The right foot
Ballet star Roberto Bolle on modelling with Kendall Jenner
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?’