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Roberto Bolle, ballet dancer as international superstar

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It’s difficult to imagine 50,000 people assembling in an American city’s central square to watch a ballet performance, but when Roberto Bolle and friends danced in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, the atmosphere was more like a rock concert. He also brought ballet to Rome’s Colosseum and a central square in Naples. Bolle can attract huge crowds for this normally rarefied art form because he has achieved a level of celebrity in his native country that is hard to imagine being accorded to a comparable American virtuoso.

Advertisers such as Ferragamo feature this Italian ballet star’s boyishly handsome face and chiseled physique in campaigns, and he is often featured in magazine spreads and invited to fashion shows. For him, such extracurricular activities help shine a spotlight on ballet and cultivate a broader audience. “Many people know me as a dancer and start to come to the theater to see ballet, and before they didn’t,” he said recently in New York, where he was performing as American Ballet Theatre’s newest male principal dancer.

Soon after he first appeared with ABT in 2007, as a guest squiring Alessandra Ferri through her farewell performances, editors at American magazines caught on. Vanity Fair created a Florida beach scene featuring his hunky torso, and Vogue centered a lush 15-page ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fantasy spread by Annie Leibovitz around him as the doomed lover.

Romeo is the role that will introduce Bolle to Los Angeles audiences this week, on ABT’s opening night (Thursday) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But even though he performs the heroes of all the full-length ballets — he danced four of them with ABT in New York — his interests extend to more contemporary works. In May, he danced Balanchine’s Apollo, one of ballet’s great touchstone male roles, at La Scala, and this fall he reprises the technically taxing role of Oberon in that choreographer’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

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“I really want, more and more, to dance modern and different choreography. I think it’s important for me — it’s like growing as an artist, changing my repertoire. In December, I will dance in a new production by John Neumeier, with the Hamburg Ballet — a brand-new ballet he will create for me — something I’m dreaming about!”

Read more about Bolle in this Sunday’s Arts & Books section.

— Susan Reiter

Top: Roberto Bolle rehearses with Veronika Part at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Bottom: Bolle. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times

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