From an early age, fate was kind to Jacopo Tissi. Just after the five-year-old had been enchanted by a TV recording of Swan Lake, a ballet school opened in his hometown of Landriano, Italy. Although at the time ballet was seen in Italy primarily as an activity for girls, Jacopo’s parents supported his decision to start taking ballet classes. Jacopo says, “I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. Whenever I heard music, I’d start to move, so I just loved those kids’ dancing classes.”
A few years later, it was his ballet teacher who suggested that he auditioned for the ballet school of La Scala in Milan. “My parents response was quite chill. ‘You can try it’, they said, ‘but you’ve got to realise there’s enormous competition at such a prestigious school.’” Eight years later, in 2014, Jacopo graduated with distinction from the famous ballet academy. “I had a fantastic time there. You do notice that you grow up quicker than your peers, due to the strict discipline and tough school timetable, but I was totally happy with what I was doing and determined to go for it.”
Leading role debut, partnering Svetlana Zakharova
On graduating, Jacopo auditioned for several European companies and was accepted everywhere he went. Partly due to the reputation and fame of artistic director Manuel Legris (former ‘étoile’ of Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris), he chose Wiener Staatsballett, where already in his first season he was cast for a solo role in Boris Eifman’s Red Giselle. After a year, however, he decided to return to Milan, where he started out in the corps de ballet of Balletto del Teatro alla Scala, directed at the time by Makhar Vaziev. “I felt intuitively that I should seize that opportunity, and it turned out to be exactly the right decision.” Shortly after joining, he danced his first leading role at the age of nineteen, partnering Russian prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova in Alexei Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty. “As Svetlana was temporarily without a partner, I had to stand in for a few rehearsals, and the trust she placed in me meant that we soon went on stage together.” That led to other leading roles in ballets like Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon and Mauro Bigonzetti’s Cinderella.
In 2017, he followed artistic director Makhar Vaziev to the Bolshoi Ballet, where Jacopo was the first Italian dancer to join the company and was taken under the wing of the famous ex-dancer, ballet master and coach Alexander Vetrov. Jacopo says, “I’m incredibly grateful to Vetrov. Together, we worked intensively on perfecting my technique, on mastering the typically Bolshoi big jumps, and on taking the whole stage, and through all of that I grew enormously.” Already in his first season with the Bolshoi, Jacopo was promoted to first soloist, and in the following years he danced leading roles in nearly all the big classics, as well as in works like Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land and Yuri Possokhov’s controversial Nureyev.
Rapidly changing world
Following a “magical performance” of The Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve 2021, Jacopo was promoted to principal with the Bolshoi Ballet, in the presence of his parents. Less than two months later, Russia invaded Ukraine. “At first, you’ve no idea what to do. Airports were shutting down and banks were closing. I felt like the world’s boundaries – including those of my own world – were suddenly changing rapidly.”
After six years in Moscow, Jacopo left the city with a heavy heart and, as he wanted to be closer to his family in those turbulent times, he returned to Italy to consider his options for the future.
At one of the many guest performances he gave in the subsequent months, both in Italy and abroad, he partnered Olga Smirnova, with whom he had regularly danced in Moscow too and who had joined Dutch National Ballet in March 2022. When Jacopo went to Amsterdam to rehearse with her, he was pleasantly surprised by the company’s good atmosphere and facilities. “I’d been following the group already for some time, and partly due to that enjoyable first introduction and the company’s broad repertoire, as well as the presence of an iconic choreographer like Hans van Manen, I chose to continue my artistic path here in Amsterdam (from October 2023 – ed.). I’m convinced that I can grow further here, both as an artist and as a person.”
In addition, he hopes to stage his own programmes more often in the coming years, as he did for the first time in Italy, in the summer of 2023. “In that programme, Past Forward, I included ballets that represent the past, present and future, in order to sketch an idea of the path I’ve taken myself in recent years. The audience’s warm response to it means a lot to me and has kindled the hope that I can develop further in this field.”
Place of birth:
With Dutch National Ballet since:
Career with Dutch National Ballet:
Previously danced with:
Wiener Staatsballett (Vienna, Austria), Balletto al Teatro della Scala (Milan, Italy), Bolshoi Ballet (Moscow, Russia), and as a guest artist with many other companies
Accademia del Teatro alla Scala (Milan, Italy)
2019: Premio Positano, Italy
2019: Performing Arts Prize from La Roma Russa Festival, Italy
2018: Ambrogino d’Oro, Italy
2018: Danza&Danza prize for best Italian dancer abroad, Italy
2016: Danza&Danza prize for best new talent, Italy
2016: Prix Ballet 2000, Cannes, France