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    Luca Acri 2022

    Luca Acri

    First Soloist, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Thu 16th June, 2022


    David began by thanking Luca for stepping in for William Bracewell at very short notice. It transpired that, in the light of personal circumstances, William had approached Luca during the previous night’s performance of Like Water for Chocolate.

    Born in Switzerland of a Japanese mother and an Italian father, both ballet dancers, Luca had a very itinerant childhood, for part of which he and his younger brother were raised by their grandmother. He started dancing when he was aged four but wasn’t enthusiastic about it until he was ten and watched a TV programme about Tetsuya Kumakawa (Teddy), who was, by then back in Japan. The dancer’s lifestyle this portrayed, including the Ferrari, inspired Luca to aim to be like Teddy. This motivation was enhanced because Luca’s father taught with K-Ballet and he was able to watch a number of shows.

    Luca explained that ballet training in Japan was highly focused on preparing for competitions. He has personal doubts about this as an approach but knows that it helped to him become stronger both technically and personally. He was fortunate to experience significant competition success but admitted to being a somewhat difficult teenager at home. This prompted his move to the La Scala Ballet School in Milan. The advantage of being in Italy, and the homestay arrangement for students, was that he was able to learn Italian, his father’s native language. Despite the family conflicts, Luca was homesick but, looking back now, he feels that making the move to Italy was the right decision.

    However, the ballet training programme was limited to one class a day and, after a few months, Luca felt the need to look elsewhere. So, he entered the Prix de Lausanne (the same year as Marcelino Sambé and Mariko Sasaki). Although he reached the final, he wasn’t placed but the value for Luca lay in the overall experience, including being coached by Patrick Armand and meeting Jacqui Barrett when he danced a piece by Christopher Wheeldon. Moreover, before the last round, Gailene Stock (the Director of The Royal Ballet School (RBS)) had offered Luca a three-year scholarship and this had been a tremendous boost to his confidence.

    Luca arrived in the UK without any English save for a few basics from school in Japan but with, he thought, an open frame of mind. The group he joined was, by common consent, an exceptional year including, to name a few, Matthew Ball, Marcelino Sambé. Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Yaoqian Shang (now a BRB Principal), and Esteban Hernandez (now a San Francisco Ballet Principal) among his fellow students.

    Recalling his RBS teachers, Luca acknowledged the contribution of Melis Pakri whose style could be very scary but whose ability to instil the technical base, the coordination/sequence of eyes, arms, legs and musicality had been invaluable. David Peden, Luca’s second year teacher, used the demands of the Ashton and MacMillan choreography and the need for dancers to be adaptable as the basis of his teaching. Coincidentally, some of Luca’s own repertoire now mirrors that of David 30 years or more previously. Luca’s third year, with Gary Norman as his teacher, had been filled with opportunities to perform and he felt very positive about his career prospects.

    Gradually, his peers were getting contracts – Anna Rose and Marcelino had joined The Royal Ballet in October 2012 and others had had interest from the RB, BRB and ENB – but Luca found to his dismay that, in order to apply elsewhere, he needed to be at least 190cm tall. However, he secured an audition with Zurich Ballet and, in early February 2013, received the offer of a contract. He was poised to sign this when Galiene Stock called him into her office with the news that he could start with the Royal Ballet on the 8th March. A part of him wished that he could have stayed at the RBS long enough to have joined the graduate tour to New York and perform on the ROH main stage but what awaited him at the Royal Ballet was even more action-packed.

    On joining the Royal Ballet, Luca immediately found himself as a tree in Aliceand in the corps in Mayerling,a run which was filled with the last performances from Royal Ballet luminaries Leanne Benjamin, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg who had made the roles of Mary Vetsera and Rudolf very much their own. Despite the departures there was a feeling of momentum in the Royal Ballet – it was Kevin O’Hare’s first year. The end of season tours took the Company to Monaco, where Manonplayed to half empty houses, and to Japan, with Aliceand Swan Lake.Luca had said earlier that he would like to guest in Japan but recognised that the promoters and audiences there seemed to prefer non-Japanese dancers. There seemed to be a special affection for the Royal Ballet, even though the tickets were not cheap, and the reception afforded the Company’s dancers was beyond anything elsewhere – “almost too much”, Luca smiled.

    The 2013/14 season was an action-packed one for Luca. Along with Marcelino, he seemed to be busy all the time. The autumn saw the debut run of Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote.Then Liam Scarlett cast Luca as Hansel in the Hansel and Gretelballet in The Linbury. Luca thought that Liam had spotted the acting talent in him which he felt inside himself. He certainly enjoyed being a character and telling the story – perhaps more than ‘the technical stuff’. The situation with dancers leaving and others suffering injuries meant that Luca danced the ‘side boys’ in the pas de six in Gisellenumerous times. He was also involved in the creation of Alastair Marriott’s Connectomeand in The Winter’s Taleas Shepherd/Clown.

    Luca very much enjoyed working with Christopher Wheeldon, most recently on Like Water for Chocolate (LWFC)(second cast Juan Alejandrez). He found Chris to be very skilled in coordinating his collaborators and in listening to both them and his chosen dancers. The creative process for LWFC had begun during the pandemic with sessions being relayed from one studio to another in order to maintain social distance. This had been a real challenge as very complicated partnering and detailed symbolic gestures were Wheeldon specialities. “It was a magical and emotional moment when it could all be put together”, added Luca.

    Whereas the creative process can appear very long, stepping into an existing role could sometimes afford too little preparation time. For example, when he first danced Mercutio in 2015, with Matthew Ball as Romeo and Benjamin Ella at Benvolio, he thought that he had concentrated too hard on the steps. “With Macmillan, the more you dance a role, the more you develop the character.” Luca’s Mercutios in the 2021/22 season had been his fourth run and he had worked with different Romeos, thus changing the dynamic. However, for the sword fighting (“a real skill”), he had been paired with Ryoichi Hirano and, through much practice and familiarity with one another, they had been able to find the rhythm and distance which also enabled Luca to stay in character.

    Following a number of forays as the Beggar Chief in Manon,Luca had been cast as Lescaut in 2019. This was a dream role for him and he explained that, in common with the Beggar Chief, Lescaut came from a poor family and had found his own route to survival. Luca had been unable to hear the audience reaction when dancing the pas de deux but knew that he and his partner should not be playing it for laughs. Therefore, it was surprising to hear from his colleagues on stage that there has been much laughter echoing around the auditorium. Lescaut was a role which Luca was longing to revisit in order to find more layers to the character.

    Luca was equally attracted to dancing Ashton. His first role was in Symphonic Variations,a well-known challenge in terms of keeping going for some 20 minutes of continuous movement. He had been surprised to find himself one of the four men in Scènes de ballet,a very technical work which was amazing for its era (1940s). He had appeared as Kolia in A month in the Countryon the same triple bill – one which “couldn’t have been achieved without Christopher Carr – he’s a legend”. Luca had also danced Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dreamand Alain in La Fille Mal Gardée and longed to have a shot at Colas.

    Asked whether he saw himself as a classical dancer, Luca felt that he could ‘do anything’ – classical, contemporary neo-classical. He was curious as a person and didn’t want to limit himself. However, one classical performance – in Coppeliajust before the pandemic - had given him particular pleasure as the whole family from both Italy and Japan had been able to travel together to watch him dance Franz. Looking further ahead, Luca could see himself trying more character roles, just as his father was still doing.

    In conclusion, David thanked Luca again for coming and wished him all the best for his future career. The evening ending with a long and appreciative round of applause.

    Written by Linda Gainsbury, edited by Luca Acri and David Bain

    ©The Ballet Association 2022