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Keen on Balanchine: Italian Dance Student Joins PNB
By Rosie Gaynor
Posted September 8, 2008

     Two hundred and forty students took part in Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s intensive summer camp this year. Between the ages of twelve and eighteen, they came from 35 states and Canada—and one even came all the way from Italy.  

     His name is David Mannara, he was born in Torino, he just turned 18, and coming to Seattle to study Balanchine was a dream come true. 

     “When I was 14, I moved to Vienna for the Vienna Opera ballet school,” he said. “We were studying the history of ballet and we saw a video of Serenade.” And that was it: he was smitten with Balanchine. 

     Although Mannara later moved to Switzerland to study at the Ballet Academy of Zurich, he didn’t lose sight of his goal. “I always wanted to come to the USA because of Balanchine, and so I was waiting to turn seventeen to come here. For a visa, seventeen is the magic age.” And now he’s here in the US, studying Balanchine. “Finalmente,” he says with a great smile. 

      Why PNB? “I know that New York City Ballet, PNB, and Miami City Ballet are the three most important Balanchine ballet companies,” he said. And, in fact, Miami City Ballet School was his first stop in the US. “I did a videotape last summer with my teacher in Torino and I sent it to many places in America,” he said. Miami was the first to respond and although he was just 17 years old, Mannara jumped at the chance. 

     When asked if it was frightening to move so far from home at such a young age, he said no. “It was more exciting than scary. I couldn’t wait. Finally the moment had arrived! There was no fear.” And did his family worry? “My family is happy. They know that that’s what I want to do and it’s my dream. They trust me.” I try to imagine what it would be like for a Balanchine fan to actually take class with the legendary Edward Villella, the former Balanchine star who runs Miami City Ballet. “It was fun,” said Mannara, and judging from another one of his great smiles, I take it this is an understatement. Indeed, he added later that these classes with Villella were “really exciting and precious to me.”  

     Through all his moves, Mannara has kept up with his education in Italy. That, he says, is not the easiest part of his life. “It’s very hard for people to leave their home country when they are really young. It’s hard to keep up your studies. I don’t go to school, but I have my books.” Mannara did not have access to an online school. “I have just myself and my books. During the holidays I [go home and] take exams.” Mannara has one year left in his Liceo Europeo program at Altiero Spinelli, with courses consisting of Italian, English, French, German, Math, Philosophy, and Art History. “I’m really grateful to my headmaster, that he gave me this special permission,” said Mannara.  

     When it came time to look for summer 2008 classes, Mannara was determined to stay in the US, and this time was able to audition in person. He didn’t look at a lot of programs, though, he said. “I just wanted to come to PNB.” He auditioned for PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal in Boca Raton—just one of the 1,500+ students who auditioned this year. (The program is well respected. It dates from 1978, the first summer Francia Russell, former co-artistic director of the company, was in Seattle.) 

      It’s an intense day of dancing for these dance students. How many youngsters willingly get up at 6:20 am in the summer? Classes generally go from 8:30 am to about 3:30 pm. “I like every class,” said Mannara. “Each teacher has his own way to teach. I think it’s really helping me.”  He commented on the anger and screaming students in some schools face. “Here it’s different. Here they want you to understand the movement, to work with the brain, to know what you are doing, and to take care of your body. The teachers are really nice; and when they explain, they’re really precise.” This, for Mannara, is key. “They are really precise when they give corrections and this helps me because I can remember it and put it in my body.” 

     In Europe, Mannara’s training had been in the Vaganova style. (Agrippina Vaganova of Russia’s Imperial Ballet School taught such legendary stars as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, and George Balanchine.) “Here it’s Balanchine, so it’s very different. Every movement: different.” One example he points to is the use of the arms. “In Europe you’re taught that the arms are more low, and clean, and the fingers are closed. Here, in Balanchine, it’s more open, and up a little more. It’s more ampio. You fill the stage more. It makes the moment more big. Vaganova is more controlled; Balanchine is more expressive. And the musicality is different. And the counts you have to control more. It’s brain work.” 

      Not every dance student can survive the disheartening frustration of relearning basic techniques, but I sense only eagerness in this young Italian dancer. He can’t wait to learn more. It is a quality Peter Boal mentions right off the bat, when I corner him later at a PNB Backstage Pass* event. Mannara has “great potential,” Boal says, adding that Mannara is “open-minded and eager to learn.” I interviewed Mannara at the end of the day, just after he and fellow students traipsed back to the Seattle Pacific University dorms many of them lived in during their Seattle stay. How do you feel at the end of this long day, I asked. “Tired,” he said, “and happy at how I passed the day.”  

     The students’ days occasionally included more than classes. In addition to outings around town, they’ve watched company class (“It looks different. It looks more fun. You can see that everybody can really control and they’re ready to dance,” said Mannara) and they were invited to watch the company rehearse for its recent tour to Vail. More Balanchine, including Agon. “I like the men’s part. I also like the pas de deux with the girls. And I liked the uniformity the dancers had, the way they move and fill the stage.” 

      From the moment Mannara first entered PNB’s Phelps Center, he loved it. “It was amazing. I felt like this was the place I was meant to be. I felt like I did a good thing to come so far from my country; that it was worth it.” 

     Apparently the feeling is mutual. Mannara is one of 27 summer camp students invited to join PNB’s Professional Division in the fall. If all goes well with visas, scholarships, and housing, this young man will do just that. And he’ll have the joy of watching one of his favorite ballets – Jewels – in January. It is, of course, by Balanchine. ‘“Rubies,”’ says Mannara, ‘represents the American style of dance, “Diamonds” the Russian, “Emeralds” the French.’ These different styles are something Mannara has thought a lot about in the last four years and I take it at more than face value when he says, ‘I really like “Rubies.”’  

     In the meantime, Mannara has returned to Torino, to visit his family and spend time with his twin brother, Manuel. Buon viaggio, and come back soon! 

     * PNB’s Backstage Pass is a social and educational group for folks in their twenties and thirties. It’s a fabulous program: members receive discounts on subscriptions and the receptions and parties are stylishly good fun. Check out the details at


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