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Monday, October 18, 2021

Ballerina Alessandra Ferri: ‘I’ve learnt not to compete with my younger self’

For this mother of two (Matilde, 24, and Emma, 19), though now separated from their father, Fabrizio, Bejart’s 1998 piece struck an instant chord. L’Heure exquise is an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s searingly bittersweet 1962 study of the human condition, Happy Days, in which a middle-aged woman grapples with her past and her personal effects while rooted increasingly unforgivingly to the spot. 

The protagonist is now, as Ferri puts it, “an old ballerina, in search of happiness and happy thoughts. And this is really personal. It’s me and my memories, me and my giving up dance, me and the audience. What is dance for me? Is dance keeping me crazy, or keeping me sane?”

Inevitably (this is dance, after all), Ferri’s character – unlike “Winnie”, in Beckett’s original – breaks free from her initial confinement, to be partnered by Hamburg Ballet’s Carsten Jung. But, for the first 10 minutes – and later, too – she is rooted not in Beckett’s scorched-grass-covered mound, but in a vast heap of pointe shoes.

“I had to collect about 3,000 shoes in order to build the set,” she says. “Of course, this was during lockdown, and nobody was using shoes, so I was like, ‘My God, how am I going to do this?’ So, I had the Royal Ballet send me shoes, English National Ballet, Hamburg, La Scala – so four companies were sending me all the shoes that they could find, left somewhere or whatever. And when I was enclosed in it for the first time, I realised that all these shoes have a story.

“It’s really beautiful,” she explains. “In each of those shoes, there have been the hopes of some girl, some dancer – they’ve had a nice day, or a bad day, or a disappointment, or a dream. So, they all tell a story, each one of them, and it’s really touching for me. I feel I’m not alone, that I have all of them with me, all the ballerinas’ lives.”

L’Heure exquise is at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre from tomorrow-Oct 23. Tickets: 020 7304 4000; roh.org.uk

Curated by Carlos is at Sadler’s Wells Nov 3-5. Tickets: 020 7863 8000; sadlerswells.com

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