Ballerina Alessandra Ferri On Coming Out Of Retirement And Playing Juliet at 53

Photo via The Times UK

Photo via The Times UK

"'Once you realise it’s never really over until it’s over, every chapter of life can be exciting,’ says ballet superstar Alessandra Ferri. ‘We are so used to limitations that are not even our own, limitations that have been imposed on us by education and society and history ... And if we can somehow dare to be a little more free of them, and try not to limit ourselves, who knows what we can do?’ 

Italian-born Alessandra is vibrant, dynamic proof that some limitations are, perhaps, entirely arbitrary, and that age truly is but a number. The most celebrated ballerina of her generation, she became a principal at the Royal Ballet – the highest position one can reach in a company – aged just 19. At the other end of her career, after a six-year retirement, the mother of two returned to dancing in 2013, and now, aged 53, is preparing to reprise the role with which she is probably most closely associated: the teenage Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet

Her one-off performance, on 23 June, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, will be almost nine years to the day since she took her last bow with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she had been a principal dancer for 22 years. 

‘Of course, there are physical limitations,’ concedes . . . And some of them are insurmountable. But some can be overcome . . .I work hard on my body. I’ve never taken it for granted, and I particularly don’t now. It’s not like it was when I was 19, obviously . . . I need to keep myself strong and supple,’ says Alessandra, in her rich, rolling Italian accent. ‘But I have to pace myself, too. I can’t do so many hours of rehearsal that I can’t move the next day.’ 

‘I think what is unusual in my case is that I did stop; for almost seven years I did nothing, and then I came back to it,’ says Alessandra, twisting her mane of wavy black hair on top of her head, before releasing it again to swish past her shoulders. ‘It wasn’t something that I planned or expected,’ she says of her comeback. But one thing led to another… And I only wanted to do new things – things I’d never done before.’ 

So when Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s current artistic director, approached her to reprise the role of Juliet – a teenager in Shakespeare’s original play – opposite Cornejo as Romeo, she had reservations.

‘I thought about it for a good few months before I gave him an answer. And then I thought, why not? Stop judging yourself, stop wondering if it’s right or wrong; life is wonderful, you have an opportunity. That’s how I am taking it now: a wonderful opportunity, a gift to myself. When I stopped, I realised that I’d switched off the light inside me. And after a while I felt depressed.’ 

It wasn’t so much that she missed dancing in and of itself. ‘I didn’t miss being on stage, or the applause. I missed feeling alive,’ she says simply. 'But I do believe that we have to find that happiness inside ourselves.’ And, for now at least, her plate is more full than she ever could have predicted. She will be dancing in Japan this July, in Italy in August, and back in New York in the autumn." - Jane Mulkerrins via The Daily Mail