A New Passion

Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

Photography by Kyle Froman


It’s rare to see celebrated ballet dancers outside of the grand opera houses that form their natural habitat. But Martha Clarke’s Chéri, which runs through December 22 at New York’s 294-seat Signature Theatre, gives audiences an up-close look at prima ballerina assoluta Alessandra Ferri and American Ballet Theatre star Herman Cornejo.

Based on the novella by Colette, which traces a turbulent affair between aging but glamorous Léa and dashing young Chéri in turn-of-the-century Paris, the multidisciplinary work poses a special challenge for two gifted dance-actors. It also marks a new phase in Ferri’’s post-ballet career. “”When Martha proposed Chéri, I thought how incredible it would be to play somebody who belongs to me, now, and not to pretend to be 18,”” Ferri says. “”There is something wonderful about looking at yourself as you really are——as Léa does in the stories, and as I am doing in this process.”” Pointe went inside an intimate Chéri rehearsal with Clarke, Cornejo and Ferri.

A tender moment

“This is an unusual move for me, because at ABT I’m finally doing all the classics. But when Martha approached me and said, ‘I have this idea, and it might be with Alessandra Ferri’—to dance with her, that’s a dream come true. And then we discovered that the three of us had this amazing chemistry.” —Herman Cornejo

“I’ve been flirting with Alessandra for about 25 years. A couple of years ago, she came to see one of my performances, and said, ‘I’m ready now!’ So we emailed. I said, ‘Read Cheri.’ And she said, ‘Yes.’” —Martha Clarke

“”Martha is always trying to disguise the dance steps. They are present, but they are expressive, not just jeté here and jeté there. They are our words. I want to start my career again now with this new approach.” —Alessandra Ferri

“I studied with Antony Tudor. He’s made an indelible impression on me in terms of the psychology and subtext of movement. At times during this process, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is a Tudor moment.’ And Alessandra and Herman are both such wonderful actors that sometimes I don’t know where the dancing stops and the acting starts.” —Clarke

“With Martha, we come into the studio with nothing, and in that nothing there is everything.” —Ferri

“I didn’t want to lose the voice of the story just because they move beautifully. But I wanted to give their dance fans enough beautiful movement to be satisfying, because the two of them are rare and extraordinary to see.” —Clarke