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Alessandra Ferri

It may seem strange to describe as a 'legend' someone who stayed with the Royal Ballet for less than 5 years - but Ferri's meteoric career made such a strong impact, and her performances - particularly in the MacMillan repertoire - are remembered so well, that I think it's legitimate to include her.

 Ferri was born in Milan in 1963 and studied at La Scala before coming to the Royal Ballet School when she was 15. She won a Prix de Lausanne in 1980, and was first noticed at the school show that year in MacMillan's Concerto. The second movement starts with the leading couple walking slowly from opposite wings to meet in the centre of the stage: it is a wonderful entrance but needs real character and authority to carry it off as memorably as Ferri did. She was taken into the Covent Garden Royal Ballet the next season, and de Valois managed to include her, as Red Riding Hood, in the performance of Sleeping Beauty on the night of the company's 50th anniversary - which would have had a nice significance had she stayed on to lead the company, as many at one time thought she would.

Although Ferri danced in a fairly wide selection of the repertoire, and created roles for David Bintley and Michael Corder, she will always be primarily associated with Kenneth MacMillan. Her first major role was as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling, and it at once revealed her ability to identify with MacMillan's heroines, bringing them to life with a passionate sexuality which reminded many of Lynn Seymour. She went on to an astonishing debut as Juliet - she was given an unprecedented curtain call after the balcony scene at the end of Act 1 - and to Manon; and for the time she was in the company she was very clearly MacMillan's inspiration, creating roles for him in the dark pieces - Different Drummer, Valley of Shadows - he was producing at the time.

Then in 1985 came the announcement that Ferri was leaving the Royal Ballet for American Ballet Theatre. She gave as her reasons that she wanted to dance the classics more often, possibly with Baryshnikov; that she needed the higher standard of teaching she believed she would find in New York; and that MacMillan was simultaneously starting work with ABT as associate director. As she has made ABT her home company ever since, presumably she found what she was looking for...

These days Ferri is also a permanent guest artist in Milan, where she is looked on as a superstar, second only to Carla Fracci in the Italian ballet world; and she makes frequent guest appearances all over the world - though not with the Royal Ballet. She was last seen in London in a not particularly successful week with ABT, but she remains for many who saw her the standard of comparison in her MacMillan roles. {top}

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