The performance includes a ballet called "Grazie Gianni Con Amore" ("Thank You Gianni, With Love"), choreographed by Gianni Versace's longtime friend Maurice Béjart. The two met at La Scala in 1983, when the French-born Béjart was on a quest to refresh his costumes.
"I can still picture Gianni adding the finishing touches to those marvelous costumes he invented in the cloakroom of the Cirque du Soleil in Brussels," said Béjart. "He was crouched amidst heaps of clothes, painting embroidery gold or applying invisible lace to the folds that only he and I could see."
The 80-year-old artist added that when he would ask Versace to sketch 10 new looks, he would get 30, even 40. "Gianni loved life too much not to love the theater. He wanted to turn every woman into Greta Garbo and every boy into James Dean."
Sunday's spectacle will meld portions of a dozen ballets that benefited from Gianni Versace's hand. The curtain will rise on a big white box from which some 50 dancers will climb, each in a costume designed by Versace for Béjart. The ballets include "Pyramid," "Dyonisis," "Malraux" and "Souvenir de Leningrad."
The second act features new choreography with 15 costumes designed by Donatella Versace that she described as "modern and clean," sheer, with cascades of macro Swarovski embroidery.
"Gianni's costumes are so extraordinarily beautiful….It was so hard to compete with him, so I went for something completely different," she said. However, she kept her brother's tradition of crafting the costumes in the house's atelier instead of shipping them off to specialists.
"Gianni insisted that they be handmade in the atelier using the best materials,'' Versace said. "Then, at the last moment, we discovered that the dancer couldn't lift her leg, so we had to make amends with patches of Lycra." The fact that the first rehearsal onstage at La Scala isn't until Sunday doesn't help Versace's jitters.
"I'm so nervous," she said. "But it's like going back to the [early] Nineties, when everything was so last-minute, and we were still sewing a dress when the show had started."