Photo credit:  Alice Pennefather

Mayara Magri ‘in conversation’ with Deborah Weiss
13th June 2022

Mayara Magri is a Principal with the Royal Ballet. Brazilian by birth, she joined the company in 2012 and was promoted to Principal last year. Her background and career were explored ‘in conversation’ with dance writer Deborah Weiss.

The original date for her interview had to be postponed because she had to take part in an extra rehearsal. The Chair of the London Ballet Circle, Susan Dalgetty Ezra, welcomed Mayara and thanked her for agreeing a new date at very short notice.

Deborah launched the conversation by asking Mayara how it all began. Mayara started dancing when she was eight, in a local dance school. She has two sisters, and they always did activities together. Her parents believed ballet training to be expensive and thus out of their league; however, the school offered scholarships to youngsters who appeared to show promise. The school was one of the best in Rio and provided a broad curriculum – ballet, contemporary, jazz, together with subjects such as the history of dance. While there Mayara was able to work with a teacher who had been in Stuttgart. 

Mayara enjoyed the discipline of class and the repetition necessary to perfect moves. She liked the nitty-gritty of rehearsal and started performing very early on in her career, with a great deal of dancing in venues such as malls. Mayara soon lost any fear of performing and just wanted to be on stage. She had danced en pointe since the age of eleven and performed the grand pas de deux from Le Corsaire when she was only twelve.

Asked why she had thought of leaving her homeland, Mayara responded that there were maybe just four productions a year in Rio and she wanted more scope. She had looked at the work of various companies such as the Mariinsky. However, she was drawn to the Royal Ballet primarily through a recording of La Bayadere which she played over and over.

Following successes in Brazil, her teachers decided she should enter prestigious overseas competitions, such as the YAGP and the Prix de Lausanne, which might possibly lead to opportunities not available in her home country. Mayara went to the Prix in 2011 and loved its ‘festival’ atmosphere. She felt very supported there and loved being watched by a whole new range of eyes. Mayara danced a Coppélia solo and was very surprised to win both the Gold Medal and the Audience Prize. She had already decided she wanted to join the Royal Ballet but was too young and so went on to study for a year at the Royal Ballet School.

Although she had already won the Prix she decided to retain her entry to the subsequent YAGP. There were many more participants than for the Prix which made the competition understandably harder to manage. It was rather less easy to ensure individual dancers felt cared for, observed enough, and coached thoroughly. Mayara had just a single class before her performance, dancing the Black Swan solo. A clip of this was then shown. ‘Oh my God’ was her response to seeing herself again at the age of sixteen. Deborah, however, pointed out the immense maturity of the performance from someone that age.

The question of language and communication was then raised. When she came to London Mayara had little English. For a while she simply concentrated on dance; after all, ballet positions are expressed in French. It took three or four months before she realised that she must ‘get over herself’ and learn English as well as ballet. Language was proving a barrier and, as she says, ‘you need friends’.

In London she soon realised she had to take a couple of steps back and concentrate on technique. Detail was all important within the company, and she felt this reassessment of her attitude to dance had been good for her. Although Monica (Dame Monica Mason) had offered her the contract with the Royal Ballet, she believed that Kevin (O’Hare) had picked her out and already had a long-term plan for her career. She had been given many chances over the years to perform more prominent roles, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Deborah then asked what it had been like to make the transition from 1st Soloist to Principal. How different were the expectations made of you? Mayara explained that she always expects a great deal of herself. The pressures were high and care had to be taken to ensure this did not detract from your performance. It was most important not to lose sight of who you were, as a person; spontaneity should not disappear.

When approaching the more classical roles she will have already seen several interpretations. While adhering to the choreography the boundaries must be pushed and the role made your own. For instance, she felt that with Odette/Odile she may have fallen into the trap of watching too many performances, particularly from Russian dancers whose style was different from her own. She had watched Juliets for ten years, and had covered for some, but when asked to make her debut she had discussed it at length with Lesley Collier, her coach and a great MacMillan interpreter. She knew that she had to create her own image and properly own the role.

‘And what about when a role is created on you?’ asked Deborah. Mayara referred to the role of Rosaura, which she has created in Christopher Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolate. She had first read the book (by Mexican novelist, Laura Esquivel) when she was thirteen but reading it again now could see so much more in the story. It was a complex tale – and a complex role to dance. Christopher wanted his own perception of the character, sad rather than evil. It was quite strange there was no video to watch; it was just you, the choreographer, and the character! Mayara found the process most rewarding.

Mayara was asked how she developed rapport with partners and explained that because the core of ballet was international it was usually relatively easy to work with others, even those she did not know. She had worked with many partners and believed the multiplicity of experience simply made her stronger. Different partners bring different energies to their roles. Mayara herself tends to push harder during a performance than she might do in rehearsal to offer the audience the best possible show.

Dancers must be able to adapt to new partners. For instance, she had recently danced the Black Swan grand pas de deux at a YAGP reunion with an Italian she had never previously met. Two days rehearsal had been sufficient for them to adjust to each other.

The balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet (available on YouTube here) which she performed with Matthew (Ball) had been filmed on Broadgate Circle for a charity gala in Brazil. They had been cycling around London looking for a suitable venue and this seemed very appropriate, with its balcony and long flight of stairs. Matthew was developing more interest in photography; his brother had filmed it and editing the final version had been enjoyable. It had been filmed in twilight to add realism. Deborah MacMillan had given permission for a version of the choreography to be used and Mayara reported that she was delighted with the result. ‘How difficult was pointe work on concrete?’ Mayara was asked. She replied that she had had considerable practise in malls back in Brazil!

A clip of the footage was then shown, and she said how special it had been to dance the part with Matthew. In fact, living with someone who also danced was great and it had been particularly so throughout the long period of lockdown. Matthew was now choreographing a pas de deux for them both to Sibelius’ music which they hoped to present at galas, etc.

For years she had a dream of working with Mats Ek; Mayara was very much in love with his choreography. She had managed to spend some time with him last year which she wishes could have been longer. He has a vision of what he wants to achieve, which he explains so clearly that you feel impelled to follow it completely. She would also like to work with Crystal Pite, whose choreography was quite different from most classical ballet. Mayara could see, however, that it might be difficult to accommodate this in the company’s very full schedule.

‘Did she have a favourite role?' Mayara replied that she had enjoyed a lot of different roles, involving much technical work. However, she now found that the more dramatic roles were especially fulfilling.  She cited Juliet as being ‘top notch’, Tatiana in Onegin, and Manon. For such roles you need a good coach to drive you in the right direction and then find your own interpretation. It would be good to be able to repeat roles a number of times to perfect them; however, as a Principal you don’t repeat roles very often.

Dancing the pas de deux from Le Corsaire with Gabriele Frola (a Lead Principal with English National Ballet) at the recent Ukraine gala had been another exciting experience. In a sense there was less pressure for this performance and they could both simply enjoy it. Dancing a lengthy sequence such as this demands a great deal of stamina, however, that is precisely what daily class trains you for. Asked about the numerous fouetté turns, she replied that you don’t necessarily count the number, you simply do what the music requires. If it works you feel good!

A clip was shown of the Corsaire sequence from the gala. Deborah remarked that it was fantastic and magical. Mayara responded that she could immediately see that it could have been better, identifying points that she would address in a future class.

Audience questions were then taken. Asked the best way for young dancers to pursue sponsorship Mayara replied that it was very dependent on the school involved. Money could be very difficult. She had been fortunate, through her school, in obtaining funding from a large company which had paid for costumes, shoes, travel etc.

Choreographers differed considerably. One needs confidence to stand in front of a group of dancers and tell them how to move their bodies. Some choreographers are not as clear as others in describing what they want. Some are more open-minded and encourage the dancers themselves to co-operate and be creative; that’s very special.

When describing her plans for the summer ‘break’, Mayara reeled off a list of places to be visited – Dortmund, Hamburg, Greece, Brazil (for her sister’s wedding)….  She said that dancers could not afford to take much more than a week or so off because being away from the routine of class then necessitates considerable effort to regain form.

Mayara explained that she was taking a teacher training course at the School, which involved quite a bit of academic study. She had done teaching sessions and seminars at the School and with other ballet companies. It had given her insights into, for instance, the importance of active communication with the pianist during class. She was enjoying the new experience and hoped to be able to include some teaching in her schedule.

She was then asked whether the character of the role affected her and she agreed that could happen. Rosaura (Like Water for Chocolate), for instance, had initially so got to her that she felt quite disaffected at the end of the show and just wanted to go home. But performing the role a few times brought everything into perspective again. Juliet was a very different proposition. It was refreshing to be a young girl again. Mayara believed that the ability to discuss all of these issues with Matthew at home was extremely valuable.

And roles that you don’t enjoy at all? You might be resistant in the beginning but you just have to find something of value in the role. It’s your job.

Susan Dalgetty-Ezra thanked Mayara profusely for agreeing to take part in this conversation – and at very short notice. Susan said that we have all cheered Mayara through her various roles and concluded that ‘You do not act Juliet – you are Juliet!’

Written by Trevor Rothwell. Edited/approved by Mayara Magri and Deborah Weiss.

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