The Royal Ballet's new few-length ballet, Woolf Works, brings two Italian ex-Royal Ballet dancers back to Covent Garden. Alessandra Ferri, who returned to dancing two years ago after seven years of being a full-time Mum, will appear in the first and third acts of Wayne McGregor's new creation. Mara Galeazzi, who retired from the Royal Ballet two years ago, is ten years younger than Ferri, though she hasn't ‘returned' (yet), but has nipped across from her home in Oman to London a couple of times: first to create the role of Mother in Ludovic Ondiviela's Cassandra, and now as the ‘cover' for Ferri, who is down to dance at each performance. Not that Galeazzi will be pushing her into the orchestra pit:
Alessandra has been my inspiration since I was young and to work next to her is a gift. She's not only a great artist but a very sweet and kind person. She's been a great support and seems to enjoy my company! I feel very privileged and lucky.
Ferri, who was promoted to Principal with the company in 1984 when she was just 19, left just a year later to join Mikhail Baryshnikov at the American Ballet Theatre. Galeazzi joined The Royal Ballet in 1992 when she was 18. So the paths of the two Italian ballerinas – born just 60 miles apart – have rarely crossed.
Unfortunately I don't have shows, but for me just been in the studio with Wayne and Ferri and to have the opportunity to be back as a guest for a new creation and with such a beautiful story it is going to be a great experience and challenge.
Galeazzi's main reason for leaving her career was for her child, Maia, and to be with her husband who works at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. Leaving damp London for the dry desert?
At the beginning, I was enjoying the normal life and finally spending time with my daughter and husband. I had moments were I thought that the was something missing in me, but it was not The Royal Ballet I missed, but creating art and performing.
I don't regret leaving The Royal Ballet… I think it was the right time. But as an artist, I need to be in a ballet environment and it was hard to not be any more.
Now I'm back dancing but in a way that works for me, with certain stipulations, so I think I've found and started a new chapter of my life. I can be with my family and, at the same time, I can still fulfil my artistic life.
The transition from dancing leading roles with the company all over the world to being a Mum in Muscat was never going to be easy… especially at 40 when the body is still in good shape.
Returning as a guest has made me feel so special and wanted again. It's great to be back though it is not the same. I have returned with a different approach and I feel that my career somehow has not ended.
And the reaction of the company?
It's so nice to be working again with my ex-colleagues; they have been so helpful and kind. There are a lot of new young people and they've been incredibly nice. I feel very welcome.
Wayne McGregor has chosen three of Virginia Woolf's landmark novels – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves – together with extracts from her letters, essays and diaries, as inspiration for Woolf Works. The blurb states,
It expresses the heart of an artistic life driven to discover a freer, uniquely modern realism,
and brings to life Woolf's world of ‘granite and rainbow'
where human beings are at once both physical body and uncontained essence.
As this is also McGregor's first full-length production for The Royal Ballet, there is a great deal of excited anticipation.
I've really enjoyed the rehearsals with Wayne. I've worked with him many times; he is such an inspirational person.
It was hard for me at the beginning because I arrived after he'd already started creating, so I had a bit of work to do trying to learn the steps. Once I'd learnt it all, it was so much fun. I love the creative process. The story Wayne is working with is so incredibly emotional, and he has such sensitivity.
At the end of May the first run of Woolf Works will come to an end… what happens next?
I always wanted to direct a company but that is something that I need to work on. I'm taking things a step at a time and I'm getting a lot of offers without asking. I think that you should never say ‘no' to things just because they were not planned… they might lead you to something new.
This experience has given me so much good energy, and I'm still learning and growing artistically. This is a new chapter of my career life and I'm happy to be in this wonderful world again!
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.