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.

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