Renato Zanella was born in Verona on June sixth, 1961. His father’s side of the family stems from an Italian industrial background whilst his mother’s family is artistically inclined and originates from the German speaking area in Southern Tyrol – his grandfather built violins in Bozen. Already as a teenager with a height of 1,83 meter, his first love was sports, primarily basketball. It was rather by chance that at age seventeen Renato came into contact with ballet. But since then he devoted his entire energy and passion to dance.
Zanella received his first training in Verona before moving on to Rosella Hightower’s famous “Centre de Danse International” in Cannes where he completed his studies. He got his first work contract right away in 1982 from Heinz Spoerli in Basel. There, unusually tall for a dancer with 1,86 meter, he become familiar with the works of Balanchine, Van Manen, Robert North, Ulysses Dove as well as Spoerli himself. In the course of the next three years he accumulated a wealth of background and experience which stood him in good stead when he moved on to the world famous ballet company of Stuttgart in 1985.
In Stuttgart, the chef de ballet, Marcia Haydée, gave Zanella not only the chance to work with great choreographers and appear in their works (such as John Cranko, Maurice Béjárt, Jiri Kylián, Mats Ek, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, Azary Plisetsky, Glen Tetley and Kenneth MacMillan) but also to realise his own creative ambitions: At age twenty-eight, in 1989, Zanella’s first own choreography for two dancers lasting for seven minutes called “Die andere Seite” (the other side) based on the music of Joachim Kühn’s “Dark” was staged.
In 1991 he created for Haydée and Richard Cragun a duo called “Stati d’animo” based on the music of Stravinsky’s “Duo concertant”.
Already in 1992 his first full length evening programme was presented (“Mann im Schatten” – Man in the Shade - to the music of Richard Farber). In the same year he also created “Voyage” for Vladimir Malakhov.
In 1993 he came up with another full length programme. This time for Marcia Haydée called “Mata Hari” using the music of Shostakovich. The same year, Haydée appointed him to the post of choreographer-in-residence for the Stuttgart ballet company. This ushered in a gradual change where his dancing career was reduced in favour of more time spent on choreography. At about this time his first choreographies for various operas were realised which have subsequently remained an important aspect of his work.
Zanella has lured Vladimir Malakhov towards modern dance and Malakhov in turn has been responsible for Zanella’s first contacts with the Vienna State Opera. In 1995, at age 34, Zanella was appointed head of the ballet company of Vienna’s State Opera. During his ten-year term there Zanella has presented close to forty own choreographies ranging from short pieces to full length evening programmes. His Mozart ballet from 1998 “Wolfgang Amadée” has achieved particular acclaim. In 1999 Zanella paid homage to the local genius Johann Strauß by choosing his music for his own danced version of “Aschenbrödel”(Cinderella). Zanella has repeatedly used classical music in his works but is nevertheless also known for his close attachment to modern music. Yet, he has focused more and more on the great challenges of ballet literature such as Strawinsky’s “Sacre de printemps” (1996), Ravel’s “Bolero (1998), Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” (2000) and Khachaturian’s “Spartacus” (2002). His last choreography for the Vienna State Opera was Strawinsky’s “Renard” in 2005.
During his ten years Zanella has transformed the Vienna Ballet Company into a self reliant ensemble capable of filling even the great roles by their own dancers and meeting the challenges of the greatest choreographers:
works from Kylian to van Manen, from Forsythe to Neumeier were presented as were works from Balanchine, MacMillan or Ashton. Traditional choreographies by Petipa and many treatments by Nurejew were also seen. Yet, the lovers of ballet appreciated the fact that the main focus of Zanella’s work was always the modern and new.
Zanella gave young choreographers from within his corps de ballet a chance of expressing themselves (Gaudernak, Adler, Bombardo to mention just a few) and paid close attention to the training of the next generation of ballet dancers that were nurtured carefully in a ballet school part of the State Opera.
His project called “off ballet special” won wide acclaim where he let handicapped and non-handicapped members of a cultural group called “I am ok” dance alongside dancers of the Vienna State Opera Ballet Company in moving choreographies.
During his years as head of the Vienna State Opera Ballet Company Zanella created numerous choreographies used during the traditional Vienna New Year’s Concert performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra every January first and televised to millions all over the world. (He did that again in 2010).
His choreographies for operas have become an increasingly important part of his creative output. Especially his creations for “Rienzi” (1997) and “Guillaume Tell”(1998) alongside David Pountney as director led to a co-operation that culminated in working for the Festival of Bregenz, and among others to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London, the Teatro San Carlos in Lisbon, the Marinski-Theater in St. Petersburg as well as the Opera House of Zurich.
Zanella has also come up with the choreographies for opera productions staged by Hans Neuenfels, Götz Friedrich (Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Jürgen Flimm, Günter Krämer, Nicola Joel to mention just some of the most prominent.
During his years in Vienna, Zanella was also much in demand as a juror for international dance competitions. Yet, he also received many prizes himself. The Italian publication “Danza & Danza” awarded him 1995 the title of “best Italian choreographer abroad”. In 2000 he received the “Premio Internazionale Gino Tani” in Rome. 2001 he was given the “Jakob Prandtauer-Preis” in St. Pölten. The same year, “Danza & Danza” acknowledged his work at the Vienna State Opera with the distinction “Best artistic leader”. The Republic of Austria honoured him with the “Cross of Honour for the Sciences and Arts” (2001).
After leaving the Vienna State Opera which had consumed the lion’s share of his energies during ten years, Zanella expanded his wide-ranging international career. His choreographies are enacted by ballet companies not only in Europe but also in America and Asia. In 2007 he received the price for the best new production in Italy for his full length ballet “Peer Gynt” to the music of Edward Grieg which he created for the “Balletto dell’Opera di Roma”. In 2008 his choreography for John Adam’s Opera “The Flowering Tree” was widely acclaimed in Chicago.
In 2009 Zanella branched out into a new field of artistic endeavour by staging operas. His first project “Cosi fan tutte” shown at the “Attersee Klassik-Festival” was a big success with the public and the critics. In 2010, he oversaw the production of “Carmen“during the sixth “Festival of the Aegean” on the island of Syros where Zanella holds the post of artistic director for the dance section.
Zanella has worked with the greatest dancers of his time -Marcia Haydée, Carla Fracci, Anastasia Volotchkova, Simona Noja, Shoko Nakamura, Polina Semionava, Dorothée Gilbert, Egon Madsen, Richard Cragun, Roberto Bolle, Alessio Carbone, Vladimir Malakhov, Manuel Legris, Nicolas Blanc, Pascal Molat, Giuseppe Picone and Nicolas Le Riche to name just a few. Artists like Malakhov and Shoko Nakamura give guest appearances with his choreographies regularly, even in Japan. In 2010 he choreographed an “Aida” in Japan which was conducted by Placido Domingo. His most recent world premiere took place in April 2010 in San Francisco where the San Francisco ballet danced 33 minutes to the music of Arnold Schönberg to his choreography called “Underskin”.
Renato Zanella defines himself and his work as a product born out of curiosity and the addiction to continuously experience new things, meet new personalities and talents and receive incessantly new inspirations for his work.