MARIANELA NUŇEZ "IN CONVERSATION" WITH DAME MONICA MASON
18th March 2019 at The Civil Service Club
Dame Monica opened the conversation with Marianela by saying it was an “absolute thrill” to have her as a guest of the London Ballet Circle.
She asked Marianela to tell her story from the beginning “What makes a little girl living in Buenos Aires start to want to dance?”
Marianela explained she started to dance at 3 years old. She came from a big Latino family and was the youngest child and only girl in a family of four. Her mother had been desperate to have a girl after three boys and dressed her in pink. Marianela said she also had very little hair as a baby, but her mother used to tie up the few strands in a big bow so there was no mistaking she was a girl!
She started at a local kindergarten when she was 3 years old which had a little ballet school attached. It was a small studio held in the teacher’s garage and she had to remove her car in order to give lessons! For most of the children ballet was a hobby but Marianela took it seriously from the beginning. She used to get cross if the other children played during classes, for her it was not a game.
Dame Monica asked if Marianela had ever seen ballet before?
Marianela said no she had not, she knew nothing. Looking back though, she believes that some people are born with a calling. She cannot explain it, but by 5 years old she knew she just wanted to do ballet. She was quite a serious child.
At 5, she changed school and started to do ballet every day. Her teacher recognised how focused she was and that she had a talent, and told her mother she felt she could train as a dancer.
Dame Monica – What was your training like?
Marianela said it was Russian based with a mix of everything on top. It was quite hard in many ways but looking back it was good as it prepared her for different styles. She explained that every day she went to Theatre Colon for ballet classes from 8 am to 12 noon. This was a one and half hour drive from her parents’ home. She had to wake up at 6 am every day and would sleep in the car on the way to Buenos Aires. Her mother would pick her up at 12 and they would drive home and from 1pm to 5 pm she would do her academic work. She would then return to the city and take private lessons from 7pm to 10pm. After that they would return home and have a family meal and she would go to bed around 12midnight/12.30. She was at the Colon school from aged 8 to 15 years.
The car was like a house – full of lunch boxes as her grandmother prepared homemade food for her for every meal except the family dinner time when they all ate together in the evening. Her Dad used to go “O my God what has happened here?” when he looked in the car as he was quite tidy!
Dame Monica commented that it was amazing she survived this regime?
Marianela said she had a strong body and attributed a lot to the training. They taught her properly. She was always really strong. She was given good food and saw lots of sunshine. She did not have access to a beach, but her parents had another house out of the city where she enjoyed swimming and cycling. Plus she had 3 brothers so she had to be strong, although she knows she was spoilt.
Dame Monica commented that she first saw Marianela when the Royal Ballet was on tour in Los Angeles. They had a number of people auditioning – it was quite interesting, some were super confident and determined to get into the Royal Ballet. But there were a lot of things to consider like the ages of the dancers, what passports they held.
She told the audience she had just bumped into Darcey (Dame Darcey Bussell) that evening. This had reminded her that Marianela had been whizzing round at the classes, not getting in the way and she had a super technique, but did not speak a word of English. She remembers that Darcey was watching Marianela and whispered to Dame Monica “Don’t take her, she’s too good”. That had been a wonderful moment – Darcey had a twinkle in her eye when she said it! Dame Monica spoke to Marianela’s mother as she wanted to invite her to come to England to the Royal Ballet School.
Marianela said how amazing it was just to get an audition. In Argentina it was custom at that time for girls to be given a big party and to wear a big dress when they became 15. Her parents had said they would either pay for the party or pay for her to audition for the Royal Ballet – so there was no question in her mind what she wanted to do! Her mother came with her, and she remembers she took classes for a week and on the last day she had to do a solo from Don Quixote and she had to do it with no music. Anthony Dowell was dressed as Carabosse and was watching from the wings and she had Dame Monica right in front of her.
Dame Monica asked if Marianela knew who they all were?
Marianela said she did, and also she thinks that at that age she had the confidence to carry it all off.
Dame Monica commented that she did remember Marianela having to dance without the music. That was not the only time that someone has auditioned before her without music, people turn up and tape won’t work or other things go wrong. Dame Monica has even sung sometimes! She recalled that after this audition Marianela came to the Royal ballet school. She was only 15 so could not dance in the company. Then at 16 she joined the Company and she also learned English!
Marianela recalled that the hardest thing was to leave her family behind. She did not get to finish school in Argentina as she was taken into the company at 14. She went off touring and so when she came to England she suddenly found herself back in school. Now when she looks back she feels this was the perfect thing to do and thinks “Wow”
Marianela toured with Ballet Colon in South America whilst in Argentina, but also went to Japan. She arrived in Japan at the age of 14 but feels that she was quite mature for her age and was able to handle it. She had to dance Diane and Actaeon and realised her performance was following Sylvie Guillem which was quite challenging. This was the last thing she did professionally for Colon as in September 1997 she came to London.
Dame Monica recalled that Marianela’s mother stayed with her at this time?
Marianela said she stayed for two months but had to go home. She was very homesick and cried and missed all her friends. When she was in the Royal ballet School she was able to go home every half term but that stopped when she joined the Company. She still tells her three brothers how grateful she was for her Mum being with her so much and also her Father. At the time she could not see how it might affect them all but now she can see. She was following her dream, but now realises it was hard on them all.
Marianela’s father came over to the UK in 2000. She was a soloist by then. Christine McDermott went off injured and she took on a role which she had to learn in one and half days.
Her parents have seen her dance a lot in Argentina and they came over for the 20th anniversary. Her father comes over about every four years.
Dame Monica asked about the 20 years she has spent with RB – what would she pick out. The 20-year celebration had been wonderful and Kevin had been very generous to put it on. She is well aware that Marianela has worked with so many wonderful choreographers and dance partners all over the world.
Marianela said it hard to pick any one thing. Joining the Royal Ballet was dream for her and once she joined she found it even more special. The Royal Ballet looked after her so well, not only artistically but in all other aspects of life. She has danced every role she wanted and travelled everywhere. She feels so grateful and so fulfilled. When thinking about her journey she feels it is the people she worked with that have been so wonderful. It does not seem like 20 years at all to her.
Dame Monica commented about the Royal Ballet dancing in Belfast during the “Troubles” and if she was doing Manon at the time?
Marianela said she was dancing a beggar role and later on was one five girls as well.
Dame Monica recalled people in the Company felt quite nervous to be in Belfast and that Sylvie Guillem was particularly nervous and worried. One day Dame Monica asked her how she was and she remembers that Sylvie replied that she was fine, but wanted to know what language the people were speaking! Dame Monica also recalled that it was in Belfast that the Ballet Boyz decided to “jump ship”. The Royal Ballet also performed at Sadlers Wells, the Coliseum, and Barbican.
Marianela explained she was at Barons Court as student and did one Season with the Company from there but after that the Company moved to the Opera House. She feels it is important to treasure that history.
Dame Monica recalled that it was a wonderful feeling to have the school and the company under the same roof. When she was dancing she was amazed that she would see Margot Fonteyn going down to the canteen for a cup of tea.
Marianela said it was extraordinary for her too – to see dancers like Margot and think “Wow I am here”.
Dame Monica commented that it was a wonderful opportunity for Marianela to go away to dance. At the time Margot was in trouble (because of Rudolf Nureyev) and Nadia Nerina was dancing in Russia. Marianela was part of a wonderful tribute to Annette Page. She also had the opportunity to be in Ronald Hynd’s “The Merry Widow”
Marianela said that Ronald actually sent her a letter asking to her dance in it. She thought that was fabulous and it was a wonderful opportunity. She was able to work with him for 4 weeks in London, and for 4 weeks at the Colon. She recalled he was a “gentleman” but theatrical and friendly.
Dame Monica said it was a real link with the past.
Dame Monica said she saw it (The Merry Widow) when she was in London . It was first done by Australian Ballet, they did it at the Palladium. The Houston ballet did it at La Scala.
Dame Monica asked about the importance of chemistry between Marianela and her dance partners?
Marianela said with partners it was important to have feeling. It is 50/50 when you dance with someone. The chemistry of people who rehearse you is also important. When you tour abroad it can be challenging, new rooms and new situations.
Marianela said that at the Opera House she is spoilt. She starts her day with Pilates. But she now sees that moving round when she was younger was a good lesson for her – she knew she could deal with things, that was how she grew up. Meeting people and seeing how things were done differently, she learnt a lot about herself as well.
In the Company she was lucky to dance with the same partners. Carlos Acosta asked to dance with her in Diane and Actaeon when she was 17. Leanne Benjamin was injured so she was on and got a chance. Marianela said Carlos is a wonderful partner, and they danced together in La Fille Mal Gardee, and Coppelia. She feels they understand each other – "after all he is a Latino boy"!
Then Marianela recalled she danced with Thiago (soares) – they danced in Swan Lake, Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet. Thiago was very dramatic and they danced together for all those years.
Marianela said she is now very lucky to have Vadim (Muntagirov) – they connected easily and he is “a dream”.
Marianela explained that all the pieces that had been created on her had been danced with Federico (Bonelli).
Dame Monica commented that she thought all those men might say that Marianela was a dream – it takes two to tango.
Marianela said it helped when they travelled together. She sometimes got nervous about the arrangements and things going wrong, but Vadim is so funny and so calm. The first time she danced with him she felt this energy. He gave her his hand and she took it and knew it would be fine. “You just know”.
Dame Monica commented that he always looked like “Mr Cool” to her.
Marianela said she has never seen him panic. He is amazing, he has no ego whatsoever. He can do these incredible things and has a beautiful body which is completely supple. He will come off stage like has not done anything.
Dame Monica commented that Marianela is taller and thus had opportunity to dance with some of the best men?
Marianela agreed listing Carlos, Thiago, Roberto, Vadim and Federico and also mentioned Jason Riley (from Stuttgart Ballet)
Dame Monica asked how different it was to dance the Balanchine ballets?
Marianela said that it all went back to the beginning and when she became a professional dancer. She loves to dance and that is what helps – she also feels it comes quite naturally to her. The steps are the same steps we do in class every day, it is the way he puts it together, and it is incredible and has a fresh feel. She has a great respect for Balanchine.
When Jewels was being planned she thought she was going to dance Rubies but really she had always wanted to do Diamonds. She said she connected with that ballet and worked and worked on it for 4 weeks. It has wonderful detail, she would love to get up and do it now!
Dame Monica commented that Marianela had a rock solid foundation?
Marianela said that now you could look at various roles and work out things from social media now, but Dame Monica prepared her for the role of Queen of the Wilis when she was 22 or 23 years old. She said that Dame Monica prepared her so well that she can still remember every correction, it has stayed with her. She feels it is so important that this knowledge is passed on, even if she has a terrible day she can think back and remember all about the coaching and teaching.
Dame Monica asked her if she had done any teaching? Did she want to pass on what she had learnt?
Marianela said she had not done much. She goes to see a lot of performances and rehearsals. You see then that a lot of things you worry so much about in your performance are not very relevant. She said she sees lots of things but does not feel brave enough to teach. However, she loves the art form so much that she would want to stay connected to it and pass things on.
Dame Monica said she was aware that Marianela had an exceptional memory for detail . She believed that when the time was right Marianela would do it (ie. teach) Some people want to start teaching younger, others decide to start new careers. She reminded the audience about Leanne Benjamin (LBC’s guest last month) who had decided to set up a career as an interior designer but that all changed when she took some rehearsals. Leanne is passionate about ballet and has a huge work ethic (she never missed a class). Leanne has found it absolutely thrilling. Dame Monica said she believed there will be a time/opportunity when Marianela will feel able to contribute in a similar way.
Marianela said the most thrilling thing during her career has to be work with everyone and to still be dancing. She knows that Carlos loves working with everyone and coaching, and she remembers he would work all day rehearsing the company for Don Quixote and then dance in the evening. Now he is not dancing anymore he has even more to give. He knows exactly what you have to do.
Dame Monica commented that Vadim is also doing some teaching. She then asked the audience if they had any questions.
During questions it transpired that Marianela had been given her National Dance Award (Critics Circle) by Price Charles at the Royal Opera House. This had been a complete surprise to her and she was overwhelmed and thrilled when it happened. She had been unwell so could not attend the awards ceremony and Kevin O’Hare had arranged this for her.
Written by Jo Blake
[Photo credit LBC]