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American Ballet Theatre

'Romeo and Juliet' - Ferri Finale

by Jerry Hochman

June 23, 2007 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

In a way, I’ve grown up with Alessandra Ferri. Already a confirmed balletomane, attending the Royal Ballet’s heralded return visit to New York in 1981, its first in many years, was de rigueur. I don’t recall how many Royal performances my wife and I attended, but I recall that overall the Royal seemed more stolid than I’d anticipated, like it was preserved in aspic. Except for a few of the stars (of course Antoinette Sibley and Antony Dowell, Lesley Collier, and one dancer who performed a superb Odette – I think it was Monica Mason), I don’t recall being overly impressed, particularly with the dancers at the soloist level.

But even then, we spent as much time watching the corps dancers as the leads. One corps girl stood out not just for her excellence in performing the steps she was supposed to do, but in a quality of joy, of spirit, that she carried to the stage with her. The fact that she was pretty didn’t hurt either. By process of elimination, we determined that her name was Alessandra Ferri. And we’ve been watching Ms. Ferri ever since. Indeed, when we had the opportunity to visit London in 1985, and found that she was scheduled to dance “Romeo and Juliet” while we were to be there, we bought tickets – only to find out later that this was to be her final performance with the Royal, and that she would be joining ABT. Before we went to London, we bought tickets to her first performance with ABT.

Both the performances were the stuff of legend – her last with the Royal, and her first with ABT.

That warm September evening in New York when Ms. Ferri made her ABT debut in “Romeo and Juliet,” I recall standing near a relatively short older gentleman, quite nattily dressed, who I overheard talking to some other persons in the Met plaza before the performance began. I don’t recall how I came to conclude that he was Ms. Ferri’s father, but that was my understanding. In halting Italian-soaked English, obviously astounded at the throng of people flocking to the Met to see his daughter, I heard him say: “…but she’s such a leeetle girl….”

That ‘leeetle girl’ brought the house down on September 4, 1985. And she did so again on June 23, 2007, as she has done countless times in between, in a career that places her firmly in the pantheon of Italy’s greatest ballerinas and gifts to the world, from Carlotta Grisi to Carla Fracci. And through it all, the same joy and the same spirit that was evident over 25 years ago, remains both a hallmark of Ms. Ferri’s dancing whether she dances Juliet, or Manon, or Mary Vetsera, or Giselle, or any of the other roles for which she has been justly acclaimed. More than anything else, it is this joy and spirit, this emotional intensity that permeates her performances, and that will be her legacy.

Last night’s performance was no less remarkable than her last Juliet with the Royal, or her first with ABT. The prodigious ballet technique and dramatic acting ability was still there, from the soaring extensions in her still-extraordinary balcony scene to her cradling of Romeo’s head during her death scene, including a scream that still manages to send shivers up and down my spine even though I know it’s coming and I’ve seen it many times before. Ably abetted by her Romeo, Roberto Bolle, this final ABT performance before a completely sold out house (including all levels of standing room, and all box seats) was an Event that would have been memorable even if the performance itself hadn’t been as memorable as it was.

The Event was hyped more than any other such performance within my recollection, but since this performance has been sold out for some time, the hype was not to sell tickets, but to honor a great ballerina. Every Met Playbill for every performance features Ms. Ferri on the cover, and the annual company program morphed this year into a Ferri souvenir program, comprised of photographs of her (taken by her husband Fabrizio Ferri). And for this performance, the grand Met stairway was graced with oversized photographs of Ms. Ferri and Mr. Bolle, most of which appeared to be taken at various locations in New York, including stunning photographs taken from the roof of a New York building at sunset.

But when it was over, the Event concluded, and the Celebration began. The house, studded with current and past (and future) ABT dancers, erupted into sustained and repeated thunderous ovations, as one by one principals past and present presented Ms. Ferri with flowers, kisses, and applause. The stage was blanketed first with flowers, and then by a shower of sparkling gold confetti.

Ultimately, Ms. Ferri was joined on stage by her two children, and the three of them provided a post-performance performance that only added luster to Ms. Ferri’s already extraordinarily human image. It is unlikely that anyone in attendance will soon be able to forget the image of Ms. Ferri and her daughters, who looked about ages 9 and 4, one blonde and the other brunette and both as beautiful as their mother, as Ms. Ferri repeatedly tried to take her final bows and goodbye waves to the audience. As the girls were busy picking up the flowers that had fallen to the stage floor, almost (but not quite) oblivious to the cheering audience, Ms. Ferri watched her daughters, looked at the audience with a happy, teary, and somewhat glazed expression, and seemed to say: “…but they’re only leeetle girls…”

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