Italian ballet star Carla Fracci dies age 84

Ballet star Carla Fracci, seen here meeting Pope Francis in 2017, was best known for playing Giselle
Ballet star Carla Fracci, seen here meeting Pope Francis in 2017, was best known for playing Giselle VINCENZO PINTO AFP/File
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Rome (AFP)

Carla Fracci, Italy's most celebrated ballet dancer, has died at the age of 84, Milan's La Scala theatre announced on Thursday.

Best known for her performances as Giselle, Fracci danced with some of the biggest names in the business, notably Rudolf Nureyev.

A tram driver's daughter, she entered the ballet school of La Scala in 1946 before rising to become one of its top stars.

She formally parted ways with the theatre in 1963, in search of more money and opportunities, but was always drawn back, most recently giving two online masterclasses there in January.

"We will always think of her with affection and gratitude, remembering the smile of the final days we spent together, where she felt she had come home," said La Scala Director Dominique Meyer.

Elegant to the last and always dressed in white, the dancer known in Italy simply as "La Fracci" died in Milan after suffering for some time from a tumour, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

"Farewell, lady of infinite grace," tweeted Nazzareno Carusi, a member of La Scala's board of directors.

A New York Times profile in 1981 revealed that Fracci's early start was not promising -- she wanted to be a hairdresser, not a dancer, and almost failed the entrance exam.

"School was a crashing bore and a terrible chore, until one day when I was cast as the girl with the mandolin in 'Sleeping Beauty'," she told the newspaper back then.

"Once on stage, next to Margot Fonteyn, I suddenly changed my mind. Dancing to an audience was something entirely different from dancing at school. I started working very hard to catch up for the lost time."

She became prima ballerina at the age of 20, and soon became an international star, hailed for her dramatic approach to dancing, her technical skill and lightness.

Manuel Legris, director of La Scala's ballet corps, said he remembered her "as Giselle, a spirit who remains with us, filling the ballrooms, the stage and our hearts, like her never-ending energy that captured and fascinated us when we returned to embrace the theatre and its artists".

"The greatest. Divine and eternal," added Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Twitter.