I’m enjoying a new chapter in my life having the fortune to play women of my age and not romantic roles like the Giselles, Carmens, Juliets, Manons… all wonderful, but enough, they’re part of another Alessandra. Now I’m a 55-year-old with the knowledge of how extraordinary that is.
Alessandra Ferri, now in Milan for a run of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, created for her at The Royal Ballet in 2015, is talking to the Corriere della Sera’s magazine, Io Donna.
In the last few years since she returned to dance after a six-year break, she has created roles for Martha Clarke (Chéri) and John Neumeier (Duse).
It is quite exceptional. Those who have had long careers dancing the classics have continued to perform the same roles. I want to bring on stage the beauty of life, and life is beautiful until the end.
Here, in brackets, appear the names of Carla Fracci and Margot Fonteyn, who indeed did dance the classics well into their fifties, but not only. Whether this was the journalist commenting, or Ferri adding in information, is not clear, though Roland Petit created his Chéri for Fracci when she was 60, Maurice Béjart choreographed L’Heure Exquise for her when she was 62, and Carolyn Carlson created the solo piece Il tempo dell’acqua when she was 63. Margot Fonteyn, born one hundred years ago in May 1919, created Petit’s Pelléas and Mélisande in 1969, danced in the UK premiere of John Cranko’s Poème de l’extase in 1972, as well as various specially created pas de deux. Of course, many other dancers come to mind too, including fellow-Italian Luciana Savignano who is still involved in creating new works in her mid-seventies.
Without being dramatic, it’s better to focus on the positive side of things. If at 50 you pretend to be like a 30-something you’ve already lost and will inevitably be frustrated and insecure. However, if you want to be the best version of yourself you can be at 50, then you’re a winner. In England, I agreed to do adverts for a face cream only because they decided to say “pro-aging” and not “anti-aging”.
I now have a knowledge of my body that I didn’t have when I was younger. I know all my tendons, muscles and joints and know how far I can push them. I have less stamina now and need more time to recover between rehearsals, but on the other hand, I need less time exercising because of my experience, so that helps to compensate. When I was 20, I never felt ready.
I was vulnerable, which I was conscious of, and I suffered from that feeling. Growing up and maturing, I thought, why make yourself feel bad? Stop! There’s a vulnerable side to me, yes, but it is wonderful because it is what completes me when put together with my strong side, my sad side and my happy side. Once I learned to view these diverse facets with joy – my chiaroscuro – all these pieces have come together. I’ve found an equilibrium.
Fragility affects us all, but not being able to confront it or to let it go is true fragility! Dealing with this trait marked a turning point in my life. It gives you immense power and frees you. It has even changed my rapport with the stage.
I’ve lost my fear of the stage, and I don’t torture myself anymore. What I had to prove in the past I did, and now every show is a gift. I approach it with the serenity and gratitude of knowing I’m doing a beautiful thing, and aware of the privilege of being able to realise my childhood dream.
I stopped dancing to spend more time with my family, but after a few years it became clear that yes, I am a mother, and yes, I was a wife or companion, but at the core of my being, in the depths of my soul, is dance. That’s where I can shine in my own right. So it wasn’t a comeback, but a moving on. I didn’t miss the stage or the applause – what motivated me to return was the need to be myself… I am a woman who dances. I don’t know how long it will continue, even though I have commitments until 2021. I’m living in the present, and I’m not looking too far into the future.
The passionate ballet stories used to fascinate me because they shared some of the things I was feeling, but now I’m not interested at all in those who suffer for love. Even in Chéri, in the end, it’s she who moves on, and it’s he who kills himself.
At various times in my life, I felt I needed a man by my side to be “seen”, otherwise I did not feel “enough”. Now that’s no longer the case, and I don’t feel that I must have someone at any cost. The love of a couple can become a prison. I want to discover if there’s someone who won’t limit me. We’ll see.
Now I am single, and I’m not going to allow myself to be drawn into a relationship simply to have a man to fill any voids in my life. When a man who sees the world as I do appears – if he appears – that will be great. Otherwise, I’m happy as I am.
Part of Ferri’s return to the stage was shared with Herman Cornejo, who later became her offstage partner for a while, even though he was 18 years younger.
We must break away from these stereotypes and preconceptions that have been drummed into us. You’re alive as long as you have the enthusiasm to change and experiment. It was a beautiful story. We still love each other to bits. Herman is an extraordinary artist, so we are lucky that we can still meet up onstage and share that magic that goes above and beyond any daily routine. True love lies in those moments, as well as in our relationship with our children, and with our friends: it is superior to romantic relationships.
Maturity has given me the opportunity to opt for situations that make me feel good. I can choose what takes my attention and use my energy for things that make me happy. I don’t mean that you should hide from painful events and become a smiling fool, but when there’s a choice I prefer to focus on the light rather than darkness. Obstacles shouldn’t block you, but help you to evolve.
After 35 years in New York, Alessandra Ferri has moved back to London, her home when she was a just teenager after she moved from Milan to study at The Royal Ballet School.
I wanted to return to Europe, and I fell in love again with this beautiful city. My daughter Emma was finishing high school, and we decided in May 2017 to move to London – by July we were here. Matilde, the elder of the two, is now based in Milan, so we can meet up more easily.
Nowadays I don’t have any fears of social, cultural or family conditioning… and I find myself smiling more.
Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works will be at La Scala in Milan from 7 to 20 April 2019.