Carla Fracci, a former principal dancer of La Scala Ballet in Milan, is among the rare class of ballerinas who continued to perform into her 50s and beyond. Romantic ballets were her calling card throughout her career. In 1987, when Fracci was 51, she was featured in a television special, dancing reconstructed 19th-century ballets in the style of historical ballerinas. In this clip of La Esmeralda from the program, Fracci and her partner Stephen Jefferies, a former principal at The Royal Ballet, deliver an extraordinary performance, capturing the verve and spirit of their characters.
The set is magnificently detailed with a soaring backdrop of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. There is also—somewhat comically—a live goat onstage, as there were in many early performances of La Esmeralda. In Esmeralda's variation, the choreography differs from the version often seen in competitions today and is based on Marius Petipa's revival of the ballet for the Russian ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska. Fracci emphasizes its intricate footwork and musicality; her mastery is evident in the gorgeous control and precise accents of her ballonés en pointe (0:40). Jefferies, as Phoebus, dances with a confident, relaxed air in brilliant petit allégro. In the final diagonal of his variation and in the coda, he demonstrates incredible dynamism in his pirouettes, with slow, suspended turns, as well as tight, fast ones. In the more lyrical sections, the pair dance fluidly in unison, and Fracci's delicate tambourine work makes the prop seem like an extension of her body. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!