After Alessandra Ferri’s success in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works last May, it’s no surprise that the Royal Ballet asked her back to revive her performance in Martha Clarke’s Cheri, a dance-drama about love and age she created in New York in 2013. Ferri is no stranger to the Opera House, having been a principal with the company in the early 1980s before moving to American Ballet Theatre in 1985. Although she officially retired in 2007, her ballet technique and acting finesse are undimmed, and she brings both to this distillation of Colette’s novels.
Ferri is the retired yet youthful courtesan Lea, whose romance with the much younger Cheri (Herman Cornejo) is convincingly conveyed. Despite their affection and passion, there’s no social context for their love, not least because Cheri is the son of Lea’s friend and fellow courtesan Charlotte (Francesca Annis). The darker implications of this triangle are not explored in the ballet.
Ferri and Cornejo are glorious dancers, portraying the story’s intense emotions without saying a word, even if the choreography is repetitive and occasionally trite. Annis gives the spoken role of Charlotte a gossipy edge, although her French accent is uneven and she’s too matronly to be a near contemporary of her son’s lover. Cornejo is convincing as the spoilt Cheri, although the reason for his rejecting Lea isn’t clear. In the book, it’s because of her age rather than loyalty to his new wife (fixed up by his mother). Ferri, meanwhile, nails Colette’s prose. She writes: “[Lea sought] the young girl she once was and discovers only her ghost.”