Breaking Stereotypes
Heather Milne, Courtesy RWB

When Catherine Wreford found out that she had brain cancer in June 2013, with doctors predicting she had only two to six years left to live, there was one thing she knew she wanted to do: dance.

She had grown up training in the recreational division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, then went on to perform on Broadway and in musical theater productions around the country. She eventually left the stage to find more stable work, running a mortgage company and later getting a nursing degree because, she says, "I knew that I could do that for a long time."

But a diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma meant she didn't have a long time left.

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Dancers Trending

Alessandra Ferri's career has long been marked by extraordinary onstage partnerships—Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julio Bocca and Herman Cornejo immediately leap to mind. But in a video released last month, Ferri managed to share the stage with none other than her 19-year-old self. In an advertisement for UK-based pharmacy chain Boots, Ferri, now 52, dances opposite a holographic projection of her teenage self performing the first act variation from Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.

The video caught the Internet's attention this weekend, exactly one month away from Ferri's one-night-only reprisal of the role of Juliet with American Ballet Theatre.

It's not difficult to see what has everyone spellbound. Ferri, in practice clothes and pointe shoes, matches the costumed projection for a breathtaking moment before splitting away, joyfully whirling through chaînés. The preternaturally arched feet, lithe lines and irresistible stage presence that Ferri is known for—and that saw her become a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet at the young age of 19—are all on display here. Ferri's hard-won maturity glitters opposite her more cautious alter-ego. At one moment both Alessandras seem to acknowledge each other, the younger wide-eyed and curious, the older warm and wry, before the projection is blurred away leaving only the older, mature Ferri standing triumphantly at center stage.

The message seems fairly clear: older does not necessarily mean better or worse, only different. It's a bold statement to make in the context of ballet, where youth and technical virtuosity are traditionally prized. Ferri has already called these views into question in the past few years, returning from retirement to dance opposite Herman Cornejo in Martha Clarke's Cheri, to star in Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works at The Royal Ballet, and most recently to perform in John Neumier's Duse. As the video demonstrates, Ferri's maturity and life experience have only enhanced her already-legendary performance quality. She is looking as wonderful as ever, and I personally cannot wait to see her grace the stage as Juliet once more.

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