Renato Zanella, Artistic Director of the Ljubljana ballet company, in a special interview for Ballet Magazine Romania

by Mihaela Ivan
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Renato Zanella was born in Verona on June 6th, 1961. He received his first training in Verona before moving on to Rosella Hightower’s famous “Centre de Danse International” in Cannes where he completed his studies. Zanella joined in 1982 the Basler Ballet directed by Heinz Spoerli before the engagement in Stuttgart that followed in 1985.

Eight years later, Marcia Haydée appointed him as a choreographer in residence after a series of creations as “Die andere seite”,“Triptychon”, “Stati d’animo”, “Empty Place”, “Black Angels”,“Man im Schatten” and ”Mata Hari”, created for Marcia Haydé.

This was the beginning of an international career that brought further choreographies for several renowned companies as the Istanbul National Ballet, Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet, Berlin Ballet, Hungarian National Ballet, Croatian National Ballet, Teatro dell Opera di Roma, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, San Francisco Ballet.

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In 1995, Renato Zanella was appointed as Ballet Director at the Vienna State Opera, a position he will detain till 2005

During his term, he presented close to forty own choreographies ranging from short pieces to full-length evening programs. The ballet lovers appreciated the fact that the main focus of Zanella’s was to balance great classical repertory with his creations and the neo-classical repertory. Zanella gave young choreographers from within his corps de ballet a chance of expressing themselves and paid close attention to the training of the next generation of ballet dancers that were nurtured carefully in a ballet school part of the State Opera, he directed from 2001 till 2005.

From September 2011 till December 2015 he was Ballet Director by the Greek Opera National as the Arena di Verona from 2013 till 2015 and the Bucharest National Ballet from September 2016 till December 2017.  Since February 2018 led the department of choreography by the Music School of the capital city of St Pölten in Low Austria. The “Choreo Center Europe” is an international educative platform for young choreographers in collaboration with the Europa Ballet and the Academy of Music and Art.

On January 1st, Renato Zanella took over as artistic director of ballet at the Ljubljana National Opera and Ballet Company

Ballet Magazine: First of all, Mr. Zanella I would like to congratulate you on the new job. Why did you choose Ljubljana Ballet and what are your plans and expectations as artistic director?

Ljubljana called me, indirectly, I mean. I was a guest choreographer at the time they opened the position. I enjoyed the company and the theater environment for months and as they opened the position I decided to apply. I don’t have to tell you how nice the country is and the people here and being an Italian living in Austria I feel very much near culture and history with this area. 

Ballet Magazine: Last year was a difficult one for everybody but especially for the artistic world. How was it for you? How did you manage in those unusual circumstances?

We are still facing a difficult year, the time I am writing you we are starting a new total lockdown. Art is smashed down hardly. I know that they are avoiding the movement around all kinds of activities, but after the first lockdown, following all the protocols the rate of infection was near to 0 in theaters activities. Theaters are not restaurant or cinema, busses or planes. Not selling tickets, collapses the system.

On the other hand, we saw theater balancing their debts receiving state support, not having costs. I don’t hear theater Directors talking much those days, most are freelancing artists and short terms employment, which are the real tragedy of Covid 19. My reaction is planning; creating, contacting, and exchange in every way possible, staying close to artists, and motivate them. We have to be ready once this will be over. What I like is that, in those days, the artist community is much more united; we are facing interesting situations and conceptions for projects on and offline.


I am happy Romeo and Juliet is still in the memory of the people … unfortunately, there is a dispute concerning Romeo and Juliet with the new direction ship, since they do not recognize me as a choreographer

Ballet Magazine: Ballet lovers in Bucharest still remember your „Romeo and Juliet” show in which you found a balance between the traditional story and the modern times. We will have the chance to see again some of your works on the Romanian stage? How was the experience with Romanian National Opera in Bucharest?

The artistic time in Romania from the artistic side was excellent. Talented and hard workers dancers truly inspired me. I am happy Romeo and Juliet is still in the memory of the people, as I am sure as well Opus 73 and Rite of Spring too. Unfortunately, there is a dispute concerning Romeo and Juliet with the new direction ship, since they do not recognize me as a choreographer, and till today I did not receive a contract. They nicely stilled my work. So, I do not think the dancers and the public will enjoy my work again, if they do, it will not be under my supervision and will. Unluckily, it is a very unpleasant situation.

Ballet Magazine: You worked with great companies and with some of the greatest choreographers in the world. What is your opinion about ballet in Central and Eastern Europe? What it needs to be improved or changed?

I think the potential in this area is very high. Interested and educated public, art education is excellent and there is so much talent. To manage this you need people with competencies that run those activities and a government that understand how important is to invest in theater institutions. I was sorry to see how the nomination for a new general manager at the National Opera in Bucharest went after I left and still today is a matter of critics and discussions. This doesn’t help the institution and creates insecurity.

Ballet Magazine: I am curious if it is choreography, I mean a piece of music that inspires you or a story that you would like to put on stage but you didn’t have the chance yet?

It is always for different reasons. Sometimes is the music, once is a story, and once is pure desire to say something. When I was there Romeo was dedicated to the company and their amazing personalities, Rite of Spring inspired by the music as Opus 73. As Director of an institution, you have to be as well public orientated, balancing the orchestra work, forming as well new publics and if you are lucky tradition. My inspiration comes from life, from the people, is a dialogue in continuous development. Theaters are places where the audience and artists get together to feel different once they leave this special place. Our goal is to bring emotional esthetic in all his form alive!

Ballet Magazine: Thank you for this interview, Mr Zanella. It was a real pleasure!

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