European classical dance, Bejart represented a new direction in European choreographic appeal during the Sixties and early Seventies, especially winning a new young
Possessed of remarkable strength and stamina, heavy in build but elegant, illuminating technical command with subtle humour and animal grace, Bortoluzzi was a dancer of star quality. Bejart was the perfect choreographer for his body, which lacked classical proportions but possessed a theatrical radiance which held the eye. Nomos Alpha (1969) especially projected the radiance. It is a solo to music by the Franco-Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, a dance of nearly half an hour demanding enormous technical ability and dramatic range. Bortoluzzi accepted and built upon such challenges from Bejart. Bejart, after all, is a choreographer who leaves much to his dancers not in the final definition of what his ballets are about but in creating a cult of the dancer, especially the male dancer.
Bortoluzzi exemplified this cult in role after role. He matched Nureyev as partner in Mahler's Song of the Wayfarer and was a memorable creator in Bejart's Bolero, Ninth Symphony, Mass for the Present Times, Baudelaire and other works. He was restless too for other challenges. In 1966 he became a principal dancer for Erich Walter at the Dusseldorf Opera House, commuting between there and Brussels to fulfil his duties. He appeared at La Scala, Milan, directed briefly in Rome, and was director at Dusseldorf from 1984 to 1990, after Walter's death. In almost all these appointments he added to the repertory through his own choreography. Leaving Bejart in 1972, he joined American Ballet Theatre as guest artist until 1981, appearing in Antony Tudor's Pillar of Fire among other roles, as well as appearing with other companies around the world. In 1973, he opened a ballet school in Turin with his dancer wife Jaleh Kerendi and became ballet director of the Grand Theatre, Bordeaux, in 1990, an historical home of the European classical tradition.
It is as a representative of this tradition, a dancer in Europe and of Europe, that Paolo Bortoluzzi will be remembered.
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