The sublime dancer and actor, Alessandra Ferri, returns to the Royal Opera House stage

The Italian ballerina, Alessandra Ferri, retired in 2007, but six years later she returned to the stage.

A former principal with the Royal Ballet who trained at the Royal Ballet School, Ferri is now 51 and in May, she will dance again on the stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in Wayne McGregor’s first full-length work, Woolf Works.

The casting, just announced, shows Ferri will dance in all eight performances during the season in May.

Woolf Works is based on three of Virginia Woolf’s novels, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves.

Screenwriters and playwrights have adapted Woolf’s novels into films and plays, and in 2002, the director, Stephen Daldry, based his movie, The Hours, on Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

But as far as I know, McGregor is the first to make a ballet based on her writings.

This month marks the centenary of Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, published in March 1915.

And it was in March many years later (in 1941) that Woolf committed suicide, filling her pockets with stones and walking into a river. She had writen a letter to her husband, Leonard, that began:

“Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness…”

McGregor has chosen the perfect dancer to portray the tragic Woolf. As an actor, she had the ability to bring tears to the eyes in her portrayals of Juliet, Manon and Tatiana. The one time I saw Ferri dance was as a guest with the Australian Ballet, dancing with Steven Heathcote in Onegin. That’s a performance I will never forget for the depth of her portrayal.

Kenneth MacMillan saw her potential relatively early in her career. When she was 21, the choreographer said: “Her gifts are musicality and a marvellous intuitive understanding of what the choreographer wants.

“When I first saw her I knew at once she was just right for my work. She has a perfect dancer’s body: long legs, beautiful feet with high arches, small head, tiny torso and a wonderful Italian face”.

Ferri was born in Milan and studied at La Scala Theatre Ballet School until she moved to the Royal Ballet School aged 15. She danced with the Royal Ballet until 1985 when she joined American Ballet Theatre as a principal and later a guest artist.

In 2013, one of the first pieces she danced after her come back was called The Piano Upstairs, a dance-theatre work about the end of a marriage.

At the same time, her own 16-year marriage to the photographer, Fabrizio Ferri, came to an end. She didn’t have to change her name. From birth, Both Alessandra and Fabrizio shared the same surname.

2 Comments

  1. John
    Posted March 31, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Not much that one can say, except perhaps “wonderful!”

  2. valerie
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Interesting words from Ferri in a new article (5 May) in The Times (London) by Debra Craine:
    “Ferri thinks older dancers are something of an underused resource and complains that some younger choreographers (no names, naturally) don’t know how to make the most of more mature talents. “They are unable to see that you are unique and to enjoy that fact,” she says. “Some of them hardly even look at you in the studio.” Yet Ferri has been exceptionally lucky to find so many opportunities in her fifties.
    After Woolf Works she will star in John Neumeier’s new ballet based on the life of the Italian actress Eleonora Duse, which comes to the Hamburg Ballet next season. “It’s fantastic, I’m a pioneer and maybe I can open the door to whole new possibilities for other mature dancers.”
    Was she inspired by the example of Sylvie Guillem who gave up Covent Garden to pursue life as a contemporary dancer? “To be honest I was inspired more by Baryshnikov,” Ferri says. “The last time I went to see him perform, he was dancing with the Mark Morris company in New York. He was 65 and there were a lot of young dancers on stage with him but you didn’t see them because you were galvanised by him, because you felt there was real soul in his performance. Watching him gave me courage.”

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Alesandra Ferri and Jose Manuel Carreno, Romeo & Juliet, 2006, photo © Kent G. Becker

Alesandra Ferri and Jose Manuel Carreno, Romeo & Juliet, 2006, photo © Kent G. Becker

Alessandra Ferri, Manon, photo © Fabrizio Ferri

Alessandra Ferri, Manon, photo © Fabrizio Ferri