I never saw Carla Fracci dance in a theater. I came to know this Italian ballerina, a star of the La Scala Theatre Ballet, through photographs and film. This was often the case back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. If a foreign company didn’t tour, or if you didn’t travel, you “read” (and re-read) the photographs and watched (and re-watched) the filmed performances. For me, Fracci was an object of fascination.

Born in 1936, in Milan, she was of humble origins—her father drove a tram and her mother was a factory worker. In her 1946 audition for the La Scala ballet school, she was the last girl chosen. The teachers weren’t sure about her physique but liked her face—the pale brow, dark eyes, high cheekbones. Fracci parted her black hair down the middle à la Taglioni, and possessed a Quattrocento smile. It was a face from the Romantic ballet, and she put her heart in it. It’s no surprise that Giselle was a signature role—her soulmate—or that Fracci was charm incarnate as the Sylphide (how exquisite and swift those sixth-position bourrées).