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With her sweeping lines, improbably arched feet, eloquent port de bras, and dramatic intention behind every step, Alessandra Ferri breathed life into ballet. She made her indelible mark on the ballet repertory and inspired audiences and fellow dancers alike. She joined American Ballet Theatre in 1985, and on June 23, she will take her final bow as Juliet, the role probably most associated with her passion and abandon.
“I wanted to leave with a lovely memory of my feeling of dancing,” says Ferri, whose final performance will be in Tokyo in August. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a long career, an early career. I love dance too much to have a bad feeling about it.”
Ferri was offered the position of director of La Scala Ballet, but needs time away from dancing before considering any moves: “I need to reassess myself in a new phase of life.”
Born in Milan, Ferri joined ABT after dancing to acclaim with The Royal Ballet. Outstanding in Romantic ballets like Giselle, Ferri also became a box office draw (frequently partnered by Julio Bocca) with her Anna Magnani-like verismo style in dramatic works like MacMillan’s Manon and Romeo and Juliet and Cranko’s Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew.
Ferri feels that Juliet, a role that is in her blood, is the right choice for her retirement performance. “My debut with ABT was as Juliet,” she says. “It has meant a lot to me throughout my whole career. I think it makes a complete circle.” During the Met season, Ferri will also dance Desdemona in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello and the lead in Manon.
“Alessandra represents that caliber of artist that is so believable, you’re not sure if you’ve witnessed an actor dancing or a dancer acting” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “All dancers strive to perfect their technique as a means to open up their expression. Alessandra’s example as a total artist is what we all look at with pride and admiration.” —Joe Carman
Jeanette Ordman (1935–2007)
Dancer, choreographer, and the creator of Bat-Dor Dance Company, Jeannette Ordman died in February at 73. Born in South Africa, she studied ballet in Johannesburg, and at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
In 1965, Ordman joined a small ballet company in Haifa, Israel. She quickly moved to Tel-Aviv and began teaching ballet. Ordman was the first teacher to bring the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) to Israel, and drew students from all over Israel.
Batsheva de Rothschild invited Ordman to teach ballet but Ordman’s classical ballet discipline raised tension with the company’s modern dancers. Yet a growing bond between de Rothschild and Ordman resulted in the creation of the Bat-Dor Company in 1967. The company’s signature was a fusion between classical ballet and modern dance.
During the 1970s and 80s Bat-Dor was considered one of the most important dance companies in Israel. “Until she opened her school and dance company there was very little professional dance in Israel,” says Igal Perry, the former Bat-Dor dancer who founded Peridance in NYC. “People believed that professional skills only exist abroad.”
Among the choreographers Ordman invited to work with Bat-Dor were Paul Taylor, Antony Tudor, and Alvin Ailey. “It was very difficult working with her,” says Perry, “but that was only because she never gave up on her values.” —Dr. Henia Rottenberg
Ann Barzel (1905–2007)
Harboring a huge appetite for dance in her tiny frame, for eight decades Ann Barzel documented dance through her writing, lectures, and filming. Chicago was Barzel’s home base for many of her 101 years. She was the moving force behind the Ballet Guild of Chicago, reviewed for two of the city’s newspapers, and left her vast dance collection to the Newberry Library. She also taught math in Chicago’s public schools.
Barzel, who studied ballet with Adolph Bolm and modern with Doris Humphrey, performed with the Chicago Opera Ballet and Bernice Holmes’ ballet group. As a writer and researcher, Barzel focused on technique, explaining the mechanics of dance to her readers and assembling a history of dance teaching in America for the scholarly Dance Index. She wrote for Dance Magazine as early as 1937, and remained a Senior Advising Editor when she was no longer writing. Copies of her historic films are archived at the Newberry and the NY Public Library for the Performing Art. Barzel’s footage is included in recent documentaries on the Ballets Russes troupes and Cuba’s ballet festival. —George Jackson
Hortense Kooluris (1914-2007)
The last remaining of second-generation Isadora Duncan dancers, Hortense Kooluris died in February. Born in Brooklyn, she studied at Esther Robbins’ ballet studio, and later with Duncan disciple Anita Zahn. After Irma Duncan’s touring company from the Soviet Union was deported, Kooluris was chosen to complete the tour with Isadora’s sister. As a teenager, she performed with Irma’s group from 1930–1933.
In 1939, Kooluris headlined “A Duncanian Evening” and became a subject of the photographer Arnold Genthe. An image of her won first prize at the New York Word’s Fair as the “modern woman most closely resembling Madonnas painted by old masters.”
Kooluris continued to dance and teach—from an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in NJ, to demonstrating Duncan technique worldwide at an ancient Greek theatre and in Tokyo, where she danced with Kazuo Ohno. Her students include noted Duncan dancers Lori Belilove and Jeanne Bresciani.
She and Julia Levien (see “Transitions,” Dec.) founded the Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company in 1977. In 2001, she wrote that she wanted to be remembered as “One of the chosen ones to live and die in Isadora’s beautiful art.” —Emily Macel
Electronic Tap Dancer Alfred Desio died in February at 74. He worked with Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, Donald McKayle, and Michael Bennett and performed in many Broadway productions, including West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. Desio’s Tap-Tronics, an invention that allows tap dancers to play electronic instruments using the sound of the taps, appeared in Gregory Hines’ Tap. Desio was associate director of Los Angeles Dancers and Choreographers, a coalition of his company, Zapped Taps, and his wife’s modern dance company, Louise Reichlin & Dancers. —E.M.
Broadway dancer Vilma Ebsen died in March at the age of 96. Ebsen danced along side her brother Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) and Hollywood Musical sweetheart Eleanor Powell in the film Broadway Melody of 1936. She graced the Broadway stage with her brother in the musical Whoopee! and in the revue Flying Colors. —Rachel Leigh Dolan