On a Spanish beach. Model: me. Photographer: Martin Robinson
Back from my visit to Defining Beauty, the exhibition about which I have written in a previous post and which I will discuss more fully in a forthcoming post, I chanced online on a series of interviews with Italian born, ballerina étoile Alessandra Ferri. Trained at La Scala and the Royal Ballet School she rose quickly through the ranks and performed in Covent Garden and then went to New York to dance with Baryschnikov. With a small frame, lithe and petite (Wikipedia has her as 178 cm but surely that must be on pointe because she is smaller than Baryschnikov who is only 168 cm), she was perfect for the romantic roles at which she excelled. She was indeed a bright star in the dance firmament. Then at 44 she gave it all up to look after her two daughters and be with her husband, Fabrizio Ferri.
Following her marriage breakdown, Alessandra Ferri has come out of retirement at age 52 and has returned to the stage in Le jeune homme et la mort, the great ballet by Roland Petit. Performed in Florence last month with a last minute change of male partner, it was received rather well. Ferri is still a wonderful dancer. I have not seen the ballet but have watched online some videos of rehearsal time for another work, Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj. But it was Ferri's interview that struck a chord with me ( in Italian, but you can see here a beautiful clip of Alessandra Ferri's dancing while Sting plays guitar. There is also this interview for the New York Times).
Coming at the time when the great Sylvie Guillem has announced her retirement at 50, Ferri's return is brave, showing once again that older dancers still have a lot of mileage - I am pleased to see, incidentally, that The Elder's Project, a piece starring a host of 'old hands' of British dance will be performed again at the South Bank later this month. However, what Ferri talked about is not her feeling a lack of physical prowess, or feeling overwhelmed by the reality of an ageing body, on the contrary, but the fact that dance for her now is no longer a career but something she does because she feels passionate about it. Growing older and being away from the gruelling schedule of touring has allowed her to rediscover the immense joy that dancing gave her when she was a child and which sustained her throughout her training. She continues to be a first class performer and like other older dancers she talks about having finally acquired maturity of expression. Thus her role as Death in Petit's ballet (danced below by Zizi Jeanmaire and Rudolf Nureyev in 1966) was very well chosen, according to reviewers.
Moving beyond dance, what Ferri talks about is very important. If we no longer feel passionate about what we do, perhaps it is time to consider having a break. This is true in every creative endeavour. I also applaud the fact that Ferri - inevitably so - is so embodied and when she had to confront the pain of separation, the rejection she felt as a result of her partner leaving her (as she discusses in this interview), she listened to her body and returned to do what she loves best, what gives her body pleasure. What I am trying to say is not that if you are going through a break up you should take up dancing. I am simply saying that listening to your body is what will help you to go through anything. Establish a good relationship with your body, listen to it and love it, and everything else will fall into place. Alessandra Ferri is first and foremost a dancer, so when she stopped and listened to her body she went back to dancing - at her level this meant performing because she had trained to such a high standard. For other women this may be something else, like joining a class to pursue a hobby, not necessarily a dance class. Or spending more time appreciating their body, pampering it with massages and good, nutritious food.
A good relationship with oneself, taking care of one's body is truly the key for smooth relationships with others.