Badass Bitch of the Week: Prima Ballerina Alessandra Ferri

The dance icon explains why we should “stop promoting wrinkle-less beauty”

Badass isn’t typically the first word that comes to mind when one thinks about a prima ballerina gracefully pirouetting atop the delicate pedestal on which she’s been placed. A dancer’s job is to slip seamlessly into character, tell a story, and ooze emotion that stretches all the way up to the cheap seats without uttering a word. But badass is an adjective that undoubtedly characterizes 53-year-old Alessandra Ferri, a bonafide ballet icon who recently reprised her role as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (a part she played for the first time in her career at the tender age of 19). She is no longer content to fit someone else’s cookie-cutter vision; she wants to start a revolution—a “wrinkle revolution.” 

When I sit down to chat with the lithe legend, she speaks softly but intently before jetting off to London to star in Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House, an acclaimed triptych choreographed by Wayne McGregor. It’s a fitting ballet for the principal dancer, as Virginia Woolf, a pioneering feminist, “reinvented the way you read a novel,” noted McGregor in an interview, and Ferri is devising an entirely new path for both for herself and women everywhere by bulldozing boundaries with every iteration of her ever-evolving career. (To put things in perspective, the average prima ballerina typically hangs up her pointe shoes in her 30s.) 

She’s also working to change the world’s perception of beauty and shift its intense fixation on youth as the face of No7. “When you have a brand that says ‘Use this product your wrinkles are going to disappear in two weeks,’ first of all, it’s not true. And second of all, you’re promoting an idea that there is something wrong with having a wrinkle. And why?” Ferri asked rhetorically. “Why are we promoting that beauty is wrinkle-less? There is beauty in every face, in every age, and every body.” While fronting the cosmetic brand’s latest launch—Lift & Luminate Triple Action Serum (a formula designed to firm skin and reduce fine lines via a combo of botanical extracts, hyaluronic acid, and peptides)—seems like somewhat of a contradiction to her “wrinkle revolution,” Ferri doesn’t reject the idea of self-care. In fact, quite the opposite: Between Pilates, yoga, ballet, and rehearsal, she dedicates five hours a day to training her body and caps off each night with a hot bath (her form of “meditation”).  “It’s lovely to look as beautiful as you can, but we all want to look as beautiful as we can at every age,” she said. “Yes, we want to do things that make us feel and look better, but not deny who we are.”

“Authenticity” is what Ferri craves and what she feels makes someone—male or female—truly beautiful. “I’m well known for the truth in my performances and I think that’s because of the way I am in life,” she explained. “I was never somebody who hid or played a role by putting on makeup or wearing certain clothes, I was always very much who I am on stage.” In addition to her perfect feet and form, it’s Ferri’s soul that set her apart and thrust her into the spotlight over the past three decades. Even when she temporarily walked away from the stage in 2007 to be with her family full time, Ferri couldn’t deny that dance isn’t just what she did—it’s who she was. “I stopped because I started to contemplate the idea of being afraid—afraid of aging as a ballerina, and I didn’t want to get to the point where I judged myself because I wasn’t who I was when I was dancing in my 20s or 30s.” It was only once she made her triumphant return that she realized her “mission” and “purpose” in life. “As an artist you don’t age. You express an inner world and your soul—that’s ageless and timeless,” she explained. “You should not be afraid of the numbers.” She said she sees each performance as an “opportunity to be bigger than who I am,” but notes that this notion of acceptance and self-worth is not something she can easily pass along at the barre: “You can’t teach this—you can only serve as an example for other dancers. It’s a life path to get to this stage.”

Nothing, however, quite sums up one’s “life path” like dancing alongside your 19-year-old self—a duet Ferri got the chance to experience in her No7 campaign thanks to modern hologram technology. “The hologram really was there—I could see it. That was unbelievable actually!” she said. “It was like going back in time. For a moment, all the memories of how I was at 19 became tangible.” Asked if she judged her hologram performing the part of Juliet, the role that made her famous as a teen and has subsequently followed her ever since, she replied, “No, I thought she was really good! I’m looking at her and going, whoa! But I remember how nervous I was in that performance because it was filmed.” As for the one piece of advice she’d give her 19-year-old self, a prodigy who had yet to master that complicated dance we call life, Ferri said: “I have two daughters—one is 19, exactly that age, and the other is 15—and I tell them not to be afraid of being themselves and to live life. I think many times we don’t live life, we exist and we go through the motions. Don’t be afraid of loving, or of being hurt, or the pain. Also, as a dancer, don’t hold back. Live in the moment—fully. Don’t hold it for the future.” 

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