For 23 seasons, Amy Aldridge has been a major force at Pennsylvania Ballet, where she’s been a principal dancer since 2001. This week, she announced she would be retiring from the company on May 14 in the pas de deux from one of her favorite ballets, Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Her next step? Lots of teaching in the Philadelphia area. Pointe spoke with Aldridge about her time at PAB, and what she’s learned along the way.
Congratulations on your long career! What made you decide to retire this year?
I’ve been thinking about it for the last two or three years, but I couldn’t really decide. Then when I saw we’d be doing a lot of Balanchine pas de deux on our last program this season, I thought, that’s it! Everyone said you’ll know when you know, and it just hit me. The physical maintenance has become harder and harder, and mentally I'm ready to move on. I asked Angel if we could squeeze in the “Rubies” pas de deux for my retirement, since it wasn’t originally on the program.
What are some of the things you learned over the course of your career?
Less is more. I always approached everything with so much energy and attack. Sometimes in rehearsals the ballet master would ask, “Amy, are you tired today?” I’d say yes, and they’d say, “Because that was much better. You’re working too hard!” You don’t have to have the same attack for everything—sometimes the easier, gentler approach yields the better result. Also, knowing when to breathe—where to pull back, finding where the rest spots are. All that came with experience.
What about in regard to the mental challenges?
Before I joined the company, I had one of the most difficult teachers, Melissa Hayden, for three years at North Carolina School of the Arts. She was so hard on me—I probably cried three times a week in class. Then when I joined Pennsylvania Ballet, I had another tough ballet mistress. Being younger, I thought they were picking on me because they didn’t like what I was doing. But I realized that they were doing it because they cared—they saw my ability and my potential. They knew I was capable of so much more.
That said, I really look forward to being on the other side and not having to be so perfect—there’s so much pressure! And I think it’s pressure we dancers put on ourselves, rather than from the outside.
You danced under Roy Kaiser for the majority of your career at PAB. Was it hard to shift gears when Angel Corella became director in 2014?
It was. I’ve known Angel for a long time because his sister was in the company. So he was a familiar face, which made the transition easier. But I had gotten used to a certain rhythm—what combinations to expect in class, the routine—and then suddenly everything was new. The classes were very different, even the rehearsal schedule changed. But even harder was that I had developed a whole family over the years, and I watched everybody retire. Then new people came in, and I watched more people retire. It’s such a different company right now, but it’s a very nice group. With any change there’s going to be a transitional phase where everyone is a little bit uneasy, but now things have settled down. The company has developed that closeness again.
What was one of your most memorable career moments?
We were doing The Second Detail and William Forsythe came to a stage rehearsal. I had gotten thrown in at the last minute, and had to learn a lot of material. I was so terrified because I was without the mirror and there were all those counts. In some places, I completely messed up. On opening night he came up behind me and said, “Don’t let the dance rule you. You rule the dance.” Afterwards I thought, it’s true: you make it, you control it. That advice has always stuck with me, especially when I feel nervous before a performance.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When Kylee Kitchens joined Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2000 at just 19, she was admittedly not the self-assured performer she is today. Pointe asked her to share some career highlights before she retires to spend time with her 21-month-old, Simon.
Lady Capulet, which I just danced in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette. She's powerful, strong, intense, and I was pegged more as a lyrical dancer. You have to be able to command the stage differently, and I think I was able to do that later in my career. And Afternoon of a Faun just fit like a glove. It was right before I got promoted. Some dancers got injured, and Jerome Tisserand and I were bumped basically from fourth cast to doing opening night.
Doing Jardi Tancat for the first time. When we were in school, Lindsi Dec and I would sit in the wings and watch the company do it. When we were finally dancing it--and doing it together in the same cast--it was a really emotional moment.
Three of San Francisco's most stunning leading men have just retired from the company. After multi-decade careers, Joan Boada, Pascal Molat and Gennadi Nedvigin took their final bows during an emotional farewell performance on April 17. Nedvigin will join Atlanta Ballet as its new artistic director.
All three men will be remembered for their dazzling presence. In a series of videos created by SFB, company members, directors and choreographers talk about all three principals and what makes them special—they're clearly beloved by their colleagues. Boada's pyrotechnics, Molat's characterizations and Nedvigin's classicism will be sorely missed on the War Memorial Opera House stage. Check out the videos below:
After 20 years with the company, Maria Chapman has retired from Pacific Northwest Ballet. The principal, who has been with PNB for her entire professional career, plans to focus her energies on her daughter Eleanor.
Chapman has danced an astonishingly wide range of PNB's repertoire, tackling choreography by George Balanchine, Ulysses Dove, David Dawson, Jiri Kylian, Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe, Crystal Pite, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon and more. She also helped to launch Second Stage for Dancers, which is PNB's career transition program.
While her retirement comes as an abrupt surprise, Chapman will go out on a high note. Her last show was PNB's mixed bill, in which she danced three out of the four ballets, including Crystal Pite's Emergence, Kiyon Gaines’ Sum Stravinsky, and company member Price Suddarth's Signature.
Chan Hon Goh, a principal with The National Ballet of Canada since 1994, will perform with the company for the last time in June. Afterwards, she’ll have her hands full teaching at her parents’ Vancouver-based Goh Ballet Academy and further developing Principal by Chan Hon Goh, the shoe line she began with her husband 12 years ago.
Nina Ananiashvili, who has appeared with American Ballet Theatre since 1993, will give her final performance with the company on June 27. She will remain the State Ballet of Georgia’s artistic director, a position she has held since September 2004, and continue to dance with the company and internationally as a guest artist.
Seventeen-year San Francisco Ballet veteran Tina LeBlanc, who took her final bow on May 9, plans to devote herself to teaching at the company’s school. “I’m also excited to have a little ‘me time’ to do crafts, like quilting, crocheting and beading,” LeBlanc says. —Elizabeth Gorgas
For Alessandra Ferri, the greatest dramatic ballerina of her generation and possibly the most famous Juliet of today, parting is not going to be “such sweet sorrow.” On the contrary, Ferri, who is retiring this year after more than 20 years on the world’s stages, is going out with a bang.
At the height of her powers, Ferri prepared to take on two new leading roles in full-length ballets: Marguerite in John Neumeier’s romantic The Lady of the Camellias for La Scala Ballet of Milan, Italy, in March, and Desdemona in Lar Lubovitch’s revival of Othello for American Ballet Theatre’s spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
She was scheduled to perform both roles years ago, but missed the opportunities when she had her daughters. In her melodious Italian accent, Ferri says, “This year I have these big debuts, which is very nice for me, and I’m very happy that it is happening in my last season.”
Her farewell performance with ABT will be the title role in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, on June 23, 2007, with Italian premier danseur Roberto Bolle. For her, Juliet is as new as if she were doing it for the first time: “You can’t act the role, you have to let Juliet live through you and let the music propel your emotions.”
Going to one of Ferri’s performances is like getting on a roller coaster; you’re not quite sure where it will take you, but you know the ride will be thrilling. Her preternaturally long, slender hands and incredibly arched insteps amplify every movement, and her beautiful elfin face and expressive dark eyes telegraph every emotion to the gallery. At 44, Ferri possesses the kinesthesia of a teenager: Her speed, agility, elasticity and strength make her youthfulness so convincing.
“That part comes from just pure hard work,” says Ferri. “There is no magic.” She spends two hours in the studio working with Gyrotonics apparatus before she goes to ballet class. “The Gyro keeps my body young, makes space between my joints, keeps my muscles elastic and strong, and keeps me properly aligned, so I don’t hurt myself when I dance,” she says.
An elegant sliver of a woman, Ferri, dressed casually chic in a tailored mole-gray shearling coat, brown turtleneck and slim pants, radiates warmth and energy at a cozy cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near the apartment she shares with her longtime partner, famed photographer Fabrizio Ferri, and their two daughters, Matilde, 10, and Emma, 5.
Taking a deep breath, she talks about the upcoming turning point in her life: “I have to say, now is the happiest moment for me, ever, as a ballerina. I feel that I have never danced better. I have achieved freedom and gone back to the times when I was a little kid and I loved to dance. And I think it is for this reason that I have decided to stop. I love dance so much that this is what I want to remember.”
The Milan-born ballerina knew from the age of 4 that she was born to dance. Though there was no arts background in the family, her parents supported and encouraged her from the beginning. She studied at the school at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan until the age of 15.
At the Prix de Lausanne in 1980, she won a scholarship to continue her studies at The Royal Ballet School. MacMillan, the eminent British choreographer, recognized her talent early. He began creating roles for her, such as L’Invitation au Voyage, soon after she joined The Royal Ballet, and Valley of Shadows, for which she won the 1982 Laurence Olivier Award. When Ferri reached principal in 1983, the floodgates of fame flew open with leading roles in classical and contemporary works, and she particularly excelled in MacMillan’s full-length ballets.
Her meteoric rise at the Royal caught the attention of Mikhail Baryshnikov, then artistic director of ABT, who made Ferri an irresistible offer: join ABT and be his partner.
She arrived in New York City in 1985, unprepared for the harsh new world she encountered after the sheltered environment she enjoyed at The Royal Ballet. Only 21, she felt intimidated by Baryshnikov as a partner, who was at the peak of his career, and considered herself technically sub par to take on the demanding classical roles that she danced with him. Ferri remembers thinking, “Oh, my God, this is too much. My whole life is too overwhelming.” But looking back she says, “Misha has been my toughest teacher, but a great teacher. He made me realize that you have to work hard, because just talent will get you nowhere.”
For the next few years she toughened up, added many new ballets to her rep and, perhaps most significantly, found her ideal partner in Julio Bocca, a 19-year-old Argentine prodigy, who joined ABT in 1986. Together they
created magic for nearly 20 years until Bocca retired last summer.
Their legendary partnership was built on trust, timing and truth. They shared the intensity and intuited each other’s moods. Some memorable moments were Roland Petit’s fiery sparring duet from Carmen, their ethereal Giselle and the emotional whirlpool of the final pas de deux from John Cranko’s Onegin. Ferri, who likes to dance on the wild side, says Bocca gave her freedom to fly: “He let me dance. He felt my musicality, he sensed what I was going to do and he let me do it, and caught me at the end, which is what made it exciting.”
In an e-mail, Bocca expresses his deep fondness for his adored former partner. “I knew that being next to Alessandra,” says Bocca, “I would shine much better. She always trusted me to find her in the exact place onstage, to hold her in my arms at the right moment—not before and not after. I had never felt that kind of instant and complete understanding onstage until I met Alessandra. From the first minute we had absolute compatibility and special chemistry. The ballets I most recall and those that left me with tremendous emotion each time we danced together were Romeo and Juliet and Manon.”
By 1990, Ferri was already an international attraction. Having worked with Roland Petit in Europe and the Royal, she began globe-trotting from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, Paris to Hamburg, Stuttgart to Canada—always with the crème de la crème of companies. In 1992, Carlo Fontana, then director of Teatro alla Scala, signed her as permanent guest artist with the ballet company. Fontana says, “I began loving ballet, thanks to Alessandra Ferri. I have been director of La Scala for 15 years, and I considered one of my best results the cooperation with this great dancer and woman... an étoile. Alessandra is not only the great artist, she is first of all a true person, sensible and a sensitive woman.”
Ferri credits Wilhelm Burmann, her teacher in NYC for the last 15 years, for making her the dancer she is today. “Willie gave me the freedom to be who I am onstage, to move with the music however I wish, because my body is so finely tuned.” She goes on to say, “You have to translate your emotions in your body, that is how you speak onstage. That comes naturally for me, but your body is your speech. Technique is not the ultimate but the beginning.”
Burmann, who dispenses praise sparingly, says, “Alessandra has been in the best shape of her life for the past several years. I consider her number one among international ballerinas. We are losing an incredible dancer and an incredible person.”
Looking over Ferri’s vast repertoire, it seems there isn’t a ballet or a choreographer whose work she hasn’t performed. Yet for a ballerina of her stature, relatively few roles have been specifically created for her after the early years at the Royal. Blame it on timing; nonstop guesting created scheduling problems with choreographers and artistic directors. But Ferri has few regrets; never having met or worked with George Balanchine is at the top of the list, though she has danced several of his ballets including Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Apollo, Duo Concertant and, most recently, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with La Scala.
In the summer of 1996, she met Fabrizio Ferri at a Vogue photo shoot for her friend Isabella Rossellini. “I met Fabrizio, and it was love at first sight,” she says. A year later Matilde was born. Soon after, Ferri lost a baby 7 1/2 months into her pregnancy, the worst tragedy she has experienced. “But,” she says, “thank God Emma came right after that.”
At the Pointe photo shoot, Fabrizio Ferri instinctively blended their individual skills for the cover shot. Their bond is unmistakable. She says, “I think what makes my retirement easier is that I am a happy mother of two wonderful kids, and Fabrizio is there, and we are happy. I want to be with them a lot. I am at a point where I can stop. The scales are even.”
Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of ABT, reflects on Ferri’s place in the company over the last 22 years. “It’s
that turn of the page in history,” he says. “Alessandra is the type of artist who can reach across the footlights and transcend the title of ballerina. The best is that she has been part of our identity and growth. One can never replace a unique artist. I really believe she is ready [to retire]—she is in a little state of grace—so how can you feel bad about that?”
Astrida Woods is a frequent contributor to several dance and theater publications in New York City and is the dance editor and critic for Show Business Weekly.