The prima ballerina with the prestigious Paris Opéra Ballet for the past six years, Eleonora Abbagnato is branching out into acting—and landing on the gossip pages of Italian tabloids, thanks to her friendship with Fiat heir Lapo Elkann. The attention has the 28-year-old ballerina feeling quite uncomfortable. “I am used to being judged for my work onstage, not for the friends I’m having dinner with,” she says. And so, to deflect the spotlight from her personal life, Abbagnato is getting back to work, now reading screenplays and appearing in a new ballet this winter.

BALANCING ACT: After her debut last year in the Italian comedy titled Il 7 e l’8 (The Seven and the Eight), Abbagnato is continuing to peruse scripts for new films, while not neglecting her first love, ballet. “Other dancers look down on acting and feel part of a higher-end niche, but I feel acting rounds off the artist in me,” she says.

THE NATURAL: The only Italian in the 158-member French ballet group, Abbagnato was only five when she started taking her first steps at her local dance school in Palermo, Sicily. She quickly revealed a talent that brought her first to Monte Carlo at the Marika Besobrasova school. Then, at 13, after a summer workshop with the legendary Claude Golovine-Bessy, she enrolled at the renowned Paris Opéra Ballet School.

IN GOOD COMPANY: Known for instinctive flair and her eagerness onstage, Abbagnato has danced with some of the best contemporary choreographers, including Pina Bausch, Jirí Kylián and her mentor, Roland Petit. The latter has asked Abbagnato to perform during a special event in January called Soirée Roland Petit, an homage to his best classic and modern pieces. Top dancer Zizi Jeanmaire also is scheduled to take part in the show, which will be held in Geneva and Barcelona.

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