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Mayara Magri & Nicol Edmonds

Artists, The Royal Ballet

interviewed by David Bain

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church,
London, 4 September 2013.

AFTER WELCOMING MAYARA and Nicol, David Bain asked them how they started dancing. ‘Little Mayara’ started ballet when she was eight years old. She went to a ballet school as part of a social project in Rio de Janeiro with her sisters. She auditioned, and things started from there. She has one older sister, and one younger sister, and they all started together. She also started ballet because it was something her friends did. Their parents never danced themselves. Mayara decided she wanted to pursue ballet, although it happened slowly. Whilst on the dance project, Mayara studied ballet and contemporary dance as well as other styles. She also had good directors and teachers. Mayara received Russian ballet training in Brazil. The training at school was ‘always very hard.’ It was a round of class, performing and travelling round Brazil. Mayara was dancing in pointe shoes at ten years old. She was pushed a lot, but loves performing, and ‘I still love it.’ She had a full timetable, doing her studies form 6am to 1pm, followed by ballet from 2 to 8pm with all the rehearsals and everything. This was aged eight. Her studies included the history of dance.

 Nicol ‘hated ballet with a passion’ initially, but grew to love it when he was 14 or 15 as his body grew.

Nicol went to ordinary school until he was 16. He did tap and modern dance aged seven, as his mother wondered if he had ‘maybe too much energy.’ He started doing ballet when he was eleven, more to build his strength. He started dancing lessons in a church hall, which he did for four years. He initially wanted to go into musical theatre. Nicol ‘hated ballet with a passion’ initially, but grew to love it when he was 14 or 15 as his body grew. He also realised it held more potential for him. Until Nicol was 16, he went to one ballet class a week, as well as doing some tap and modern dance. He then auditioned for ENB School, Central, The Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst. He was initially upset when the other schools said ‘no,’ but Elmhurst was the school that accepted him, so he went there for three years. Mary Goodhew was the director when he started. It was Nicol’s first time in a city, and being in ‘this crazy ballet world,’ and it was a big shock. There was one other student from a state school, along with former students from White Lodge, Scottish Ballet School and Tring at Elmhurst. Nicol found it unsettling and unnerving at first. He felt he was very behind during the first term, but ‘you just get on with it,’ and do anything to get over those hurdles. Elmhurst gave Nicol an opportunity and believed in him where the other schools didn’t. He hadn’t found regular school very enjoyable, and found it ‘liberating’ to be at a ballet school as he could express himself. He still did his A levels. Desmond Kelly took over at Elmhurst during Nicol’s second year. The Royal Ballet School had its own style. Elmhurst didn’t have that so much at first, but Desmond gave it more of an identity. Melissa Hamilton was two years ahead of him.

Aged 14, Mayara’s roles included the cupid solo from Don Quixote, the Bluebird Pas de deux, Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, and a pas de deux from Swan Lake. ‘It was crazy.’ When she was 15, Mayara danced Giselle. Was it any good? ‘Yeah, I think so.’ Mayara’s older sister is now an engineer, and her younger sister is in the graduate year at Stuttgart Ballet School. Mayara did various competitions. She did her first one in Cuba when she was 14. It involved three weeks of courses and classes, and was ‘an amazing experience.’ She saw the passion of the dancers, who ‘really wanted to do it. They do it for life.’ It was ‘much more than I knew in Brazil,’ and it gave her more of an international vision. Mayara also did the Youth America Grand Prix and the Prix de Lausanne when she was 16 in 2011. She went straight after winning a competition in Brazil. It was her first time in Europe, and she had to get used to the way things worked. She wanted to listen, and ‘learn what they teach you.’

Mayara won the gold medal and the audience award. Her teachers and directors were so proud of her.

Teachers included Monique Loudières and Patrick Dupont. Mayara performed a solo from Coppélia as well as a contemporary piece by Cathy Marston. Mayara won the gold medal and the audience award. Her teachers and directors were so proud of her. There was also so much to think about, such as the rake of the stage. She won a scholarship. She was given the choice of where to go, so decided upon the Royal Ballet School, which is where she had wanted to go since she was 15. Gailene Stock was extremely interested in Mayara. She remembers watching the DVD of Darcey Bussell in La Bayadère several times. Mayara found London to be a big change. She had more time to think. It was also very different to the Russian training she was used to, but spent the year getting to know her body better. Her teachers included Nicola Tranah and Gary Norman. ‘They taught me a lot.’ With Russian training, you are working towards the end result for the stage. Mayara found English training very placed, with a focus on alignment and shape. It felt like she was taking a step back and learning again, without losing what she already had.

Nicol’s teachers included Lee Robinson and Errol Pickford. Lee put an emphasis on basic technique and placing, whereas Errol really pushed the students, and gave virtuosity lessons. Dancing with the Royal Ballet has always been a dream for Nicol, and Errol gave him that extra push and inspiration not to give up. Errol ‘doesn’t say a lot, but is very good.’ As a student, Nicol toured with Birmingham Royal Ballet to eight locations, doing 36 shows of Sleeping Beauty. He had to stand there wearing these big heels and a huge, duvet style dress. For his graduation, Nicol danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Coppélia, which he also got to dance in Japan. When it came to auditioning, ‘that’s fun.’ You fill in a form, and get on a plane. Nicol went to Prague, Munich, Helsinki and Sweden. Prague, Munich and Helsinki offered him contracts. Nicol decided upon Helsinki, as there was an excellent repertory, lots of money, and Kenneth Greve is also a good director. He started as an apprentice, but still had the opportunity to get on stage. Nicol started with Swan Lake, but was soon performing in Manon, and Cranko’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Initially, Nicol was covering Benvolio, but then ‘I did nine shows,’ as other dancers were injured, or switching roles. It took him a good while to be himself again, as he got so caught up in the role. It’s been a real highlight of his stage career so far. The company in Finland had 85 dancers, and the ‘amazing’ Opera House is 20 years old. Helsinki is a ‘very beautiful city.’ The company is well funded, so they are able to put on the big productions. Nicol felt he had the perfect start in Helsinki, as the company provided him with the opportunity to actually dance. ‘Something ‘clicked,’ and ballet felt like home.

For Mayara’s graduation, she performed in Paquita and a Jiri Kylián ballet, which was ‘an amazing opportunity.’ She also performed in Greece during her time in the school, with some ‘very lovely’ audiences. She also knew some people out there from her time in the Prix de Lausanne. They worked on the Kylián piece for four months, which was an ‘unbelievable’ experience. Miss Van Boven coached them. She was an amazing teacher. It was a beautiful piece to dance. Kylián saw a DVD of the performance, as was said to be very pleased with the result.

Nicol danced two shows as The Nutcracker in Wayne Eagling’s production of the ballet. Nicol then thought it was time to come back to London. Monica Mason had been interested in him previously, but told him to come back after a few years, once he had a bit more training. He did four classes with the company whilst on his Easter break. ‘It was the most nervous I’ve ever been.’ Monica and Kevin O’Hare came to watch. Kevin asked him some questions, and said ‘We’ll phone you.’ Nicol got the call as he was in Floral Street from Kevin, telling Nicol to come to the office. He had got the job. Kenneth Greve was not expecting Nicol to leave. He was a bit put out at first, but once Nicol explained he had only auditioned for the Royal Ballet and wanted to perform in his home country, he was happier, and wished Nicol well. The company in Helsinki had a two month holiday which was a really long time, so Nicol did class with the Royal Ballet for the end of their season in the morning, and worked in Harrods in the afternoon in order to earn some money.

The two companies are culturally very different. Helsinki was more relaxed, whereas in the Royal Ballet, you feel that push and ambition. Everyone drives everybody else on. There is also more pressure with the Royal Ballet, as the Company is more known, featured, and professional. As in Helsinki, the first thing Nicol did was Swan Lake, appearing as one of the peasants. Christopher Carr was staging it. He’s very scary, but they love him. It was the first big corps de ballet piece that Mayara did as well. It’s crazy and very hard for the girls. ‘For the boys, it’s more erm...’ Other corps de ballet work feels much easier after you have done Swan Lake.

 If you work your way up from the bottom of the company, people respect you more for it.

If you work your way up from the bottom of the company, people respect you more for it. You learn a lot in the corps, so it’s not really a come down after doing principal work at the school. Things you learn include gaining a sense of what goes on around you, respecting the other actors on stage, expression, and positioning i.e. keeping in line with the girl in front of you. You aren’t really given acting lessons in the school. You pick things up from the older dancers. You get the sense of what you should be doing, and you just have to ‘feel’ it.

Nicol’s more featured roles include Aeternum, Mayerling (as Hoyos), and Symphony in C (opposite Marinela Nuñez and Thiago Soares). ‘Slowly, things are starting to happen.’ Pat Neary is a real character. For Mayara, chances have come with Requiem ‘I love that ballet’, Las Hermanas (the hanging girl) and Apollo, where she arrived late for her first rehearsal, as she didn’t see the board. Pat Neary turned round and cried ‘I’m having a heart attack!’ as a result. She still featured in the first cast opposite Marianela and Carlos though. Pat Neary is ‘picky, but she’s cute.’ Natalia Makarova is ‘lovely. She knows so much, it’s unbelievable! I could work with her all day.’

The Company went on tour to Monte Carlo, and danced Manon. The weather and hotel were lovely, with views of the sea and mountains. The schedule was relatively easy, and they loved the pool. The audiences were very quiet though. The week started on about 50% capacity, and went down to about 25% by the end of the week. The Company said goodbye to Mara Galeazzi, ‘a really sad one to see leaving.’ She is ‘the warmest person in the world.’ The Company then went on to Japan. It was tough, partly because of the weather, which was 35 degrees, with 100% humidity. There was also the jet lag. They had one day off, then optional class on the second day. The first full day brought a double stage call, followed by four days of double shows. With the gala, they had the general rehearsal on the same day as the performance. As the curtain comes down on La Valse, the Company is gasping for air, ‘although it’s a stunning ballet.’ They were also involved the finale of Symphony in C for the gala. Christopher Carr, who came on tour, knows every fine detail such as hand positioning. He has amazing knowledge and makes you work hard. Other pieces in the gala included After the Rain, Mayerling, Sleeping Beauty pas de deux, Swan Lake pas de deux, and Leanne Benjamin’s final performance with the Company in a pas de deux from Manon.

The Japanese audiences LOVE the ballet! The crowds at the stage door were amazing…

The Japanese audiences LOVE the ballet! The crowds at the stage door were ‘amazing,’ asking for photos and autographs. It felt very surreal, with the dancers wondering ‘How do you know my name?’ The tour in Japan concluded with Swan Lake, just when the company was really tired. They did seven shows in five days. The casts included Marianela and Thiago, Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae, and Sarah Lamb and Carlos Acosta. There was a lot of red pen on the boards, and there was a lot of swapping places at short notice. Nicol ended up doing about five different roles/places in act 3 alone, due to injury and everything. The Company had one day off. Mayara went to Mount Fuji. It was very hot, but she found a nice cold cave. Nicol did his shopping.

In the new season, they are looking forward to the new Don Quixote and David Dawson piece. In Don Quixote, they are learning Toreadors, the Fandango, Dryads and other corps de ballet roles. “It is so much fun.” The choreography is very different, including the pas de deux. They started setting it last season and getting it into their bodies, so now they are polishing it. The production has ‘stunning’ sets and costumes. In Romeo and Juliet, Nicol is covering Benvolio, and doing Paris. It’s exciting, but he doesn’t know who his Juliet will be yet. They are also looking forward to Giselle, the new Wayne McGregor piece, and Chris Wheeldon’s A Winter’s Tale. With Aeternum, Nicol learned both movements, but didn’t know which section he would be doing until the stage call. ‘I enjoyed it.’ Nicol was to dance in Chris Wheeldon’s Cinderella in Helsinki, but got injured half way through. Chris is very intense, and expects you to keep up. It can be hard, but you have to push yourself, and it’s good to learn. Wayne McGregor is the same. He is very intelligent, with a ‘supersonic brain.’ Pat Neary will come and stage Jewels again. They are looking forward to that!

During the summer break, Mayara went home for a month to see her family. The De Menezes twins in ENB looked after Mayara at school, and acted like her parents ‘which was good.’ When she first joined, people wondered if she was Thiago’s little sister or cousin. It was ‘quite cute actually.’ Nicol is one of three from his year of 27 still in a ballet company. One person is in Munich, and the other is in Bordeaux. Others are working on cruise ships, and in Phantom of the Opera. The Royal Ballet School has more of a ‘name,’ so it can be harder for students from other schools. They are all doing well in other things though. We will look forward to watching more of Nicol and Mayara as Paris, in Jewels, and other roles.

Report written by Rachel Holland, corrected by Mayara Magri, Nicol Edmonds and David Bain ©The Ballet Association 2013.

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