Just for the record: Renato Zanella
Some people say that "coincidences do not exist". I came to believe in that more and more everyday. One day while still in the process of preparing myself for this interview I came across, in a kind of "Flea Market" with a book called "Zwischenbilanz" by Ingeborg Tichy-Lugner, a sort of balance sheet of Mr. Zanella's career up to the year 2000. A book filled with memories for me, from times that I could not spend so many evenings in the Opera House because I was working abroad. Lots of memories. And finding this book, just by accident, well another case of pure serendipity... this happens frequently in my life!
How to start writing about him? Yes, Renato Zanella… when it comes to talking about dance you can nearly „touch“ the energy that emanates from him. There is no abstractness. It all seems so concrete. This is a wonderful feeling.
He needs no introduction in the Ballet World but I would like to remember somehow some “moments” of his life – not only in Stuttgart (where I still saw him on stage, for example, as a very “blasé” and extremely aristocratic Paris in Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet”, where he had the opportunity of working with real “geniuses” like Marcia Haydée, Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Egon Madsen to name just a few and then Verona and Athens and Bucharest but also Vienna, where he “reigned” for ten years (1995 – 2005) in the “Holender-Era” - These were times when around 50 Ballet evenings were performed at the State Opera during the season. - a beautiful, very important, creative but also very tumultuous era (but I mean this as a very positive thing: who can ever forget the wonderful premières of that time but also Holender’s face and gestures as the male dancers pulled down their trousers during an “Opera Ball”? And Mr. Holender fuming with outrage? Fun!).
And that is what Renato radiates. Fun: For what he is doing. And also Love to his work, tasks, challenges and projects.
He worked with marvelous dancers like Eva Petters, Simona Noja, Alexandra Kontrus and the great Tamás Solymosi (I shall never forget these four on Mr. B’s “Apollo”, back in 1996, still during his first Season in Vienna) but also Marieluise Jaska, Jolantha Seyfried, Brigitte Stadler, Jürgen Wagner, Wolfgang Grascher, Christian Musil, Christian Tichy and – a very important dancer during this era – Christian Rovny!
While writing this I, all of a sudden realize, how many Austrian Dancers there used to be in this company… And how Mr. Zanella was “integrated”, not only in the Media World but also in the Austrian Society!
He worked very closely with Vladimir Malakhov, in his prime, who was always coming for guest appearances in Vienna… “Apollon”, “Voyage”, “La chamber”, “Wolfgang Amadé” and “La Bayadère”, Vladimir Malakhov's first own chroreography, among others. Good memories! And also one of the “highlights” of the 1999/2000 Season: the first time I have ever seen Manuel Legris on stage as Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”– with Simona Noja in the tittle role (We cannot leave unmentioned the Solo that Mr. Zanella had created to Manuel Legris, just the Season before for the Gala at the End of the Season: “Angel”. In his own words from the book "Zwischenbilanz": "The solo "Angel" was born out of respect for an Artist, expressing the "Thanks" that I was allowed to work with him".
But what impressed me mostly about this period, was his way to work – and try new things. A person never used to be just “on the safe side”, he “dared” a lot. Viennese Audiences – not very known for an innovative way of looking at things – were sometimes indignantly shocked – but that is what art is all about. Trying new grounds, speaking different languages, reaching (or closing up) everyone to communicate an idea, that either is a breath of a thought or an “elephant” in a porcelain shop. That is what is fascinating about this never ending “motion” called “ART”. And, yes, I need three capital letters for that.
We met at the “Do & Co” and because he was in a traffic jam on his way to the interview, I had time to prepare myself for this interview – We knew each other casually from Stuttgart and later Vienna but I think the last time we talked to each other was during a party after some “Nureyev Gala” some years ago. When he arrived, he would not stop excusing himself for his lateness, a fact that was not important at all – I had a wonderful time writing down thoughts and questions… But his politeness is the one that is “a Gentleman’s”. I like that!
“Renato, so glad to see you. How are you?”
“Also very glad to meet you again, Ricardo! Everything fine even though this travelling on the road every day to St. Pölten is a bit tiring! But I have found a house and soon this “stress” will be over… “ he says and then laughs.
“Let’s start at “the very beginning” (God, that sounds like “The Sound of Music”). I remember so well your “Mata Hari” in Stuttgart at the end of 1993 – I still have this programme at home. Which, in fact, was your first choreography?”
“It was in Stuttgart, “Die andere Seite”, back in 1989 for the “Noverre Gesellschaft/Kammertheater”. Marcia Haydée decided to take my choreography that same Season (January 1990), into the repertoire of the Stuttgart Ballet. I was so excited. I was still dancing and I was only 28 years old”
“And how many choreographies do you “carry in your luggage”?
He answers plainly, simply and quite coily in fact: “around 200”
“That is amazing”, I say and add quickly “You left Bucharest… I think you had very good “dancer material” there. What made you take this decision?” I ask.
“There were many “components” to this decision. It is always hard to leave a House in which you had been working gladly – even if the “politics” inside an Opera House in Rumania are quite difficult to understand, as a foreigner, I mean – but a series of reasons brought me to this decision. I had an interim contract after J. Kobborg and it expired in December 2017. Now the company is still running with an transitory team till a decision for a new GM is taken”
“Can you tell me more about them?, I smile awkwardly since I did not know if he wanted to talk about that...
“Sure. Since 1994 I have been working very closely with St. Pölten – and I love Austria. How could I be not tempted to start a choreographic Center to indulge in the delights of encouraging young talents? Yes, you heard it right. A choreo Center! Yes, I could win a closer cooperation with the Europa Ballet directed by Michael Fichtenbaum, the only youth company in Austria in this form, with the goal to prepare them at best for the profession. I am very happy to work in close synergy with the Conservatory and the music school directed by Alfred Kellner!”
And he quickly, excitedly adds “The Choreo Center Europe has, in fact, a new concept for choreographic education. Based on workshops and lectures with international choreographers, interpreters, designers, musicians etc. This will bring to a series of creations to promote international talent. It will be developed into an international competition and possibly into a master in the years to come”
“That sounds like a lot of work”, I add.
“But that is not all. My contract allows me to pursue also an international course: I have projects coming up with the National Opera Skopje, the Korean National Ballet in Seoul, and the San Carlo di Napoli” -
“In St. Pölten we are rehearsing at the moment “my own” “Empty place” (Editor’s note: I remember watching this ballet for the first time in 1994 at the Vienna State Opera) and “Bolero”. Big projects will be “Romeo and Juiet” in Skopje,“Electra” by Mikis Theodorakis in Syros, in the oldest built Opera house in Greece, the Apollon Theatre. The première will be on July 27th. I am looking forward to that. You see, I already did a “Medea” there, back in 2011”.
“Any other projects?”
“Isn’t this more than enough ?” he bursts into laughter. “This is already a very busy year but, oh yes, I was invited by the Noverre Gesellschaft in Stuttgart for the 60th year celebration of its foundation. Looking forward to that in June. “Everyone” will be there!”
Well, so much to all the “rumours” that surrounded Mr. Zanella’s return to Austria which mostly were only concerned with the “Europa Ballet” and the “Musikschule” in St. Pölten ignoring completely the extension of this man’s talents, projects, internationality and power. Chapeau!
To be very honest: I am looking forward to another meeting with him – I am sure he’ll be “bubbling” with new ideas and projects again.
Grazie mille, caro Renato! Que piacere!