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A Northern Star

Federico Bonelli, the new Artistic Director of Northern Ballet

Federico Bonelli’s award-winning career is a long and illustrious one, scanning many decades. The multi-faceted dancer, who was born in Genoa, Italy has performed with Zurich Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet and, since 2003, the Royal Ballet. Bonelli has brought his extraordinary, gravity defying frame to such celebrated works as “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Nutcracker,” “La Sylphide,” “Pierrot Lunaire,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “The Dante Project,” “Giselle,” “Frankenstein,” “Manon,” and “Woolf Works.” He has garnered many awards, notably first prize at the Rieti International Ballet Competition, and a Prix de Lausanne scholarship. 

Currently, he is a principal at the Royal Ballet, but with such a fantastic track record, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he is taking on an entirely new role as the new artistic director of prestigious company Northern Ballet, one of the leading ballet companies in the UK, in May of this year. Ahead of his tenure, Lorna Irvine caught up with him to find out what has been keeping him going during the unprecedented times of the pandemic, and what lies ahead.

Federico Bonelli in the Royal Ballet’s “Swan Lake.” Photograph by Bill Cooper/ROH

The pandemic has obviously brought many challenges to the dance community. What has been your own coping strategy during lockdown?

I think my coping strategy was to dance and move as much as possible. Which of course was difficult during lockdown . . . and watching as much dance and theatre as I could online. I also spent a lot of time helping my daughter with remote learning, which was both a tough and rewarding experience.

Are you optimistic about dance companies and venues returning to normality this year?

I think we are moving towards a more normal world, but I have no doubt conditions will remain difficult for some time yet. Lots of people will benefit from being able to be back in the theatres. Digital dance did amazing things during the pandemic and it is here to stay, as it represents a distinct opportunity to be creative and reach wider and more diverse audiences. At the same time, we are ready, and I believe audiences are also ready, to return to live performance where the emotion and musicality of the amazing stories we tell can be best experienced.

You have collaborated with Northern Ballet before. They have a very particular aesthetic—one that is theatrical and highly inventive—is that something that resonates with you?

Yes, absolutely. As a young ballet student, I remember realising that ballet was not only about movement and music, it could also tell stories. I have never looked back.

 I believe ballet and dance are uniquely capable of portraying the deep emotions that describe the human condition, and this is what Northern Ballet does so well. This is what drives me, both as a performer and as an artistic leader, so I believe it is just the right fit.

Without giving away too much, what are you most hoping to achieve with the company in the future?

I want to raise and sustain the technical and interprative quality of the company, and I will continue to build on the company’s bold approach to narrative ballet. I am also excited to lead in how best to ensure a diversity of perspectives and experiences are represented in the stories we tell on stage.