The right foot

Bal­let star Roberto Bolle on mod­el­ling with Ken­dall Jen­ner

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - The Cut Men’s Style - Stephen Doig

EVEN BE­FORE Roberto Bolle be­gins to de­scribe the finer de­tails of his art, no one can be in any doubt that he’s a dancer. He flexes his limbs sub­con­sciously as he speaks, mov­ing his arms with liq­uid ease. It’s a phys­i­cal po­etry that’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch, as the 43-year-old sits in a dance stu­dio in Covent Gar­den’s Royal Opera House, pre­par­ing for two spe­cial per­for­mances in Manon this month. ‘I’ve danced here so many times and have won­der­ful mem­o­ries, and you guys made the weather es­pe­cially Bri­tish for me,’ he smiles, ges­tur­ing to­wards the sheet­ing rain.

Bolle is one of the most-ad­mired male bal­let stars of the 21st cen­tury, a prin­ci­pal dancer for the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre and Mi­lan’s La Scala, into whose bal­let school he was ac­cepted at the age of 12. And his face – cheek­bones that could cut glass and glacial blue eyes – is now a great deal more fa­mil­iar to those out­side the world of dance, thanks to his role in a Tod’s cam­paign along­side model and so­cial-me­dia su­per­nova Ken­dall Jen­ner. ‘It was a va­ca­tion for me, re­ally,’ Bolle says of the shoot in Mal­ibu. De­spite the chasm between their worlds, they struck up a rap­port. ‘Peo­ple are fas­ci­nated by the the­atre world. Ken­dall was very cu­ri­ous about our life as bal­let dancers. She wanted to know about the ded­i­ca­tion it takes, our work­ing lives, our rou­tines.’

Bolle has known Tod’s CEO Diego Della Valle for years, the two Ital­ians bond­ing over a shared love of la famiglia and ex­cep­tional craft. ‘In Italy, Tod’s is more than a fash­ion brand. It’s some­thing that has helped shape cul­ture – look at what they did with the Colos­seum,’ he says, re­fer­ring to a £20 mil­lion restora­tion project funded by the la­bel. ‘There’s a real soul be­hind Tod’s and Diego cares about sup­port­ing Italy.’ That sup­port comes in myr­iad forms: when 2016’s dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes near the Tod’s HQ in Le Marche de­stroyed towns and liveli­hoods, Della Valle cre­ated jobs for more than 50 sur­vivors by re­train­ing them as shoe­mak­ers. (Its ori­gin as a shoe­maker also helped Bolle con­nect to the fash­ion house: ‘Feet are the start­ing point of ev­ery­thing in my in­dus­try.’)

The col­lab­o­ra­tion comes at a time when male bal­let dancers are more vis­i­ble than ever. Eric Un­der­wood has fronted cam­paigns for H&M (and is a Tod’s am­bas­sador), while Sergei Pol­unin, known as ‘the bad boy of bal­let’, has worked with Pal Zi­leri and Diesel. ‘I want to raise aware­ness and maybe some young kid who doesn’t think that a guy can be a bal­let dancer will be in­spired,’ Bolle says. ‘The bal­let world can be in­su­lar, but I want to go be­yond that. If you can break down bar­ri­ers, you should.’

He does so via In­sta­gram, of­fer­ing glimpses of his ex­tra­or­di­nary life to half a mil­lion fol­low­ers. He guides me through a war­ren of cor­ri­dors un­til sud­denly we’re in the wings by the stage of the Royal Opera House, with gilt pil­lars tow­er­ing and stat­ues await­ing their cues. ‘Oh yes,’ he laughs as I gape. ‘I’m used to it, I guess, but it’s pretty im­pres­sive, right?’

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