Monte-Carlo has been associated with classical ballet for many years. The most important event was Diaghilev’s decision to base the Ballets Russes in the principality in 1911 and from here the company created some of the most important ballets of the 20th century. On the company’s demise in 1929 many of the dancers and choreographers regrouped in companies known as Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo, among them the Russian born dancer Marika Besobrasova who was a member of the company in 1935, under Mikhail Fokine’s direction. In 1944 she formed a small company, based in Cannes, where she was able to attract dancers from German-occupied Paris to join her, Jean Babilée among them. After the war she became ballet mistress for the Ballets des Champs Elysées and the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas before settling in Monte-Carlo in 1952 to found the Ecole de Danse Classique de Monte-Carlo. The school was soon well-known and with time popular with professional dancers, including luminaries such as Rudolf Nureyev, Eric Bruhn and Svetlana Beriosova, while being recognised for the high standard of teaching for students.

In 1975 Princess Grace and Prince Rainier assumed patronage of the school and provided new premises in the impressive villa ‘Casa Mia’ in the centre of Monte-Carlo. Marika Besobrasova remained director of the school, now known as Princess Grace Academy, until 2009 when the Italian dancer Luca Masala was appointed. Besobrasova died in 2010, at the age of 92.The school is now part of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo organisation, with the Princess of Hanover (Princess Caroline) as a highly involved and active patron and, company director, Jean-Christophe Maillot as general director. The academy’s aim is to concentrate on the training of pre-professional students from 13 to 18 years old, preparing them to move to international dance companies on completion of their studies, while benefiting from the association with the Company of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo and the many cultural events taking place in Monte-Carlo.

Luca Masala studied dance at the school of La Scala in Milan, the American School of Ballet in New York and with Marika Besobrasova in Monte-Carlo. He danced professionally with a number of European companies, including the Royal Ballet of Flanders, the Bavarian State Ballet and the Ballet du Capitole in Toulouse, where he also became ballet master. During his career he worked with many major contemporary choreographers, before starting to choreograph himself as well as working as a guest teacher for a number of leading ballet companies. As director of the Princess Grace Academy he instigated a number of important changes. The school accepts just 50 students, providing dance tuition as well as academic studies. Accommodation and most classes take place at the Casa Mia, a magnificent palace-like building nestling on a hill overlooking the port of Monte-Carlo. It is in rose coloured stucco, decorated with colonades and tropical plants and with a view of the royal palace on the opposite side of the port.

Daily classes include classical and contemporary dance, character dance, choreography, music and drama lessons, history of art and music, and Pilates classes. Students receive three end-of-term assessment reports and take an exam at the end of each school year. All the school’s dance teachers are former professional dancers, among them several ex- members of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo. The students are encouraged to choreograph and workshop performances are given regularly as is the ‘gala’ performance given at the end of the school year on the stage of the Opéra Garnier, where so many great artists since the Diaghilev era have appeared. The proximity to the Ballets de Monte-Carlo means that students also have the opportunity to perform with the company, as they did in last year’s performances of Casse-Noisette Company, director, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of The Nutcracker. Maillot’s choreography is taught and studied in the school’s curriculum and graduate students take their classes in the company’s studios where they are able to mix regularly with company members and watch rehearsals.

Great importance is given to accepting students from all around the world with the intention that in meeting others from different countries and learning to work with them can best prepare dancers for life in an international dance company. There are eleven different nationalities among this year’s students. Luca Masala travels widely auditioning students and there is always an important number of Asian students in the school. However he recruits about 60% of the students at the New York Grand Prix, a major international competition given annually in New York. Masala admits this resembles a market place, but it does assure that those young dancers who have made it to New York by way of eliminatory competitions and semi-finals will not only be highly talented but also hard-working and determined enough to succeed as professional dancers. Application to audition can be made in the usual manner and dancers can also apply to attend the regular summer schools.

The school day is a long and demanding one with a reveille at 6.30am and the first class taking place at 8am. Dance classes and academic studies follow during the day with four and a half hours of dance training daily. Academic studies are made by correspondence classes, and using video, following the curriculum of the students’ national schools. Tutors in each language also visit the school regularly to assist and assess the students’ progress, and academic results are very high. I was able to watch three difference ballet classes, one with just four boys and the others with eight to ten dancers, one of these given by Luca Masala. I was struck by the amount of individual attention each student receives, as well as high technical standard and exceptional quality the young dancers showed. Every year the graduate class attains a 100% success rate in obtaining work in international companies and among those successful students in British companies are David Navarro Yudes in the Royal Ballet, Rina Kanehara in ENB and Naka Akata in Northern Ballet, all dancing principal roles this season. It was obvious that much attention is paid to the dancers’ health as well as their mental and emotional wellbeing. They are asked to write an email to Masala every month telling him of their daily activities as well as of any problems or grumbles they may have. Luca Masala is assisted by Michel Rahn, a much respected teacher and company director in France, and under their direction the team of highly experienced and international teachers this rather special school offers what appear to be ideal conditions for those planning to follow a serious, international career in dance.

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