If you look closely, inspirational quotes are everywhere. From billboards to campaign slogans, we can’t escape a motivational quote. But is it becoming too much?
By Susan Devaney
How many inspirational quotes have you read on Instagram alone in the past week? Maybe 20? Possibly 50? I’m willing to bet over 100. Uploading a ‘quote of the day’ is quickly becoming our way of saying ‘this sums up how I’m feeling’ or ‘read this and you’ll feel better’. From Facebook to Twitter, we’re picking and posting motivational quotes to promote on our newsfeeds.
Have we become obsessed with quotes?
In 2013, Forbes ran a list of the most influential people on social media. People who topped the list all had one thing in common: they posted and promoted motivational content. (Even when you log onto Forbes.com you’ll be greeted with their ‘quote of the day’.) It's social media that’s providing a solid platform for it. Currently, one of the top trending hashtags is #QuoteOfTheDay. If you type it into Instagram you'll be met with over 10 million results. Could it be a strategic marketing tool or a motivational mind game?
Gonzalo Arzuaga, an internet entrepreneur sold his company GauchoNet.com for several million to fund his new business Inspower (as in: inspirational power). Selling motivational packages to businesses, from inspirational thoughts plastered across their mirrors to a motivational prep talk in the lift. He also runs Inspirational Quotes, a Twitter account – with an estimated reaching power of over two million - with a tag line of: ‘We love inspirational and motivational quotes. Every person has got a quote that helps them be the best they can be.’
Celebrities are in on it too. Whether they’re posting encouraging lyrics from their own songs or quoting an inspirational leader, they too find a sense of hope in a quote. The site QuoteTags.com - operated by a company in Santa Monica - endorse trending quotes online. From funny to heartbroken to relationships, the site categorises inspirational quotes by celebrities on Instagram and their current ratings. The Kardashians are prime examples in leading the way with their motivational snapshots. From Kendall to Khloe, they love to channel the encouraging thoughts of someone else. Someone – but whom, who is doing the quoting? That’s the problem. All across Pinterest, Instagram and on our Facebook walls are quotes from nameless individuals.
All images courtesy of Instagram.
From the backs of our shampoo bottles to our kitchen tea towels, they’ve seeped into all corners of our lives. A motivational quote can be beautiful, but being forced to read them on a daily basis is dampening the ‘stop and make you think’ effect. Quotes may give some of us a sense of hope and strength, but less is always more.
Following the release of the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? we take a glance at the leading ladies in films inspired by music.
By Christopher Prince
/1. What Happened, Miss Simone?
The latest addition to the ever-growing Netflix catalogue sees Nina Simone brought to life through the eyes of director, Liz Garbus. Combining unreleased footage of Simone along with interviews with her family – namely Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, who served as the films executive producer, and accounts from friends, What Happened, Miss Simone? is a poignant tale of one of America’s most celebrated jazz artists.
Simone not only transcended the music industry, but also the lives of her supporters as she championed the African-American civil rights movement through much of her recordings and live performance repertoire. The singer recorded more than 40 albums in her career fusing the sounds of gospel, pop, jazz and classical music during her peak years from the late fifties to the early seventies.
/2. Florence Foster Jenkins
The upcoming American dramatic film based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins may have an undetermined release date, but with a leading cast boasting Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, the film has already been discussed as a shoo-in for the Academy Awards. Charting the true story of Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) - a wealthy socialite who used her family's money to promote herself as a legitimate opera singer despite being ridiculed by the public for having a terrible voice - the film, directed by Stepehen Frears (The Queen (2006), Philomena (2013)) will focus on Foster Jenkins' career in New York between the 1930s and 40s.
Much of what has already been written about Asif Kapadia's touching documentary Amy, based on the life and times of jazz phenomenon Amy Winehouse, focuses on the demise of the singer during her final days. Yet Kapadia's deft attempt at portraying Winehouse as both a social and culture figure of our time is perhaps one of the most successful elements of this 2015 musical love letter.
Through passages from family and friends, inclusive of unearthed camera footage and behind-the-scenes clips, the film challenges Winehouses's see-saw attempt of trying to balance the price of fame with the naivety of her intrinsic talent. Debuted at this year's Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim, Amy will be released worldwide next month.
/4. Ricki and the Flash
Though not a music documentary as such, Jonathan Demme's direction of Ricki and the Flash, set to be released this August, showcases the troubles an artist faces when deciding between family and fame. Meryl Streep crops up again in the film's leading role as Ricki, an ageing rockstar who abandoned her family to seek success. Alongside Streep is her daughter Mamie Gummer - the third time both mother and daughter have starred together (Heartburn (1986), The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Evening (2007)) - as Julie, the divorced daughter of Ricki and Kevin Kline (Sophie's Choice (1982) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988)) as Ricki's ex-husband.
Much of the film centres on Ricki's damaged relationship with her estranged son Joshua (Sebastian Stan), and her attempts to navigate a life she has never been a part of.
Female music protagonists have been the subject of numerous films over recent years. Take the 2010 revival of The Runaways - a rebellious, rip-roaring account of the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name starring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Marion Cotillard's leading performance as Edith Piaf in the critically acclaimed French biographical film La Vie en rose (2007), garnered her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Bill Condon's musical Dreamgirls (2006) adapted from the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name and loosely based on American Motown group, The Supremes, also won Jennifer Hudson an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The two standout musical biographies from the nineties saw Selena (1997) and What's Love Got to Do with It (1993) chart the fame of Selena (Jennifer Lopez) and Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) respectively as global music icons.
MOJEH.com have found 10 things you didn’t know about your favourite Cannes films, from original castings to screen debuts and dramatic makeovers – the festival’s movies have more behind-the-scene surprises than the event itself.
By Jemma Walker
1. In the dark comedy The Lobster, Jason Clarke was originally cast as the protagonist, but was later replaced by Colin Farrell after having to drop out due to conflicting schedules.
2. In Mad Max: Fury Road Charlize Theron shaved her head, featuring as Furiosa the one armed, female survivor of the apocalypse; she then had to wear a wig while filming her next movie A Million Ways to Die in the West.
3. Some of the filming for The Sea of Trees took place near Mount Fuji - also known as the ‘suicide forest’. It’s rumored to be haunted by Japanese ghosts called ‘Yurei’ known for their anger at their own untimely deaths - 'Yurei' weren't the only ones moaning about Gus Van Sant's American drama.
4. Sicario translates to 'hitman' in the Spanish language.
5. Marion Cotillard replaced Natalie Portman in Macbeth, as Portman dropped out just before filming started - with the Shakespeare adaptation emerging as the thespian hit of the festival - it was a blessing in disguise.
6. Louder Than Bombs is the first Norwegian film to feature in the main competition at Cannes Film Festival in nearly 40 years.
7. Amazingly over 80 percent of the stunts, set, make-up and practical effects in the post-apocalyptic action movie Mad Max: Fury Road were done in-camera without the aid of digital post-production. CGI effects were only used to increase the realism of Charlize Theron’s character’s prosthetic hand and to enhance the landscape.
8. Palme d’Or winner Dheepan’s protagonists Dheepan played by Jesuthasan Antonythsan and Yalini played by Kalieaswari Srinivasan, both made their screen debuts in the film that won Cannes Film Festival’s most prestigious award.
9. There’s only 97 shots in Chronic which last under a minute each.
10. Film4 boss Tessa Ross fought for a staggering 11 years to get the film Carol made.
For 70 years, Cannes Film Festival has brought the international community an exclusive insight into the glitz and glamour associated with Hollywood and, subsequently, the finest successes in film making. It’s easy to forget that the various groundbreaking documentaries and feature films showcased on the silver screen are taken just as seriously as the star-studded red carpet appearances. As such, here’s MOJEH’s edit of the most acclaimed film releases from the annual event’s 70th edition.
Arnaud Desplechin’s latest production stars brunette beauty Marion Cotillard alongside James Bond villain Mathieu Amalric and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Entitled Les Fantômes d’Ismaël, Desplechin’s release had the privilege of opening this year’s highly anticipated festival; somewhat fitting considering that the then-budding director and writer’s feature debut, The Sentinel, played in competition exactly 25 years ago. Known for his thought-provoking and culturally relevant productions, diplomacy and foreign affairs are recurring topics present in much of his work. Les Fantômes d’Ismaël is no exception, and follows a filmmaker whose life descends into chaos following the return of a former lover.
The 70th edition of Cannes Film Festival has boosted longstanding actress Nicole Kidman’s reputation as a critically acclaimed household name. Things have certainly taken a turn for the better since she wowed in this year’s release, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Kidman’s last performance at Cannes was back in 2014, when she starred in the box office flop, Grace of Monaco. She’s since come out on top, after even the most hard-to-please critics praised her platinum-streaked performance in the Yorgos Lanthimos’s production. An intriguing, but equally disturbing, thriller boasts a nail-bitingly tense orchestral score. Kidman’s co-star Colin Farrell also enjoyed overwhelming praise for playing a successful cardiac surgeon whose withdrawn and introspective mannerisms elude to a simmering tension.
MOJEH’s editor in chief Mojeh Izadpanah attended the exclusive screening of arguably the most eagerly anticipated film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. 120 Battements Par Minute (120 Beats Per Minute) explores the complex and, often, disastrous relationship between France’s HIV-positive youth and the country’s pharmaceutical companies who were responsible with providing effective medical treatment in early-Nineties Paris. “Robin Campillo’s Cannes competition film gracefully, sharply humanizes a historical tragedy,” Richard Lawson writes for Vanity Fair. “[The] deeply effective 120 Beats Per Minute is half sober and surveying docudrama, half wrenching personal illness narrative.”
May 17th 2017
It was China’s most highly anticipated wedding that saw the actress and singer wed Huang Xiaoming, another of the country’s young, shining stars. Their extravagant ceremony reportedly cost AED 92,000,100, a figure on par with that of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The bride wore a six-figure, six-carat Chaumet diamond ring, and had recently returned from Paris, where she posed in a series of Elie Saab couture gowns before the Eiffel Tower for her official wedding portraits. The lavish affair is symbolic of China’s new generation with new attitudes towards nuptials. While nearby India is known for boasting an extravagant wedding scene of its own, its opulent affairs tend to stay true to practices of the past, with gowns relying on traditional handwork and produced locally. China, on the other hand, proposes a new approach, taking contemporary cues from the West while upholding age-old traditions – its wedding industry is estimated to be worth between AED 183 billion and AED 293 billion.
The rise in China’s burgeoning wedding market can be attributed to several factors. “Today’s millennial bride is usually an only child with both sets of parents available to contribute financial resources,” says Ling Ying, who founded Weddings by Ling in Los Angeles in 2009. Ying quickly entered into the Chinese market due to its rapid development and need for high-end planners. China’s one child policy began to be phased out in 2015, but for the vast majority of today’s couples, there are no siblings to contend with, and wedding funds are often boosted further by four sets of grandparents. Second to this, China’s middle class is rising at an exponential rate: In 2000, just 4 per cent of the urban population were considered middle class, but according to a study by McKinsey & Company, 76 per cent will be in this group by 2022.
As China’s new generation of brides and grooms continue to find their feet, creating their own traditions, there is an opportunity for designers and planners to codify these unique cultural drivers
“Today’s modern Chinese brides aspire to have a Western wedding,” says Ying. “Living in the digital world, it’s easier for brides to have access to information and trends from leading wedding markets like the US, making them more informed and trend-savvy. She knows what brands she wants to purchase, and what styles and colours are in for the season.” What makes China’s current industry so fascinating is its East-meets-West aesthetic. Often in puritanical republics, there’s a sense of yearning for the gilded ways of the overthrown aristocracy and in China, this is infused with a thirst for technology and a fascination with Hollywood; they’re also a nation that loves to shop abroad, and China’s citizens are enamoured by America’s TV-ready lifestyles and luxury brands.
The result is a Western-style ceremony with Chinese rituals. In the past, Chinese weddings were highly concerned with customs, from pre-wedding practices hailing from the Han dynasty, such as the selection of an auspicious wedding day based on the lunar calendar, and tea-pouring ceremonies. “Now they often add in a Western touch at the banquet, such as a wedding cake-cutting ceremony,” says Baileys of Vera Wang and Central Weddings Hong Kong. Western weddings tend to be a more intimate affair, with a focus on religion. “We often refer to it as the ‘Ceremony of God’,” says Ying. “By contrast, traditional Chinese weddings come across more like a production. They can be more glitzy, loud, and larger in size.” But, today’s couples tend to more selective, taking on traditions in-line with their taste and budget. “Most of them just want their wedding to be completely different from their friends and relatives,” says Ying. “It’s all about impressing their guests.” With Chinese weddings, the volumes are vast.
Regardless of whether you’re in the East or West, we somehow have the same expectation for our wedding to be one of the most beautiful moments in our lives
They are weddings ‘for the people’, with guest numbers ranging from 200 to over a thousand, or in the case of Angelababy, 2,000. Dining comes in the form of an eight-course banquet, typically served with dish names that convey well-wishes for the newly-weds.
As well as audience, costume also comes into play when considering the magnitude of these weddings. The Chinese bride must consider several changes, starting with the Qua, a traditional Chinese wedding gown. “It’s usually in red, gold or silver embroidery, with dragons and phoenix designs,” explains Kalam Chu, a makeup artist who has attended over 700 Chinese weddings. The bride then usually wears a white dress as her main gown, followed by two to three evening dresses. “They prefer A-line and ball gowns, and also like a lot of embellishment,” explains Baileys, whose boutique houses designers like Vera Wang, Marchesa, and Monique Lhuillier. “I have once helped a couple of brides who had six outfits for a 12-hour wedding: the traditional Qua, two wedding gowns, a Chinese Zhipao and two evening gowns,” says Chu.
Like Angelababy, China’s elite are proud to assert their national identity and spending power. And, while she wore Dior couture as her main gown, the couple looked to the virtuosity of Guo Pei’s needlework for their tea ceremony. “Around five years ago, I made a gown for a client that was worth AED 1,066,866,” says Guo Pei, whose fine gold-threaded designs and themes of porcelain, fans and scrolls convey the sense of China’s longing for imperial grandeur. However, Pei maintains that ‘lavish’ is not a term she associates with the weddings of her region. “People with economic means do like to have high demands in terms of aesthetics. One of the reasons is because they are wealthier than before, but mostly it is because Chinese people have a strong sense of family and they take the ceremony seriously.”
Intriguing from more than just a cultural perspective, China presents a huge opportunity for Western designers to meet its growing demand. White dresses, honeymoons, cake- cutting and diamond engagement rings are becoming ubiquitous, but there’s still a strong sense of importance placed upon the past. As China’s new generation of brides and grooms continue to find their feet, creating their own traditions, there is an opportunity for designers and planners to codify these unique cultural drivers. “I once was a bride,” smiles Pei. “Regardless of whether you’re in the East or West, we somehow have the same expectation for our wedding to be one of the most beautiful moments in our lives.”
Yesterday we got a glimpse at the long-awaited Dior, The Art of Colour exhibition fronted by supermodel Bella Hadid. The 20-year-old stunner was in the company of Dior’s creative and image director Peter Philips, the mastermind behind the incredible exhibition. Paying homage to Dior Beauty, largescale images taken from the fashion House's book were mounted against pristine white walls. Dior, The Art of Colour is a retrospective of the extensive and dynamic history of brand, as well as its close relationship with makeup - a partnership that began in 1967, when Christian Dior commissioned Serge Lutens to create a beauty line. Some of the most iconic images from Lutens are documented in the book along with many other stunning shots. The exhibition is currently on display at The Dubai Mall until April 23.
Screen Savers: Aisha Alzaabi
December 14th 2016
In recent years the romantic comedies and political produce that have previously typified Arab cinema have made way for a new wave of genre-based film. In September this year Beirut saw the Maskoon Fantastic Fest open, it was the Middle East’s first film festival to cater exclusively to the horror, fantasy, action, and SCI-FI categories. The festival was also a reflection of the changing nature of the films produced in the region. Aisha Alzaabi is part of this new wave. At just 21-years-old she directed her first film, The Other Dimension. Her thriller used the parallel worlds of reality and imagination to provide a platform for penance. When her lead, a 20-year-old troublemaker has an accident he views himself from an alternative reality, from this perspective he realises his past mistakes. “When I started people didn’t take me particularly seriously,” Alzaabi admits. “But after I won the Muhr Emirati Prize at Dubai International Film Festival they began to understand my potential as a filmmaker.”
for today’s aspiring filmmakers like Alzaabi resources and opportunity are theirs for the taking
For the front-runners like Al Khaja and Al Mansour, producing films in a Middle East that was perhaps unequipped for them surely posed challenges. But for today’s aspiring filmmakers like Alzaabi resources and opportunity are theirs for the taking. “After attending several workshops with TwoFour54 I realised that I was really interested in filmmaking, it was with their support that I directed my first film,” she says.
It is, of course, still early days for Alzaabi, she’s becoming accustom to the art of interviews and is quietly evaluating her own sense of filmic style. “I’m still discovering everything,” she admits. “I really want to reach a point where people start knowing that this is me.” Inspired by the success stories of Ali Mustafa (City of life) and Asghar Farhadi, her next moves will see her complete her masters in film studies and journey to film festivals across the globe.
It’s the audience that’s changed. Nowadays more people understand and appreciate cinema
A sign of a cultural shift in attitudes as well as in tastes for genres; Alzaabi’s story is in fact a far cry from the societal rejection that Al Khaja faced a decade before. In fact the support she received throughout her community was instrumental, with many taking an avid interest in her projects. “When I filmed my most recent work in my hometown, Ras Al Khaimah everybody around me was helping. They all wanted to contribute to make the film a success.”
Alzaabi who credits the success of her casting calls to social media is today riding the wave of greater acceptance paved out for her by the women before her. Indeed, Middle Eastern cinema has undergone many changes with new techniques tried and applied as the region continues to fine- tune its industry. And as the UAE strives to amp up the pace with more and more directors emerging each year, the thirst for film reveals just as much about the mindset of its punters. “It’s the audience that’s changed,” Alzaabi reasons. “Nowadays more people understand and appreciate cinema, that’s been the biggest change.”
Screen Savers: Nayla Al Khaja
December 13th 2016
“In one decade, the change has been huge,” enthuses Nayla Al Khaja. “The amount of filmmakers appearing [in the UAE] has quadrupled.” If there’s one person to consult on the state of play within her industry, it’s Al Khaja. For the UAE, she’s a cinematic reference point, not only the first female Emirati film director, but also the founder of her region’s first film club, The Scene Club, a venture that today attracts more than 9,000 members. A winner of multiple-awards, she now counts Mercedes, Nike, Gucci and Canon among her client list, but Al Khaja’s ascension was not without its troubles. “My parents were completely opposed to it,” she admits. In some ways, it’s understandable; Al Khaja’s designs to establish herself as a film director did not follow the set path that many parents associate with the safety and success of their offspring. Nonetheless, she moved forward, jumping through various social hoops in order to secure a place on a four-year filmmaking course in Toronto. She returned to her home country in 2005 as its first female filmmaker, a feat that attracted media attention with accolades from the Washington Post and BBC.
Today, she sits among the Emirati women shifting stereotypes and conquering careers in military, ministry and as pilots and judges
Despite her merits and recognition, it took time to reverse the resistance that Al Khaja faced from her family. Today, she sits among the Emirati women shifting stereotypes and conquering careers in military, ministry and as pilots and judges. “My films are geared towards social awareness, so now my parents are more accepting – but, it took a whole decade to turn it around,” she says. Ultimately, it was Al Khaja’s family that afforded her with her first glimpse into foreign cinema, with pre-Bollywood Indian films resonating at a time when Disney absorbed her peers. “My father was an avid collector of films from all over the world,” she recalls. In later years, another filmic influence came from time spent with the celebrated Abbas Kiarostami. The Iranian director usually worked with ‘real people’ that came without prior acting experience. “He taught me to have the guts to cast someone with no acting experience and to get the best out of them as a director.” Indeed, social commentary has been a recurring narrative within Al Khaja’s work. Her first short film, Arabana (2006), dealt with the subject of child abuse; it premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007 and Al Khaja was subsequently awarded the title for ‘Best Emirati filmmaker’.
Film doesn’t understand gender. It’s a very forgiving medium that carries longevity and flexibility
Her most recent venture afforded her with a new first, the chance to film in Saudi Arabia with Arabic channel, Quest Arabiya. In a series of short films titled HAKAWI: Ambitious Saudi, Al Khaja shined a spotlight on KSA’s regional talent, reflecting the passions and interest of the next generation of youth. A pioneer much like Al Khaja, Raha Moharrak, one of her six profiles, was the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest. “As a UAE national, all of my own stereotypes regarding Saudi were broken down,” says Al Khaja. “I found the girls and guys to be very relaxed, especially in Jeddah, a city which also has the most street art I’ve ever seen!” For Al Khaja, the discussion over gender doesn’t carry as much weight as one might expect. “Film doesn’t understand gender,” she notes. “It’s a very forgiving medium that carries longevity and flexibility. You can copy it and share your story across every country in the world.”
Screen Savers: Amna Al Nowais
December 7th 2016
In Egypt, there are 27.2 million women affected by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – Omnia Ibrahim is one of them. An intimate matter, which is still regarded as taboo by some, Amna Al Nowais’s documentary, Omnia (2015), lifts the veil on her story.
“I visited several psychotherapists in search of a story,” shares Al Nowais. “I found one that used creative therapy for her patients and in Omnia’s case, she said she would really like to express herself.” Bringing light to a topic often imagined as far-removed, the young Abu Dhabi-based receptionist reveals the psychological and physical trauma she endured after undergoing FGM as a child in Egypt. “I didn’t want to make a film about an Arab woman as a victim,” she says. “So, much about film relates to empathy, and that can lead to conflict resolution.”
documentaries are a channel of communication, opening discourse around the subjects they detail; film as a medium can act as a catalyst for change
For some, film is synonymous with escapism and switching off, a form of entertainment and, at times, an education. Like all good documentaries, Omnia educates, but films like Al Nowais’s also play a greater role within society. By bringing a human face to FGM, Al Nowais plays a part in questioning the structures that allow this heinous practice to take place.
“The way we experience stories is through the same neurological pathways that experience emotions, so films can lead to greater understanding, ” says Al Nowais. From both sides, documentaries are a channel of communication, opening discourse around the subjects they detail; film as a medium can act as a catalyst for change. Emotionally charged, Omnia offers an insight into an area often shrouded in secrecy and shame, but if her story resonates and motivates, then it is a film that creates awareness.
So much about film relates to empathy and that can lead to conflict resolution
A student of Hebrew and Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, the 28-year-old has always been drawn to concepts surrounding conflict resolution, but fell into film quite by accident. By the time Al Nowais returned to Abu Dhabi post- graduation, the film scene in her home city had transformed, flush with opportunities that had not previously been there. “They were really trying to grow the industry with a strong emphasis on training,” she recalls. Supported by local platforms like Image Nation and the Arab Film Studio, Al Nowais maintains that as a female, she felt nothing but supported in her entrance into film. Omnia’s story has a global reach; a matter of grave concern for the UN, there are 200 million women in 30 countries that have endured the same, harrowing experience as Omnia. Al Nowais’s film was selected for 21 film festivals, including Hot Docs, Toronto, Melbourne International Film Festival, and Dubai International Film Festival, as well as winning five prestigious awards including the ‘Best Muhr Emirati Short’ at the Dubai International Film Festival.
But, despite the international success of Omnia, Al Nowais’s next venture will, in fact, step away from reality in favour of fiction. “With fiction everybody is in on the lie, but with documentaries it’s difficult to tell how much you’re manipulating the situation,” she reflects. “When you make a cut, you’re imposing an idea.”
Alessandra Ferri: Leading Lady
December 2nd 2016
Her cascading waves of chocolate brown hair were let loose, falling just shy of her waist, while her heart-shaped face and saucer-sized eyes swarmed with sentiment. After the final curtain, the audience rose as one and cheered for 20 minutes.
Born in Milan, Ferri was first cast as Shakespeare’s leading lady in 1984 by Royal Ballet choreographer Kenneth MacMillan. That following year, the 21-year-old was summoned from London to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, where she made her company debut as Juliet. So when Ferri, by then a mother of two, retired in 2007, there was no doubt as to whether Juliet should be her soulful farewell role. “Juliet has always been with me,” she says fondly in an irresistible, rolling accent. “I never got tired of her. Every time I perform Juliet, I find a new emotion or new detail.”
From the moment Ferri rushes on stage, she is unstoppable. There’s a raw and overwhelming surge of emotion, which pulsates through each performance. Barely skimming the ground, her featherweight frame dramatically leaps through the air, landing almost silently, except for the muffled thud of her pointe slippers. There’s a sense of certainty to her dancing, and after all, why wouldn’t there be? Ferri’s played Juliet her entire working life and knows the character absolutely. “It’s a role that has always been a part of me. I honestly don’t know how to explain it,” she laughs incredulously. “Maybe I’ve danced her before. You know, in a previous life.”
The response to her return has been wildly positive, but critics have commented that her footwork, nine years on, lacks precision. Still in proud possession of implausibly arched insteps, this ‘weakness’ merely adds to her already magnetic impetuousness. “I rehearse a lot,” she beams, before adding, “but technically, I never worry.” A victory for freedom of expression onstage, Ferri’s spontaneous and carefree attitude is part of her entrancing charm. “I don’t want to think about anything when I go onstage. I just let it happen, whatever comes to me. It’s really special to be able to go onstage like that.”
But, while she retains a dramatic flair, Ferri is all too aware that only a handful of ballerinas are given the opportunity to dance into their fifties. She enjoys her job, admitting that she loves to travel with the dance company, but feels compelled to remark, “I do understand that I’m not in the general rule.” Dance as a career requires an extraordinarily high level of commitment, as well as extensive periods of training, which is emotionally and physically demanding. It’s unsurprising that the retirement age hovers around 40, despite ballerinas reportedly having a pain threshold three times higher than the average person.
It’s ironic that the crucial time at which dancers are maturing as artists is also the time at which their bodies begin to decline in strength. Despite this, Ferri argues that aging performers are able to continue dancing professionally, but only “if they are willing to put the work in”. This can be further complicated if a dancer wants marriage and a family. Mature performers are often forced to choose between their career and motherhood, which can be as complex and emotionally exhausting as the dancing itself. Ferri describes having children as “really amazing”.
But, balancing work and her responsibilities at home became troublesome. “At one point, it [her career] created a lot of stress that stemmed from me having to leave my children when I was going on tour, which I did a lot. I have an international career so I was travelling a lot and often had to leave them behind.” She had not intended to perform again after 2007, instead wanting to spend time with family. But Ferri, one of the most admired ballerinas of her generation, did not have much patience for retirement. “It [dancing] never leaves you,” she smiles. “Even when you give it up professionally, that passion is always there.”
And, it’s essential if you’re to maintain the exercise regime of a professional ballerina. MOJEH spoke with Ferri moments before her morning dance rehearsal in Manhattan, during which time she undoubtedly warms up at the ballet barres. Tendu and demi-pliés are practiced daily, as well as pirouettes and swan-like grand jetés. A woman’s physical capability, or lack thereof, underpins tacit gendered and ageist assumptions in this industry. Like any championship-level sport, ballet favours the young. “All of us have injuries; wear and tear,” says Ferri. “This is natural, not just among dancers, but for anybody who uses their body intensely.”
And yet, she refuses to accept that a ballerina’s age should force her to change careers. “It’s no secret that as you get older, it’s a little harder to do certain things. But, you just need to train more….” She tails off, almost wistfully, before robustly adding, “Actually, not more, just differently.
“You have to take the time to understand your body. You must accept what is getting weaker and what you feel needs more work.”
Dancers shouldn’t feel disappointed at being compared to their younger self, insists Ferri, who proved herself correct in a television advert for No7 Lift and Luminate earlier this year. The commercial makes no effort to conceal her age; instead, she is seen dancing with a hologram of her younger self, proving that age really is just a number. Ferri’s recent performance as Juliet also proves that a mature female dancer can have charisma. Unfortunately, financial restraints within the industry often prevent the casting of these women. “When you have a big company, you need to have young dancers who are able to do everything. You don’t have a big budget. It would be amazing if you had, so that you could keep talented, older dancers in the company.”
Artistic directors and choreographers also have a duty to nurture the younger generation of performers, argues Ferri. “You need to train these dancers, so that they are able to fulfill all of the roles and succeed in the future.” Perhaps Ferri is right. Ask any young ballerina what role she’d most like to play and the answer is almost always the same: Juliet. A role Ferri has played for decades, since she herself was 19 years old. There is something tragically relatable about the character, not to mention the powerful cinematic score by Prokofiev.
The exquisite brunette’s closing words were more encompassing. “It’s important to not lose contact with the original reason why you wanted to dance,” she concludes. People with an overriding desire to be widely known to strangers are different from those who primarily covet happiness. “That’s the great pleasure and great fulfillment in dance. It’s not about achieving success. A lot of dancers, and a lot of people in different fields, want to achieve fame. It’s not fame you should be seeking, that’s a consequence.”