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Saturday, October 1, 2022

The incredible story of the great Argentine ballerina that the Russian ballet stars wanted

This September 15th marks ten years after the death of the prima ballerina Olga Ferri (1928-2012, the great figure of Argentine dance as closely linked to the Teatro Colón as dancer, repositor of ballets and twice director.

His path began very early and extended for a long time: her brilliant stage career lasted until an unusual age for a classical dancer, was 46 years old, and close to turning eighty, she was appointed director of the Ballet del Colón for the second time; At the same time, she continued teaching classes in the dance studio that she had created in 1971 together with her husband, Enrique Lommi.

Olga Ferri was a true star of the Teatro Colón Ballet from the late 1940s until her retirement; He also worked in many companies abroad and for a longer time in the prestigious London Festival Ballet. from 1961. In 1977 he retired from the stage of the Teatro Colón, but even after that retirement he received innumerable contracts to tour the United States. He always rejected them.

A queen: Olga Ferri was one of the greatest Argentine dancers of all time.

A queen: Olga Ferri was one of the greatest Argentine dancers of all time.

The beginnings

In an interview from the time when she assumed the direction of the Ballet for the second time, Olga Ferri recounted: “I entered the Instituto del Colón, which was not called that then, when I was twelve years old; At fifteen they already called me as a backup for the dance team. I remember that They paid me two pesos fifty per rehearsal and five pesos per performance. It was a lot of money for me…“.

“On the other hand, I had many opportunities as reinforcement. My memory is photographic and could learn the steps very quickly. As soon as it was necessary to cover the place of someone who was missing, they said: ‘we have to call Ferri’; I was a little girl. At seventeen I entered a contest and entered directly as a solo dancer.

Much is known about Olga Ferri’s career: her extraordinary artistic career inside and outside the country; her exceptional work as a trainer of dancers; her successes in the great repertory ballets, including the much-admired performance in Giselle and its unforgettable death of the swan.

Olga Ferri with the Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.  He invited her to do "Nutcracker" together and afterward they danced several pieces.

Olga Ferri with the Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. He invited her to do “Nutcracker” together and afterward they danced several pieces.

Also, of course, Rudolf Nureyev’s invitation to dance with him for the first time in 1971 at the Colón. Nutcracker first and then other works.

But apart from these more or less known data, there is a phenomenal source for discovering practically unknown stories and aspects of Olga Ferri; It is about Juan Lavanga, her friend and her close collaborator.

Lavanga could be described in principle as a balletomaniac, but he does not fully identify himself with this term, because in reality absolutely nothing about dance is alien to him; and between the two camps into which the balletomaniacs of the 1960s were divided, that of Esmeralda Agoglia and that of Olga Ferrithe very young Lavanga leaned towards Agoglia.

However, due to these unforeseeable circumstances in life, he soon forged a professional and friendly relationship with Ferri that lasted, with twists and turns, nearly 50 years.

Olga Ferri, in "Giselle".

Olga Ferri, in “Giselle”.

love for tango

Lavanga recounts: “Olga loved tango dancing -although I don’t know if she danced it-, but not under those exaggerated forms that are seen in some shows, but true ballroom tango. She also liked how the legs of tango girls looked with those very high heels, so she adopted eleven centimeter heels for her“.

And he continues: “On the other hand, she had grown up in a tango environment: her brother Osvaldo Ferri was a pianist in the Juan D’Arienzo orchestra and I think very few people know that Julian Centeya wrote a beautiful poem about her.”

“Nor is it known too much -Lavanga recalls- that Alicia Alonso sent a special invitation to Olga for the Havana Dance Festival. He would dance a complete work with the National Ballet of Cuba and the solo the death of the swan. And also another solo with tango music for the one she chose The day you Love Me, with a choreography by Enrique Lommi and a very beautiful wardrobe. Violinist Antonio Agri rehearsed with her in her “her’s” studio.

“But it was the beginning of the 1976 dictatorship -Lavanga continues- and it was very difficult to enter Cuba. We managed to reach a high-ranking military official who told Olga: ´Madam, we can send her as a cultural ambassador of Argentina; but Cuba is a country with which we have problems‘. And he added ‘think about it’. She decided to cancel the tour; and that beautiful black dress was never worn because Olga finally never danced the day you love me”.

Olga Ferri, in a class in New York with the Argentinian Héctor Zaraspe, teacher of Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

Olga Ferri, in a class in New York with the Argentinian Héctor Zaraspe, teacher of Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

modern dance

In 1958 Olga Ferri was in Berlin as a guest of the Berliner Ballet. At the same time, Pierre Lacotte was also there (great French choreographer who came many times to put on his exquisite The Sylphide), which in a more avant-garde room presented a contemporary version of Summer night Dream.

The ballerina playing Puck had been injured, and Lacotte was reminded of that petite Argentine ballerina he had seen and admired a few days before at the Berliner Ballet. She proposed to do the replacement and this was the response of Olga, widely considered a pure classical interpreter: “I’ve never danced modern dance, but I love the idea”. And he did four shows.

Olga Ferri was very open to all kinds of manifestations in dance; she greatly admired the contemporary dancer Iris Scaccheri and bought tickets so that Juan Lavanga would not stop seeing her in Carmina Burana on the Columbus stage. She had told him: “If you don’t see Scaccheri you will never know what art is”.

a silent retreat

Olga Ferri and the great Rudolf Nureyev at the Nutcracker premiere.

Olga Ferri and the great Rudolf Nureyev at the Nutcracker premiere.

Olga Ferri was already thinking about retirement for a year or two before doing it. For a dancer of the Teatro Colón, almost from any era, it is very difficult to maintain herself in all aspects -both physical and interpretive-, if she does few performances in the year. And in this sense Olga said “I am depriving myself of living and only for dancing so little here”.

On the other hand, the death of nine dancers from the Colón in a terrible plane crash in 1971 had seriously affected her; in particular that of her colleagues and friends so close Jose Neglia and Norma Fontenla. Her supposed feud with Fontenla was a myth: they had been very close friends since childhood and throughout their respective careers.

Juan Lavanga was surprised at the time how quietly Olga Ferri planned her retirement.

“Nobody knew anything and after it happened I said, ‘Olga, you should have had a big farewell function.’ And she answered me: ‘No, no, What horror! Can you imagine? me looking for the last time at the things in my dressing room; the orchestra playing for me one last time; the public also looking at me for the last time. Too much pressure; Surely when I went on stage I would fall to the ground.

And Lavanga adds: “we had never used tuteado; but after that last performance, Olga left the theater, signed innumerable autographs and approached me, who was waiting for her: ‘now that I’m retiring, we can put aside the ‘you’. ‘Will you take me home and come up to eat something with us?’”

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Reference from clarin www.clarin.com

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