Interview: Luca Masala and forging the dancers of tomorrow

After 15 years as Artistic Director of the Princess Grace Academy, Luca Masala is proud to tell Monaco Life, “We have a 100% success rate. All our graduates have joined top companies around the world”. 

Luca Masala was a former ballet dancer, trained at La Scala in Milan, the School of American Ballet, and the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in Monaco, at that time directed by Marika Besobrasova. Over the course of his career as a professional dancer, he was part of renowned companies, such as the Royal Ballet of Flanders, the Ballet National de Nancy, the Wiesbaden Staatsheather in Germany, and the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich. As a principal dancer, he performed many of the lead roles in the classical and contemporary repertoire.

At the end of his dancing career, he transitioned into teaching becoming a Maître de Ballet for the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse where he collaborated with many known choreographers.

In 2009 he was appointed as Artistic Director of Teaching and Pedagogy at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco, with the mandate to bring back the luster to this school for elite dancers. The Academy is now one of the best dance schools in the world, so we can say … mission accomplished!

Luca Masala, photo credit: David Herrero

Monaco Life: Is being a dancer quite a different profession from being an instructor?

Luca Masala: I actually think a professional dancer is quite like a teacher, as they both share the same quality of giving. As a dancer you must be a very generous person who wants to bestow to others; the same is required to be an instructor, maître de ballet or even a choreographer. You give to students and teach them how to excel and give them the tools on how to cope in this challenging environment. The dancer in turn gives of himself or herself on the stage.

When you became a director, were you given free range to implement your ideas?

I was named director of the academy in 2009 and I was asked to bring back the academy to its international level. I had been called at the last minute and had to propose a project that included how to update and upgrade the school curriculum, but also the need to refurbish Casa Mia to be more livable for the students of our times. The school had considerably faded together with the previous director. I had carte blanche to prepare a business plan that was accepted and progressively successfully implemented.

Do you feel you have accomplished your goals after 15 years at the helm of the Princess Grace Academy?

Hard to believe it is already my 15th season, and I can proudly say that we advanced further than I would ever have imagined when I started. The Academy is one of the best dance schools in the world. We are part of the Ballets of Monte-Carlo, and that was a very important move from our beloved President Princess Caroline, and of course Jean-Christophe Maillot.

I am very satisfied and overjoyed, as the young students graduating from the Academy have become professional dancers, they have joined reputable companies, and are having great dancing careers, with a few of them are playing leading roles in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s creations. It is a very big honour. 

Princess Grace Academy students are often hand selected by Luca himself. Photo credit: Alice Blangero.

How do you challenge each other in your team to improve and innovate?

It is essential to be surrounded by people with a passion. They do not have to share your exact same vision; people are different, and they should be free to express their own opinions as this enriches us all.

But what brings us together is the love we have for the Academy, for the students and the education we give them; people must have a generous spirit, be very loyal and put their heart in everything they do.

Maybe the reason why Jean-Christophe called me, was that we are very similar, we give over-and-above the sense of duty, always with a passion. Our Academy project is worth it even if takes so much time away from our private lives. We try to motivate each other in the team, avoid falling into a routine that would make our existence boring. The idea is to keep evolving and progressing.

How do you recruit talented students? Which percentage of graduates join top companies?

Recruiting is a difficult task. It can be done in different ways; we have students taking summer and winter courses, or private auditions in the Academy. The other way is myself going around the world finding talented youngsters who are not able to come to us. The extensive travel is concentrated in certain parts of the year, demanding all my commitment. Last season alone I scouted 15,000 in total! Our aim is to find somebody who is passionate and dedicated and has something to give to our profession. We have a 100% success rate. Since 2009, all graduates have joined top companies around the world.

A student at the Princess Grace Academy. Photo credit: Alice Blangero.

Could you tell us the qualities of the ideal dancer of our times?

I like to be surrounded by people who love what they do. So, I do not focus only on technical qualities like strength, flexibility, control, precision; it is more about their passion, when you see there is a visceral need to dance, to give back and touch somebody else’s soul. I rather look for that kind of kid, a human being who can inspire and move others, instead of just copying and being technically perfect. Today, young people are lost in the virtual world of social media, so they need role models who inspire, and stir the same strong sentiments in them.

The students entering the Academy are adolescent from different nationalities and cultures. How do you manage to offer top ballet training, and at the same prepare them for life?

Yes, the Academy not only provides excellent dance instruction, but is a school of life, a home away from home. We dedicate a lot of our time to prepare kids to live in a community, accept their cultural diversity, acquire social skills and moral values, accept each other’s differences to get richer from association.

Having 19 nationalities this season is a gift, something very positive. You must explain certain things, teach tolerance, something that is lacking in our world, and understanding the reason behind their cultural differences; make them realise how to inspire people so they follow your ideas and learn how to fight for them through your profession with the fine instrument that is your body.

Princess Grace Academy students come from all over the world to train in Monaco. Photo credit: Alice Blangero.

I heard you are working on a new project together with Thierry Leviez of Pavillon Bosio. Can you please tell us about it?

For the Imprevus, created by Jean-Christophe Maillot, taking place every March at the company’s atelier in Beausoleil, a young choreographer from the Ballets des Monte-Carlo works together with the students from Pavillon Bosio and the Academy. They create ballets choreography with staging, costumes, video projections, etc. This year the company will be on tour at that time, so Luca decided to do the Imprevus with Elias Lazaridis, a Greek world-class dancer and choreographer based in Belgium, who is coming to prepare a piece for the Academy Gala. He has collaborated with the most prominent dancers in the UK, Hofesh Shechter and Akram Khan, and since 2010 has been working for the Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui dance company. This newly created piece will be performed on avant-premiere during the Imprevus and will debut at the Salle Garnier in June 2024 for the Academy Gala, a special annual event, a unique stage experience, where the young dancers showcase their talent and achievements.

What are your goals to take the Academy into the future?

Even if 15 years is a long time for a director to last, there are still plenty of things that need to be done. The main objective is to provide the top-of-the-line instruction, continuously striving for improvement, to help the students find the right tools to succeed. As a director, it is important to be able to speak your mind without fear of being misunderstood or judged harshly, be totally honest to help them advance further in their lives preparing for them for the stage and for life. There are certainly new projects in the making that I cannot yet reveal.

Stay tuned for more.

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