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Queen of the Jete Set

LONDON -- Viviana Durante has a split personality.The 26-year-old principal dancer with The Royal Ballet -- which arrives in Washington, D.C., April 6 for the start of a two-month tour that also takes in Orange County, West Palm Beach and New York --...

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LONDON -- Viviana Durante has a split personality.The 26-year-old principal dancer with The Royal Ballet -- which arrives in Washington, D.C., April 6 for the start of a two-month tour that also takes in Orange County, West Palm Beach and New York -- has lived in England since 1978, when she moved from Rome to continue her ballet training. She's lived as an Englishwoman more than half of her life, yet she still feels 100 percent Italian.

"Everything about Italy is different," Durante says, smiling nostalgically as she sits in an Armani dress and jacket in the artists' cafe in The Royal Opera House after a rehearsal. "The air is different, the weather is better, life is more relaxed. But the one thing I miss most is a decent cup of cappuccino. I have a machine, but the water and milk are different in London than in Rome. It never tastes the same."

A good cup of coffee isn't the only thing Durante has given up to become one of The Royal Ballet's stars. She wanted to be a dancer since she was a little girl, when she and a friend would dress up and put on shows during her parents' dinner parties.

"I think my father finally suggested that if I liked to dance so much I should take lessons." Durante came to London at age 10 to attend The Royal Ballet School. She joined The Royal Ballet in 1984. Her big break came in 1988 when Maria Almeida injured herself during a performance of "Swan Lake" and Durante was asked to take her place on the spot. She became a principal after that, and her work is routinely praised by London critics for its expressive technique. Durante now spends about 50 weeks a year performing with The Royal Ballet and at guest appearances at La Scala in Milan. She admits the constant dancing is physically and mentally exhausting, but she became accustomed to that long ago. "As long as I enjoy the dancing, the sacrifices aren't a restriction," said Durante. "I think one should only carry on doing things as long as you enjoy it. I've been with the company for nine-and-a-half years and I've done a lot, but I still have a lot to do."
She works equally hard at keeping her feet on the ground, determined not to be trapped in the ballet bubble with no connections to the real world. Her biggest aide in that regard is her older brother, who constantly sends her books to read and quizzes her about the Sunday newspapers during his weekly calls from Rome. Durante also is already planning what to do after her ballet career ends and says she'd like to move into acting. Then there are all the personal things she wants to do. " I'd like to play more tennis and to go skiing." She pauses, thinking of other possibilities. "Oh, and I'd really like to go horseback riding. I can't do that at all now. Can you imagine a bowlegged ballerina?"