Interview with ballerina Mariafrancesca Garritano.
Mariafrancesca Garritano, known as Mary Garret, is a thirty-three year old Italian ballerina who has spent seventeen years at La Scala Theatre in Milan, where she was recently promoted soloist. Last month she has been fired because of some inconvenient truths – such as her struggle with anorexia – she has revealed in her biography.
LILA: Hi Mary. How was your day?
MARY: I woke up, took ballet class and rehearsed a piece I’ll perform as guest artist in Salerno, a lovely town in the south of Italy.
LILA: Since you lost your job at La Scala in the past days, do you still have the same ballet routine?
MARY: Yes, I take regular class every morning and then study variations and pas de deux. I’m back to tip-tap as well, which is something I used to love and do much more when I was little.
LILA: To breathe is not a choice. Being a ballerina is a choice or a lack of choice?
MARY: I’m still wondering… sooner or later I’ll get an answer!
LILA: You entered the La Scala Theatre Ballet School when you were already sixteen. How did that happen?
MARY: I auditioned – the audition was a ballet class – and I passed it. Then, after one month trial, they confirmed me.
LILA: You’re from Calabria, a region from the very south of Italy. I was there for a beauty contest back in 1997 and, being a girl from Milan, I was scared. How was leaving your family down there and moving to Milan?
MARY: At the beginning it was hard but the excitement of making my ballerina dreams come true by studying at La Scala didn’t make me feel the loneliness. I’ve always been a dreamer and all I was looking at was my future of endless possibilities.
LILA: How have both Milano and Calabria changed along these two decades?
MARY: Calabria is a land of stubborn people, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. I don’t go there a lot but, when I do, my memories don’t match the reality of the present anymore. There are still many young people who leave but many others stay and fight to change it into a better place. As of Milan, I have been involved so much in the ballet world that only recently I actually got to know it more. Milan runs fast to keep up with its tourism, fashion, arts and business. Milan has also slowly become a multiethnic city and that has changed its identity a lot.
LILA: What’s the spiritual feature that makes of Mary a ballerina?
MARY: The unconditional trust in what I feel deep inside.
LILA: What about the psychological one?
MARY: Willpower, which sometimes is a great engine to keep up with the exhausting work but, some other times, interferes with my ability to learn and grow!!!
LILA: And the physical one?
MARY: None really. I am not one of those ballerinas with great physical assets. But, the lack of them didn’t keep me from becoming one. Nothing more than your own brain can be your biggest physical challenge. At the same time, you become a ballerina because you have strong brain and heart that co-operate in developing and expressing the artist in you.
LILA: What ballet character do you feel the closest to who you are?
MARY: Clara in The Nutcracker by Rudolf Nureyev, as she represents the metamorphosis of a dreamy teenager into an adult.
LILA: Which one you love performing the most?
MARY: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake by Nureyev, which is my favorite ballet.
LILA: And the one you liked the least?
MARY: I don’t remember one I didn’t like.
LILA: Any character you didn’t perform yet and dream about?
MARY: Sleeping Beauty is one of my preferred ballets; I danced the role of Aurora only in a little excerpt – the pas de deux in the third act. Well, probably I’d like to dance the whole part of Aurora, from beginning to end. But, so far, I also feel very lucky for all the marvelous characters I already had the possibility to be on stage!
LILA: Before writing your biography, did you like writing? And reading?
MARY: I always liked writing; as a child I was already writing fictional stories and thoughts about life. I also read a lot: psychological essays, Zafon and Oriana Fallaci.
LILA: From what feelings your book, La verita’, vi prego, sulla danza, came from?
MARY: From the desire to reflect upon the human being inside the ballet dancer. Every artist feels the moral necessity to do so, at some point, and find her/his truths in her/his heart.
LILA: How do you live your body and your femininity today compared to sixteen years ago?
MARY: Even sixteen years ago I didn’t feel that trying to be thinner and thinner was normal. As of today I know I damaged myself but I’ve also learnt that, no matter what’s going wrong, you can always turn it around. And, that’s the message I hope to send out through my biography.
LILA: Who’s ballet for?
MARY: For everybody. At the studio I practice lately there’s a dear friend of mine, a seventy year old woman, who practices next to me at the barre. Dancing is something that has always belonged to the human spirit and it should be available to everybody.
LILA: What’s easier: a partnership with a man on stage or in real life?
MARY: For me both relationships are easy when I am myself and follow my instinct. Abnegation, trust, acceptance and awareness of each other’s role in the relationship should help the relationship work as well.
LILA: Massimo Murru o Roberto Bolle?
MARY: Gene Kelly FOREVER!
LILA: Can a pregnancy be a threat to the strength and the flexibility of a ballerina? Any personal plan about it?
MARY: Many ballerinas have perfectly continued their careers after pregnancies. Of course you have to be careful and pick the right timing. I didn’t think about it yet.
LILA: What do Russian ballerinas have more than Italians and vice versa?
MARY: Russian ballerinas have great technical skills they acquire early in the ballet academy. Those, with the natural emotional artistry of the Italians, would make the perfect ballerina type. For sure, what we have in common is a total dedication to ballet; I’d love us to invest this same dedication to improve the ballet world also under the human point of view, including the battle to eating disorders, for example.
LILA: Did you expect La Scala to fire you?
MARY: I felt like it could have happened.
LILA: In your future you see more hopes or fears?
LILA: What and who will you miss the most from La Scala?
MARY: I’ll always carry everything and everybody inside, good or bad, because that’s a part of me… and, whomever there is really close to me will stay with me anyways, I believe.
LILA: What company would you like to work with now? In Italy or abroad, as your nickname might suggest?
MARY: I’d love to work in America! I had a chance to move there when I was twenty-one, but I decided to stay with La Scala because I love my country. Today, who knows… I’ll start looking for a new ballet company to join and, hopefully, the Universe will send me something good!
Best of Luck to this beautiful ballerina from all of us!
Intervista di Liliana Isella.
Foto di Marco Brescia/La Scala.