Jennifer Ricci has been with Festival Ballet Providence for nearly 25 years. But none have been more challenging than this past year. It began with the devastating loss of her dancing soul mate and sister Jaclyn; she was one of FBP’s star dancers until her retirement in 2003. Then, following her sister’s passing, Ms. Ricci spent the remainder of the year recovering from surgery and a potentially career-ending injury.
Yet, from Feb 6 through 14, Ms. Ricci will be one of the featured performers in FBP’s latest installment of Up Close On Hope. Breaking from its usual mixed repertoire consisting of as many as 12 diverse pieces, this rare twin bill presents Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric’s Soledad and frequent UCOH choreographer Gianni DiMarco’s Scheherazade, with Ms. Ricci dancing the lead role of Zobeide.
In a recent interview, Ms. Ricci looked back over the past year and some of the obstacles she had to overcome before once again taking center stage.
She recalls performing with her sister. “It was the most amazing time for us. Dancing together on stage was absolutely magical. We did everything together.”
“It is still very emotional,” she continues. “Especially the last few weeks in difficult times like this,” she says while nodding towards her aching knee and foot. “I need her more than ever.” After her retirement, Jaclyn remained Jennifer’s number one supporter and confidant. She even continued taking company classes with the two sisters working side by side at the barre (just like old times). “There are days I just want to talk to her and pour out my frustrations, but I can’t. She’s not here.”
The conversation then turns toward the injury that has plagued her most of the year, requiring her to cut back on her dancing. “I finally decided to have surgery for my neuroma [a swelling of nerve tissue in her left foot] and had three nerves and one tendon removed.” She then notes that because she has been favoring her left foot, her right knee has started bothering her. “It’s tough,” she concludes, “balancing the injuries and the pain. But there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Three days after the conclusion of UCOH, Ms. Ricci will undergo another surgery to remove all the nerves in her left foot. “I’m really nervous about this surgery,” she confides. “One doctor told me that if I had this surgery I would never dance again. But now I am seeing a surgeon who has performed the same operation on a few dancers from Boston Ballet and they are fine.”
All this begs the obvious question, why does she continue? “I love it. It is my passion. I know I have my limits, so I pick roles like Zobeide where there is a lot of acting and drama.” She then recounts her daily morning routine. “I have a series of stretches that I do even before coming to the studio. I am usually stretching with one leg up on the counter while eating my breakfast!”
Eventually we begin talking about Scheherazade and Ms. Ricci becomes notably animated. “It is hot, very intense and very sensual. I just hope my father is OK while watching it,” she wonders aloud. “He has seen it before, but that was on the big stage. Here in the studio (UCOH is performed in the company’s intimate Black Box Theatre), you can see things that you can’t see on stage.”
“But it is my favorite ballet. I dream about roles like this and the drama. I love the storyline, the passion and fighting for love or someone else’s love. Zobeide gives up her life for love.” And, she says while smiling slyly, “It’s a great death scene.”
In looking back over the past year, Ms. Ricci appears satisfied with her progress and what she accomplished. She was able to once again reprise her role of Arabian, always an audience favorite, in The Nutcracker. “That is my baby,” she declares, “I really just want to be there for the audience.”
She also says that she has no plans on retiring anytime soon. She remains hopeful that after her foot surgery, she will be able to continue performing at a high level. She does note, however, with some obvious frustration, that the recovery will take several months. “But as long as I am able to walk and dance, they may have to plan something for my 30th anniversary,” she proudly announces.
UCOH, featuring Jennifer Ricci, opens Feb 6 in FBP’s Black Box Theatre located on Hope Street in Providence’s historic East Side. For more information or to purchase tickets visit: festivalballet.com.