“My grandfather had a dream: becoming successful in America. I am part of that dream, and I am part of Giovinazzo, where my father, my grandfather...
“When the lights go off, it’s time to go on stage. That’s my world. And when I realized that, it has been for ever”. A sincere but intense thought may not be enough to get all the emotions behind Eleonora Abbagnato and the world she belongs to, the ballet. Before being elected Director of the Corps de ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Eleonora was a girl who, like many others, started to dance at an early age and has never stopped. Nevertheless, the passion for dancing brought her to a high-speed career, where both the age and the beauty helped on the road to success but they did not preserve from big challenges.
To better understand Eleonora’s personality, as described in her biography “Un angelo sulle punte” (An angel on her toes), we need to go back to Palermo in the early ‘80s: at the age of three, little Eleonora loved to watch other girls dancing at the school of maestra Marisa Benassai, located close to her mom’s boutique. From the time she used to be a great “spectator”, it only took one year for Eleonora to get enrolled in the same school and make the first debut, in front of parents and relatives, at the age of 4. Her long blonde hair and her turquoise eyes made of her a little angel that nobody believed to be as strong and determined as she proved during her first show.
Eleonora was still a teenager when she decided to leave both the hometown, Palermo, and the family in order to embark in a new, brave experience: at the age of 12, she packed her stuff and made her way to Montecarlo. As remembered in the book, she was so focused on dancing that she never felt emotional for being so apart from the family. Later on, she enrolled at the school of Marika Bresobrasova and took part to different auditions, among which she won the one for the role of little Aurora in Sleeping Beauty at the Teatro Massimo of Palermo, with choreographer Roland Petit. But, once again, her time in Sicily was pretty short as she spent six months on tour and eventually joined the school with teacher Rosella Hightower in Cannes and the Academy of Dance Princess Grace in Monaco. That time was the turning point of Eleonora’s life: indeed, she realized that France was the country that could give the chance to become not only a greater dancer, but also a dancer everybody would have known about.
And, as history shows, she was right: she had an audition with Claude Bessy, at that time director of the Academy Opera, and in 1992 she got a place for the Ecole de danse of the Opera in Paris. In 1996, at the age of 18, Elenora graduated and joined the corps de ballet of the Opera, where she made a rapid ascent: Coryphée in 1999, Sujet in 2000, Premiere Danseuse in 2001, and Étoile in March 2013.
Eleonora’s life turned to be tough and busy, but the popularity allowed to go beyond the world of dancing and embrace TV and cinema too: while, as a child, she was part of a TV show in 1989, in 2007 she debuted as an actress in the comedy Il 7 e l’8 with two Italian actors, Ficarra and Picone. In February 2009, she was part of Paolo Bonolis’ crew hosting the second night of the Sanremo Music Festival. In 2010, she also received the prize as Chevalier dans l’ordre National du Mérite by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the outstanding role within the Opera de Paris.
Nevertheless, 2015 represents one of the peaks in Eleonora’s career: last April, she has been appointed as Director of the corps de ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. On the first time in public as director, she immediately made clear that what led her to success will also help in the new prestigious role in order to take the Opera di Roma at the same level as the Teatro La Scala in Milan. As pointed out by mayor of Rome, who made the decision on Eleonora together with Carlo Fuortes, the Sicilian girl has proven to be the right person to take the Opera to a new level, thanks to the passion she has and can share especially with young people.
After she gave birth to her second child in January, she will now be back on stage after ten years. Indeed, she will be in Milan for a Gala of Dance for a fundraising in order to realize a special project at the Policlinico. Her dream now is to take as many people as possible close to the Opera, starting from the experience she got while in France. Eleonora’s career is not just unique in personality and experience but has shown, once again, how excellence always comes with sacrifice, passion, and determination.