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Randall Bourscheidt

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Is Roberto Bolle the Most Beautiful Man in the World?

Posted: 12/13/10 01:08 PM ET

Beauty is subjective, but some images of beautiful people become symbols that artists use to express permanance and universality. The thousands of images of the Virgin Mary in Western art, for example, have two meanings--she is a sacred figure but also a symbol of all motherhood and her beauty implies both her supreme importance and her universality. Men have often been used as images of beauty in this universal sense: Greek athletes, symbolizing human perfection, or the Buddha, symbolizing spiritual attainment.

Why do I suggest that Roberto Bolle may be serving a similar purpose in contemporary art? Many people would agree that this exemplary ballet dancer, who performs at La Scala in Milan and with the American Ballet Theatre, is gifted with grace, talent and a very handsome appearance.

The thought occurs to me now because I have seen, in one week, two extraordinary works of art in New York in which his image is central. One is the English filmmaker Peter Greenaway's installation at the Park Avenue Armory, entitled "Leonardo's Last Supper." The other is the American stage director Robert Wilson's installation at Center 548 on West 22nd Street in Chelsea, called "Perchance to Dream."

The works of these two important artists could not be more different, in style, meaning or scale. And yet they both evoke meaning beyond words, the grandeur of classical Italian architecture and painterly gesture in Greenaway's piece; the hushed presence of dark dreams and death-like rooms in Wilson's. How perfect, and yet surprising, that they both use the mute form of dance to add movement and depth to the scenes they create.

But it is not dance in the abstract that both artists use, but rather a dancer of perfect form. The places they've created, both the grand, multi-layered spaces Greenaway uses in the Armory, and the funereal, closed rooms in Wilson's piece, are like stage sets, needing an actor to bring them to life.

This is what Bolle does. He moves, in grand, multi-image arcs in the Armory; almost imperceptibly, in Wilson's small gallery. He is the symbol of life in both works, and therefore it is natural that both artists used him as a vision of ideal beauty. The purity of his features and the perfect line of his body make him, in these settings, not a man we could know, but an angelic figure.