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Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977

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Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977
Celli, Vincenzo (Interviewee)
Harris, Dale, 1928-1996 (Interviewer)

Dance Oral History Project

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1976-12-31 - 1977-02-11
Library locations
Jerome Robbins Dance Division
Shelf locator: *MGZTO 5-938
Galli, Rosina, 1896-1940
Toscanini, Arturo, 1867-1957
Pavlova, Anna, 1881-1931
Guerra, Nicola, 1865-1942
Balanchine, George
Grassi, Raffaele, 1848-1925
Cecchetti, Enrico, 1850-1928
Manzotti, Luigi, 1835-1905
Strauss, Richard, 1864-1949
Spessivtzeva, Olga, 1895-1991
Kröller, Heinrich
Mascagni, Pietro, 1863-1945 -- Maschere
Fornaroli, Cia, 1888-1954
Boito, Arrigo, 1842-1918 -- Nerone
Markova, Alicia, Dame, 1910-2004
Hecht, Ben, 1894-1964
Celli, Vincenzo
Teatro alla Scala
Excelsior (Choreographic work : Manzotti)
Joseph's legend (Choreographic work : Kröller)
Petrouchka (Choreographic work : Romanoff, B)
Ballet dancing
Dance teachers
Ballet dancing -- Cecchetti
Audiotapes -- Celli, V
Oral histories
Content: For transcript of interview see: *MGZMT 3-938.
Source dimensions: Interview with Vincenzo Celli conducted by Dale Harris on December 31, 1976, January 7, 14, 21, and 28, and February 11, 1977, in New York City, for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division Oral History Project.
Content: Sound quality is good overall. The recording is marred at times by "tape hiss" and occasional extraneous noise and short gaps.
Funding: The processing and cataloging of this recording was made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The support of the National Endowment for the Arts is also gratefully acknowledged.
Content: Title supplied by cataloger.
Venue: Recorded for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division Oral History Project December 31, 1976 and January 7, 14, 21, and 28, and February 11, 1977 New York (N.Y.)
Physical Description
Audiotape reel
Extent: 3 audiotape reels (approximately 8 hours) : analog, half-track, 1.875 ips, polyester ; 5 in.
Streaming audio file 1, December 31, 1976 (approximately 52 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about his contentious relationship with [Anatole] Chujoy; his birth in Salerno, Italy and his childhood in Chicago (Illinois) including his early interest in the theater; moving to New York where he pursued an acting career; being recruited by Adolf Bolm to perform in the [Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov] opera Le coq d'or (choreographed by Bolm based on Michel Fokine's choreography) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City; his impressions of Rosina Galli; performing in Bolm's The birthday of the Infanta; traveling to Europe to pursue his training in dance and meeting his future wife, Marion Ivell; studying with Raffaele Grassi; performing in Luigi Manzotti's Excelsior at the Teatro dal Verme; his lessons with Grassi including some of the other students; Nicola Guerra; his technical strengths and weaknesses; his debut at La Scala [Teatro alla Scala] and the beginning of his association with Cia Fornaroli; Fornaroli as a dancer; performing at the Teatro dal Verme, including his initial differences with the ballet master [ends abruptly but continues directly on streaming audio file 2]. Streaming audio file 2, December 31, 1976 and January 7, 1977 (approximately 45 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about Nicola Guerra and joining his new company; some of the dancers in the company; touring with the company; Enrico Cecchetti including an anecdote about their first meeting; Irene Sironi and some of the ballets she choreographed; how he came to lose his engagement with La Scala, move to Paris, and be engaged by Anna Pavlova as a soloist; his difficulties in leaving Italy (to dance with Pavlova in London) due to the political situation; his debut in Don Quixote at Covent Garden [Royal Opera House]; reasons he left Pavlova's company including the limited repertoire; tells an anecdote about partnering Pavlova; his attempts to obtain roles at the Paris Opera ballet [Opéra de Paris ballet] including a discussion of the tradition of performing Franz (in Coppélia) as a travesti role; Olga Spessivtzeva including how they met [ends abruptly]. Streaming audio file 3, January 14, 1977 (approximately 52 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about male dancers and travesti dancing in the early twentieth century including an anecdote about [Arturo] Toscanini; Edidio Rossi and mime; Anna Pavlova and Cia Fornaroli as skilled actors; more on travesti including the reasons he does not like this convention; Raffaele Grassi's Carillon magico; more on NIcola Guerra, including his dances for the forest scene in [the opera] Falstaff; La sylphide including his musings as to how Marie Taglioni must have looked in this work; Cecchetti, in particular, his lessons with him; his own teaching including his comments on the Cecchetti assemblé; reminiscences of Cecchetti including an anecdote about Cecchetti's being bitten by a dog and Cecchetti as a mime; his memories of George Balanchine as a very bad dancer; Serge Lifar including an anecdote about their first meeting; more on Cecchetti including Cecchetti's whistling as accompaniment to his lessons and his use of a stick; Heinrich Kröller' s The legend of Joseph [Joseph's legend] at La Scala; Leonide Massine's time as choreographer at La Scala [ends abruptly but continues directly on streaming audio file 4]. Streaming audio file 4, January 14, 1977 (approximately 45 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about Leonide Massine and the rehearsals of Joseph's legend at La Scala including his feuds with Richard Strauss; tells an anecdote about himself and Strauss; [Igor] Stravinsky's conducting of Petrouchka; Arturo Toscanini; Cia Fornaroli including the circumstances of her marriage to Walter Toscanini; his doubts at the time that he would ever be a teacher; severing his ties to La Scala and moving to New York to dance in Petrouchka [at the Metropolitan Opera house]; the Fascist party [Partito nazionale fascista] and its control of the theaters; the two versions of Petrouchka at La Scala, one by Boris Romanoff; the circumstances of Fornaroli's losing her position at La Scala and her move to the United States [ends abruptly]. Streaming audio file 5, January 21, 1977 (approximately 52 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about Richard Strauss and the rehearsals of Joseph's legend at La Scala; Olga Spessivtzeva and her dispute with Serge Lifar at the Paris Opera; an anecdote about Mary Garden;Strauss as a person contrasted with the erotic quality of his music; Pietro Mascagni and his enthusiasm for Celli's choreography for Mascagni's opera Le maschere; his choreography for [Arigo] Boito's opera Nerone; Ernst Lerht and the lack of choreographic talent at La Scala at the time including anecdotes about Cia Fornaroli and a production of the opera William Tell; the difficulty of finding a choreographer for La Scala including how this led to ad hoc choreograping by Celli, Fornaroli, and others; the eventual appointment of Celli as choreographer (for opera-ballets) at La Scala in spite of his relative inexperience; more on Ernst Lerht; some of the works he choreographed at La Scala; Heinrich Kröller; his attempts to have Joseph's legend produced in the United States; his reminiscences of Isadora Duncan; an anecdote about [Giuseppe] Adami and his wife regarding Celli's choreography for himself and Fornaroli in [Franco] Vittadini's Vecchio Milano; the musical preferences of the audiences and conductors at La Scala; his regret that there never were any choreographers of note during his time at La Scala [ends abruptly but continues directly on streaming audio file 6]. Streaming audio file 6, January 21, 1977 (approximately 43 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about Arturo Toscanini and his conducting of [Igor Stravinsky's] Petrouchka; reminiscences of the many great composers he encountered at La Scala; leaving La Scala due to the increasing control of the theater by the Fascist party; his season [in 1933] in San Remo (Italy) with Cia Fornaroli including a production of a ballet The birds [Gli uccelli] choreographed by Fornaroli to Ottorino Respighi's suite of the same name; Cecchetti's designation on his deathbed of Fornaroli as his successor at La Scala; Iya Russkaya; his refusal to become a member of the Fascist party; his moving to New York to perform in Petrouchka at the Metropolitan Opera house; the lack of opportunities to perform in the United States at that time (around 1933); joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (as ballet master); his arrest and arraignment on Ellis Island (New York) including an anecdote about the examining physician; the beginning of his teaching career; how his teaching methods differ from the Cecchetti technique; his choreography as completely different from that of Cecchetti; his love of teaching; Alicia Markova as the epitome of the Italian style; the challenge of codifying the teaching of the Cecchetti technique; other dancers schooled in the Italian style; Royes Fernandez including Clive Barnes' (unreasonable) criticism of him; the Italian style as compared with the Russian style [ends abruptly]. Streaming audio file 7, January 28, 1977 (approximately 52 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about dancers who used tricks to enable them to perform multiple pirouettes and fouetees, respectively; Luigi Manzotti's ballet Excelsior including the [1913] film version; Manzotti's influence in the form of massed dancers moving together; other dancers who relied on virtuostic tricks; the impact that seeing the Ballets russes and [Vaslaw] Nijinksy perform had on him; an anecdote about performing with Olga Spessivtzeva, in Paris; the qualities that made Spessivtzeva an exceptional dancer; her difficulty with [Igor] Stravinsky's music for [Michel Fokine's] The firebird; his belief that Anna Pavlova would have been ideal in The firebird and his dissatisfaction with the dancers he has seen in it; (very briefly) George Balanchine's The firebird and Maria Tallchief; more on Spessivtzeva including her friendship with Mr. [Leonard] Brown who brought her to the United States to escape wartime Europe; Spessivtzeva's mental breakdown and Leonard Brown's death; Madame Virge and her patronage of Spessivtzeva and Celli including an anecdote about her generosity; visiting Spessivtzeva at the psychiatric institute in Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) and her eventual move to the Tolstoy home in Nyack (N.Y.); his association with Spessivtzeva as a highlight of his career; Anton Dolin's book on Spessivtzeva [Olga Spessivtzeva: The sleeping ballerina, c1974]; Leonide Massine and his final ballets for the Ballets russes [ends abruptly but continues directly on streaming audio file 8]. Streaming audio file 8, January 28, 1977 (approximately 45 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about going to Torino (Italy) to observe a performance of Petrouchka and seeing Spessivtzeva (for the first time), in Swan lake; his view of the one-handed lifts seen in ballet today; the lack of sufficient classical repertoire and hence the balletomane's interest in new versions of old ballets; his preference for the unexaggerated style seen in Anna Pavlova's and Spessivtzeva's dancing; working with Ben Hecht on the [1946] film Spectre de la rose [Specter of the rose] including how the project went awry; his career as a ballet teacher including how he began giving lessons and his early successes; touring with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as ballet master and teacher; reasons he thinks every dancer needs at least two years of Cecchetti training; [Roman] Jasinski; his rift with [Laurent] Novikoff; his love of teaching; reasons he did not join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's foreign tour [ends abruptly]. Streaming audio file 9, February 11, 1977 (approximately 52 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about La Scala during the 1921-1922 season including his memories of Arturo Toscanini; the dearth of skilled choreographers at La Scala; some productions and performers at La Scala during this period including an anecdote about Toscanini and a ballet set to the Dance of the hours (from the opera La Gioconda ); Cecchetti's choreography for this music; the ballet Giselle including an anecdote about Toscanini and the score (by Adolphe Adamo); Alicia Markova in the role; the Paris Opera, in particular the necessity of having a patron to succeed there; more on La Scala during his time there; Cecchetti and the training of male dancers; Celli's focus on choreography to the detriment of his own dancing [ends abruptly but continues directly on streaming audio file 10]. Streaming audio file 10, February 11, 1977 (approximately 43 minutes). Vincenzo Celli speaks with Dale Harris about his love of teaching; the Cecchetti technique including the challenges of preserving it; George Balanchine as a dancer and as a choreographer including his use of Cecchetti combinations; dancers today; Olga Preobrajenska including two anecdotes; French audiences as contrasted with Italian audiences; reasons he has no desire to work or live in Italy again; the high level of male dancers today, for example Anthony Dowell; impressions of various dancers and choreographers including Frederick Ashton; his audition for Billy Rose; his indebtedness to Massine for getting him started in his teaching career; Massine's works as having not aged well [ends abruptly].
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 78124817
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b12118807
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 46690580-86ed-0137-0254-43e0d55b5195
Rights Statement
The New York Public Library holds or manages the copyright(s) in this item. If you need information about reusing this item, please go to:

Item timeline of events

  • 1976: Created (Approximate)
  • 2020: Digitized
  • 2024: Found by you!
  • 2025

MLA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1976 - 1977.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 15, 2024.

APA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. (1976 - 1977). Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977 Retrieved from

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<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977, (1976 - 1977)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=April 15, 2024 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Vincenzo Celli,1976-1977