One of the first words which come to mind while watching Marianela Nuñez dance is "magnificent"; that is, of course, unless she's smiling while dancing, in which case certain other words may well come to mind! Her performance in Glen Tetley's Voluntaries in June of this year was one of the most beautiful works of dance I've seen this year, while she was no less impressive in Kenneth MacMillan's Requiem in the recent Royal Ballet triple bill; incidentally, both were tributes to the same person, choreographer John Cranko. By contrast, I have yet to see Thiago Soares perform - I think.
Tonight's In Conversation with Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares had sold out before even Friends' Booking opened this spring; fortunately, a small number of tickets were released in the final two days.
Chaired by the Royal Ballet's Director-To-Be Kevin O'Hare, the first topic to be discussed was of course their recent wedding; they have been romantically involved since Thiago joined the Royal Ballet in 2002. Although Thiago proposed after a Sleeping Beauty in 2006, it has taken them until this summer to step back from the limelight and find the time to celebrate their wedding with their family and friends. They married in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 23 July, then travelled to Rio de Janeiro the following week to celebrate with Thiago's family. This has also been the first time in years that they have both been able to take the full five weeks' summer holiday, which meant that they could relax at length before returning to the Royal Ballet for the current season.
The first ballet to be discussed was Diamonds, from Balanchine's Jewels; Kevin O'Hare joked that it was Monica Mason's wedding present to them. Both Marianela and Thiago ("Thianela", as they're known on Twitter) enthused about how much they loved Diamonds, describing it as very natural to perform; the structure makes it very effortless and "delicious" to dance. Thiago's comment was "the guy was just a genius", while Marianela said that Diamonds "lets you feel like a ballerina".
We then explored their early careers, starting with Marianela. As the only daughter with two elder brothers, her mother was so delighted with her arrival that she was dressed head-to-toe in pink, and bundled off to general dance classes at age 3. At age 6, she decided that she wanted to focus exclusively on ballet - admitting that even as a child she was bossy, at which the audience erupted in laughter. She then talked about her life in the Teatro Colón Ballet School, which she entered at age 8: her life now consisted of ballet classes from 8am to 12pm then 7 to 10pm, not getting to bed until 1am daily; in between, she commuted to and from home, 45 minutes away, and continued with her schoolwork. At 14, she became the youngest dancer in the Teatro Colón, performing both corps and larger roles.
By the age of 12, she knew that she wanted to leave Argentina, as this would be necessary to further her career; at 15, she was urged to come to the UK, as this would give her the chance to grow as an artist. By way of auditioning, she took class with the Royal Ballet for a week, culminating in a solo in the final class, which was watched by Anthony Dowell dressed as Carabosse. Due to her age, however, she wouldn't be able to obtain a work permit, so she entered the Royal Ballet School for a year prior to joining the company; this year gave her the opportunity to adapt to her new country, learn the language, and focus on her dance training.
"By comparison", Kevin O'Hare said, "Thiago was on the beach". Thiago's brother was in a hip-hop dance group while he was growing up; wanting to be like his brother, he joined the group at age 12. But he also wanted to join the circus, so he enrolled in the local circus school. He discovered that he was very interested in everything to do with theatre, and especially acrobatics, but he felt that his heart wasn't in it, and he missed his hip-hop group.
At 14, his hip-hop choreographer suggested Thiago enrol in dance training, saying that he could see Thiago as a professional dancer. By that point, he had only ever seen ballet on TV, and was about to undertake jazz, contemporary dance and ballet classes for the first time. His teacher persuaded him to take daily ballet classes, and he soon started to love it, discovering that he was good at it. And of course, he loved the attention! He joined the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre Ballet but after winning a gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition, he joined the Kirov Ballet. Although this was a great opportunity for him, working with good teachers, and learning the choreography of leading roles - as he was frequently on standby for rehearsals when the male principal dancer was absent - his peers back in Brazil urged him to look elsewhere as this wasn't really viable for a long-term career. He joined the Royal Ballet a few months later.
One of Thiago's regular partners is Roberta Marquez, who he knew from his early days; there is some story about them performing Don Quixote together in a supermarket's garage!
Kevin O'Hare noticed that no Ashton ballets had been selected for this evening's discussion; Marianela talked about how much she loved Ashton's work, especially the musicality of his work and how he uses the upper body. She admitted that she'd been worried that she would be pigeonholed doing technical ballets only, and she has loved exploring becoming different characters in each ballet.
The final question of the evening wasn't a question as such, but more a tribute to Marianela's smile. Oh, that smile...........