The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 8th instalment
With this last post the series closes on the Liberation of Venice and Rome
After the Second War of Independence (1859) Italy wasn’t yet politically unified as a whole: Venice was part of the Austrian Empire and Rome and Latium were still under Papal rule. In those years dance theatre contributed to the cause of unity also by associating with the bold image of the Bersaglieri. This elite military corps, founded by the King Carlo Alberto in 1836 and initially led by Alessandro La Marmora, during the campaigns of 1859-1860 distinguished itself in several battles. It thus entered the popular imagination – along with such figures as Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emanuele II – and was ready to appear in Italian theatres.
An example is the already mentioned ballet Il ritorno del volontario bersagliere dalla battaglia di Magenta (The Return of the volunteer bersagliere from the Battle of Magenta) staged by an unknown choreographer in Bologna at the Teatro Nosadella during the carnival season 1860, but onstage the most famous bersaglieri – indeed bersaglieras – were those that appeared in Flik e Flok by Paul Taglioni with music by Peter Ludwig Hertel (given in Milan at La Scala during the carnival season 1862), a ballet destined to become one of the most performed throughout Italy during the second part of the 19th century.
A reproduction of a ballet first given in Berlin in 1858, it featured an underwater scene culminating in the Ballabile dei Fiumi. The rivers named in the original Berlin production were the Spree, the Neva, the Thames, the Seine and the Danube; significantly in Milan this last river was replaced by the Laguna Veneta, a number that closed with the entry of a troop of girls dressed as gallant bersaglieri, to the sound of the fanfare and in front of a backdrop representing Venice.
Only in 1866 Venice was to be liberated from the Austrian yoke; Rome was taken after the breach at Porta Pia in 1870, and shortly after that event the Galop delle Bersagliere was staged with enormous success at the Teatro Argentina. The musical theme it is set to, known popularly as Flik e Flok, still accompanies the joyful high-stepping gait of the corps on parade.
Anyone wishing to know the history of this ballet and its music in particular can read the paper by Claudia Celi and Andrea Toschi Alla ricerca dell’anello mancante: “Flik e Flok” e l’Unità d’Italia (In search of the missing link: “Flik and Flok” and the Unification of Italy), “Chorégraphie,” I, 2, autumn 1993, pp. 59-72. (R.Z.)