Mara Galeazzi returns to Australia for the gala, Ballet Stars Under the Stars

There are famous exceptions, among them Galina Ulanova, Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sylvie Guillem, but few ballet dancers continue their careers past the age of 40.

What happens after the farewell curtain call? They might continue to take class, or they teach, or they begin a completely different career.

For some, the retirement is brief as the urge to perform is strong.

“For me”, said Carla Fracci, “dance is like water…I am regenerated by it, like a return to the womb”.

Last year, aged 79, she performed in the city of Lecce, in southern Italy and then in Moscow.

Fracci is one of three exceptional Italian ballerinas who have returned to the stage in the last couple of years. Alessandra Ferri, 52, named Mikhail Baryshnikov as an inspiration when she saw him dancing aged 65.

“Watching him”, she said, “gave me courage” to dance in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works at the Royal Ballet last year.

Ferri sees herself as “a pioneer and maybe I can open the door to whole new possibilities for other mature dancers”.

The third Italian ballerina is the youngest, Mara Galeazzi, 42. A former principal of the Royal Ballet she retired from the company in 2013. During the Woolf Works season last year, Galeazzi covered for Ferri.

Galeazzi, who once toured to Australia with the Royal Ballet, will return next week to dance in the gala, Ballet Stars Under the Stars, produced by the choreographer, Tim Podesta, director of the company, PROJECTion Dance.

The gala will be performed only twice. The first show on January 23 will take place on a stage purpose built at Howmans Gap, a village near the Victorian resort town of Falls Creek, and the second, on January 24, in Melbourne at the Deakin Edge Theatre in Federation Square.

Why Howmans Gap? Because Podesta has a school, the Regional Academy of Performing Arts, in Wodonga, close to Falls Creek, and is running a summer intensive dance school there before the gala performance.

The other dancers in the gala are Juliet Burnett, a former senior artist with the Australian Ballet, Kirsty Lee Denovan, formerly with the Australian Ballet and now with the Melbourne Ballet Company, Jo Lee, also a dancer with the Melbourne Ballet Company, Kimbrian Bergh, a freelance artist formerly with PACT/South African Ballet Theatre, and Dominic Ballard, an Australian Ballet School graduate who dances with the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

Podesta met Galeazzi when he directed Ador, a film that featured the English National Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre, Hong Kong Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and the Queensland Ballet.

He had just finished choreographing a section on the English National Ballet when “I felt that I needed someone who was at the top of their game. I had always admired Mara’s versatility and contacted her and pitched my idea and she loved it.

“The moment we got into the studio together we really enjoyed working together and I have since created three works with Mara as the focal point. We have some other upcoming projects that will see us touring together and so I thought it would be great if I could get her to Australia and the gala developed from there”.

Ador premiered late last year at Federation Square and will be shown on outdoor screens in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth in the coming months as well as arts programs on TV.

I asked Galeazzi about her life after the Royal Ballet.

Why did you decide to retire from the company?

It was partly, she said, for family reasons. Her husband, Jurgen Volckaerts, works at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, the capital of Oman, and they have a young daughter, Maia, who was born in 2012.

“Also I thought I’ve reached a high level as an artist and I thought it was best to move on to something different”.

When you retired from the Royal Ballet did you anticipate that you would perform again as a professional dancer?

“I didn’t think I would again but when I was asked to dance for a gala in the UK after a year I said ‘why not?’ and since then I decided to keep going.

Do you think your decision to keep dancing was related to the decisions of Alessandra Ferri and Darcey Bussell who continue to perform after their first retirements?

“Not really but it helps to know that there is not an ending and you can always have different challenges and use the knowledge in other artistic directions”.

Now, as a freelance artist, how do you choose your performance schedule and do you have an agent who helps you decide what to accept and what not?

“I don’t have an agent. I just love scheduling myself. That’s the fun bit, and I have the freedom to chose what I like dancing”.

Did the film, Ador, eventually lead to your performance in a ballet gala in Milan in November last year? (Podesta was one of the choreographers).

“Yes, it did. We had worked for a gala in the UK last July”.

What will you dance in Australia?

“I’m going to dance two pieces by Tim. One is a duet, From the Shade, and one a solo, Alta Stare. I’ll also be dancing Ossein, a solo by Wayne MacGregor and a new work by Simon Hoy”.

What are your plans for this year and next?

“I’ll be dancing in New York, then in the UK with the Covent Garden Dance Company, and I’ll be back guesting with the Royal Ballet then organising a gala for my charity foundation, Dancing for the Children, in 2017”.

For much more news and information about the three Italian dancers, Galeazzi, Fracci and Ferri there is only one place to go, the website of Graham Spicer, a director, writer and actor who lives in Milan, and blogs about ballet, opera, music and theatre.