Alessandra Ferri has been interpreting Eleonora Duse in John Neumeier’s ballet Duse, most recently in Venice at the beginning of February. Does she feel she has anything in common with Italy’s most famous 19th-century actress?
Much, starting with my approach to a work, stripping away the façades that for me have no part in an art that is an internal journey. You must know yourself, and grow, and have the courage to be true to yourself. It leaves me vulnerable but, at the same time, strong. Also for me, art was always an anchor for me to cling on to during life’s difficult moments.
I think my approach to interpreting a character has remained the same, from Giselle to MacMillan’s ballets: real acting, without outsized gesturing. Two significant roles for Duse were Juliet and Marguerite Gautier, as they were for me. Another interesting coincidence is that Juliet was also her first important character.
For her acting skills, Ferri has been christened the ‘Magnani of dance’ in the United States.
That was written by a journalist, and the label stuck. But I’ve never felt like [Anna] Magnani: she’s too dramatic, too earthy. Above all, she’s too Roman.
Ferri, a northerner, is from Milan; Duse was also from the north of Italy, born in Vigevano, a 40-minute drive from Milan.
Gabriele D’Annunzio, the celebrated Italian writer, was Duse’s partner for several years, and Neumeier gives the two a pas de deux.
Two colossal figures: one against the other, though also at one with each other. The poet tormented her and betrayed her during their ten-year relationship, but it was Duse who asked D’Annunzio to write for her. Without Eleonora starring in his plays he was nothing.
But what is true love? The overwhelming passion that possesses you until it becomes torture? We fall in love with the person who is a reflection of ourselves at that moment. I believe that love, in fact, makes free.
In the photos in the book Aria, Fabrizio [Fabrizio Ferri – the photographer and her ex-husband, who photographed her nude for the book] was looking to capture the essence of dance, the sensation of flying, of space, of that which a dancer feels when their physicality is liberated. Being freed from your body through dance. The fact that I was nude wasn’t to show off my body – I was free and clothes would have imprisoned me.
[Dancing a pas de deux] is about knowing each other, without that there is no real connection. You must have respect and trust in your partner, be sure of yourself and aware of your limits and weaknesses. That’s why it’s so difficult. The art of being a couple is the gamble of a lifetime.
Alessandra Ferri was talking to the Corriere della Sera’s Valeria Crippa.