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    Leticia Dias 2022

    Leticia Dias & Mariko Sasaki

    Soloists, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Thu 22nd Sep, 2022


    After David’s welcome, our guests began by talking about their recent performances. Mariko had appeared in the Guardian newspaper as she’d been performing in Doncaster at the weekend with a small group from the Royal when she danced Le Corsaire pas de deux with Joohyuk Jun. There was a mixture of pieces lasting about 2.5 hours on Friday and Saturday. The audience gave them a warm standing ovation and as it was a much smaller theatre than the Royal Opera House the dancers really felt their reaction as they could hear every breath the dancers took. Alexander Agadzhanov taught her Corsaire, over several rehearsals, which was good for her and Jun. Both she and Leticia were modelling last week. They were asked to do a little fashion shoot at the Bridge of Aspirations for Fernando Montaño who had launched a new collection of clothes during lock-down. It was eco-friendly and he thought the dancers would look good so one day they walked up and down the bridge posing in some of his clothes.

    Reverting to the end of last season and the holidays, Leticia danced with Wayne McGregor’s company, along with Melissa Hamilton, for two weeks including a tour to Finland. They did a piece choreographed by Wayne with nice sets to very modern music by an English DJ, performing four shows in Helsinki, which was something very different for her. She also went home to Brazil for three weeks so it was a busy summer. Leticia had danced in a couple of Wayne’s works before - the big scene with the waves in Woolf Works, Infra when it came to the Opera House and she danced with Ed Watson for a gala which was very exciting. She also had a nice role in Danteso Wayne had seen her a few times and it was nice to do something with him outside the Opera House. Asked how different was Wayne’s company Leticia said it was nice to be exposed to different styles of dancers as they are so used to seeing talented people in the Opera House and can forget how many amazing people there are in other studios. His style is very unique and even if you think you can do it when you see contemporary dancers performing you learn something and get inspiration from it. Class was similar but she and Melissa were the only ones in pointe shoes and it was unusual for his company to have ballet dancers in the studio so it was a nice contrast.

    Mariko was supposed to have six weeks holiday but a couple of weeks beforehand she got a call from Kevin asking if she’d like to go to perform with the company in Japan and of course she said yes although she was so overwhelmed and afterwards couldn’t remember what he’d said. Several of the principal dancers went and she did White Swan pas de deux with William Bracewell whom she’s known for a long time from Birmingham days and he’s an amazing dancer so it was just a dream.

    In picking two recently promoted soloists to be our guests, David said that it was only during his research that he realised their careers were running in parallel. They both trained abroad, did Prix de Lausanne, went to the Royal Ballet School (RBS) from Prix and then to Birmingham.  

    Leticia was four when she started dancing which kept her occupied while her Mum went to work. At eight she said she enjoyed classes and wanted to carry on with ballet, so her Mum took her to a school where she had to audition and she stayed there for a year. It was the school associated with the Teatro Municipal where Roberta Marquez and Thiago Soares had been principals but it was a very slow process and she wanted more. Leticia went back to her former ballet school, Petite Danse School, in Rio where Mayara Magri and Denilson Almeida had also trained, and spent six years there. Asked why that ballet school is so successful, Leticia said they all had the same teacher, Patricia Salgado, a former soloist at Stuttgart Ballet where she’d been for 11 years. Following a bad injury she went home to Brazil and passed on her skills and European styles which made a nice combination with the passionate Brazilian dancers and opened their eyes to different styles. It was a busy school with lots of performances and throughout the year they would pick a different repertoire for the dancers for different competitions so they got used to the stage and performing for different audiences. They enjoyed dancing a lot and the more they did the more they wanted to do. It helped make them feel more comfortable here than perhaps some other students who’d not done so many performances. They did all sorts of dance including ballet, jazz, tap, street dancing, belly dancing and on the ballet side there is a company of people selected for competitions so you can spend more time in rehearsal and classes are earlier, or you can just do ballet school twice a week. Ordinary school was in the morning from 7 to 12, she’d eat lunch in the car and get to the ballet school for 2pm where they finished at 8pm. They had loads of rehearsals and pas de deux classes.

    Mariko started dancing around three years of age when her mum asked if she wanted to try. At first, she went once a week as her parents were working in Tokyo where the ballet school was though she grew up outside the city and couldn’t go that often as her parents had to take her. When she was 12 she was getting serious about ballet and the family moved into Tokyo where her brother was also. She was at ordinary school until late afternoon and then went to her ballet school, which was purely for ballet, every day and did class till very late at night. She only did a few competitions in Japan before going to Prix de Lausanne. Now her school does more competitions, but in her day it was more training for auditions for the bigger company and to get more stage experience. As a student, if good enough, they could sometimes join in ballet company performances. Mariko asked to do Prix and was the first from her school to go. She used to see live streaming on TV and really enjoyed watching the competition with the mix of young dancers of different nationalities and got lots of inspiration feeling she really wanted to be on that stage. Her teacher went to the Prix with her as her parents were busy working at home and she danced Bayadere, the Shades variation which was very hard. You can make a list of which schools you want to go to and somehow she won the prize to come to RBS. At age 15, she was the youngest in the competition and had to go to the school first but always wanted to go into the Royal Ballet company.

    Leticia trained at her old school till she was 16. From there she’d seen Mayara go to the Prix and wanted to do it also although she had already been to other big competitions in New York and Brazil. She thought it looked amazing, something that changes you as you’re there for a week being watched by directors and all different nationalities. You see people dancing the same pieces but with totally different styles and it’s very inspiring. She went to the finals, got a prize and chose RBS.  She danced Swanilda’s solo from Coppelia Act I, and a contemporary solo. Afterwards you get to chat to directors who are interested but when Gailene Stock, along with sponsor Ricky Gail Conway, who wanted to help her, spoke to her she knew she wanted to come here. Leticia came to the school at 16 and was due to join the first year but two months before she came she was told they thought she was suitable to skip a year and went straight into second year. Skipping a year meant she missed getting to know people and couldn’t speak the language and that first year was important to get to know the others so she felt a bit left out trying to get used to it all on her own. But she spent a good two years at the school with Rosalind Whitten and David Peden as her teachers in her first and second years. She came with a very Brazilian quality and she had to learn and get used to the style and it took a year to catch up with the others. She was very keen and would stay and have personal coaching three times a week to work on port de bras etc. This really helped and she felt more prepared for auditions entering the third year.

    Mariko is two years above Leticia and when she came after the Prix she already knew some people from the competition which was nice. She couldn’t speak English and except for the competition had never been outside Japan. Coming to the school was a dizzying experience as everything was so different but her classmates were very nice and supportive and were always looking after her. Mariko got a knee injury so had an operation which meant she couldn’t dance for almost all her graduate year. She went to Japan but returning here she couldn’t really audition. David Bintley, who was director of BRB at the time, had come to watch a few classes just before her injury. He was very nice and offered her a one year contract which she accepted so it was due to David that she went to Birmingham. Otherwise, she didn’t know what she’d have done and perhaps would have gone back to Japan. Leticia did go to a few auditions as she wasn’t the earliest to get a contract but she’d worked with the Royal Ballet as a student so was always hoping for an offer as she’d got used to being with the company. She did snowflakes in Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Fille when she filled in a spot where someone was injured. Eventually Kevin gave a couple of contracts to apprentices and Leticia began to wonder if she was meant to be here so went to Vienna but they wanted someone a bit more mature, and then to Amsterdam but she was also a bit too young for them. They were very lucky to have directors from Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet and BRB and also Kevin O’Hare coming to watch them at the school. Mr Bintley came and spoke to the school director and offered her a job so half way through the year she accepted as it seemed it was meant to be, still close to London with no other language to learn so a good choice at the time.

    Leticia joined BRB in 2015 and had to get used to touring which she’d not really appreciated before. It was hard to get into the routine of being away all the time. They’d go to Plymouth for a couple of performances, after a double show on a Saturday take the coach back to Birmingham, have Sunday free, then Tuesday off for a further six weeks touring. For Nutcracker they would stay in Birmingham but then they’d be away touring again. It was hard to feel at home but she had a good time getting close to the people there as the city is small, you were in walking distance of everything, and she made good friends, and had a good season with Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Nutcracker, triple bills including Ashton, and Taming of the Shrew which was a nice experience. Half way through the year she missed London so she felt she should try and asked Kevin if anything was available. The answer was no so she waited two months and sent another request. Again, the answer was no so she thought it was not meant to be and decided the next season she would go auditioning. But she always wanted to get back to London and at the third time of asking she got a yes and was told they’d like her to come and take class and she got the job. Although you never unpack your suitcase and put clothes in your wardrobe, Mariko enjoyed Birmingham. You always stick together so it’s like a family. She was only there one year but made really extraordinary relationships with people. She’s just been there as a bridesmaid for her best friend’s wedding. She only had a one year contract at the time when David was also director of the Japan ballet company and when he came back from Tokyo she had a meeting with him to see the way forward and he told her he couldn’t extend her contract. She was so upset as she thought she’d be there for ever and wondered what to do but everyone was very helpful and supportive and they all said she should apply to the Royal. Her friends wrote an email and made a CD for her to send to Kevin and he invited her to take class. She was going to Berlin the next day for an audition but on her way back she got an email inviting her join the company. She joined in the 2014/5 season, two years before Letitia.

    Mariko’s first performances were in Manonas a harlot which is very sexual and you have to push yourself to make it realistic. She’d not done anything like that before, and had never even smoked. In Birmingham she’d been doing nice things like Nutcrackerand triple bills. In her last show which was Fille she was crying although it’s a happy ballet.  Leticia’s introduction to the company was very different as she was in Fille which she’d done as a student and it was good to go back to it.  They also had Nutcracker and Romeo and Julietwhich were familiar from Birmingham. She didn’t do anything like Manon till the second season when she felt more comfortable.  Her first soloist role was finger fairy in Sleeping Beauty as an artist, although she’d done a couple of little things on stage with four people. It’s coming back this season and she hopes to do it again as normally they are given another chance. Mariko’s first solo role was Sleeping Beauty Florestan pas de trois.

    Favourite roles. Leticia said last season was very busy for them both as they’d just been promoted to first artists and as there were only a few soloists they filled in and there were many nice opportunities. She really enjoyed lead pas de six in Giselle having watched Yasmine Naghdi and Akane Takada doing it when she was an artist, also rose fairy in Nutcracker which seemed like a soloist/principal role and you feel the magic at Christmas when you’re right in the centre which is exciting as well as nerve-racking. It was nice to get coached by Sam Raine and Deirdre Chapman who helped with the psychological side so it was good to have that relationship with her. They grew into doing big swans and other bigger roles in Swan Lake and started to feel more comfortable. For Mariko everything was memorable but rose fairy was a favourite as you see Nutcracker every year since you were young and she was used to doing one of the eight flowers. It’s so beautiful and dreamy.

    Modern roles. Mariko says she’s not good at modern but wishes she could be as everyone else is amazing. At this point Leticia said they worked on Valentino Zucchetti’s Anemoi and Mariko was the principal in that modern work and was very good!  Valentino picked all the younger dancers, mainly artists and first artists, so they were seen. Last year was The Dante Project and Leticia danced Dido whose heart is broken by her boyfriend and kills herself and it follows the story of why she is in hell. In contrast to their usual happy roles, this had an artistic side to it and it was good to have something different to work on and get involved in a role like that. They had a story teller/writer who Wayne arranged to come and explain the story to them. She knew it all in detail which helped those who weren’t familiar with it. It took them on the journey into purgatory. They did the Ashton triple bill and in Month in the Country she danced Katia which is a nice story-telling role. Both she and Mariko did Rhapsody together so they got to know those masterpieces.

    Now they are both rehearsing Mayerling. Letty has nice opportunities this time, having been in it twice before, the last time four years ago, so a lot has happened since and she is having the new experience of the Princess Louise pas de deux with Ryoichi Hirano, and Mitzi Casper which has always been a dream and she now feels ready to explore this artistic/sexual role. You get inspiration from older, experienced dancers like Marianela Nunez and Mayara so it’s good to be in the studio with them. She was down for four but is now only doing two performances. This season she realised it would be a big one with several roles. She enjoyed her summer break in Brazil with family and friends and did no ballet for three weeks but went straight to Wayne’s company when she came back, had to learn new choreography and do lots of work and push herself to the limit. When she finally got back to London to start the season it suddenly hit her how much she was having to do as a soloist. She started having migraines, feeling strange and dizzy with associated vertigo. She was slightly panicked when people tried to explain that it could take time to settle down. That was their first week back with no rehearsals but then they started Crystal Pite’s contemporary piece, and also Mayerling, and Leticia was feeling disorientated, couldn’t walk properly down street, and on pointe in class she felt scared of falling and injuring herself. She was due to have four shows of Mitzi in Steven McRae’s cast but knew she wasn’t 100 pc and if she pushed now the whole season could be jeopardised. She took what people say was a mature decision to speak to Kevin and needed to see doctors. Once vistibular migraine was diagnosed she knew how to treat it but needed some time. Kevin said don’t worry, you’ll be back for the November performances, and don’t work on Crystal Pite this time. So, she’s having a slower beginning of the season but is now doing full class and feels almost 100 pc. Mariko in Mayerling is doing less work than before her promotion, and is Stephanie’s bridesmaid but has learned the Mitzi role as cover so great to be in the studio with wonderful dancers. Diamonds hasn’t been completely cast but they think they will both be in the group. Mariko has done Jewels before. Letitia’s mum is coming at Christmas which will be a highlight as it’s her debut as Sugar Plum which is very exciting and totally unexpected. The casting was sent by email before it was on the board so a different way to find out you are doing a big role. She’ll do two shows with Calvin Richardson, first the schools’ matinee and then on 28 December. He is tall but on pointe she’s a good height for him. They’ve both covered things before but this is both their debuts, and it will be good to work on it with someone she’s close to.


    How much do you enjoy Nutcracker which comes back every year? Mariko said she loves the ballet and they all love Christmas though by January the celebrations are all over while they are still dancing.

    Why does Mariko think she’s not good at contemporary dance? Letty thinks Mariko is a wonderful dancer who can do everything but she doesn’t believe it as she feels most comfortable in the classics. From her own perspective Leticia thinks it’s good to work on different styles though because they are classically trained it is harder to get into the style of a new creation or different choreographer. Crystal Pite has a very specific style and it’s not what they are built to do so for some it can be more natural to do classics. Our company is always so busy that there’s not always time to work in detail with everyone. They both did Chris Wheeldon’s DGV last season, and it was nice to do something different.

    Mariko did Twyla Tharp. Tierney Heap was injured so she replaced her at the last minute. It was very different from ballet but a very good experience to explore something outside her comfort zone. She worked with Twyla who is very cool, and a very strong personality in a really good way. She knew what she wanted but believes in the dancers. There was lots to take in but she gives you confidence. In the classics Mariko does just about everything bar two roles in Nutcracker!

    Mariko’s parents came to school graduation but unfortunately she was injured so couldn’t dance. They both work hard so it’s difficult for them to get away but if she gets a big role like Sugar Plum they will come.

    David thanked Mariko and Leticia very much for coming and giving us a very enjoyable evening. It will be fascinating to watch the next stage of their parallel careers.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell and edited byLeticia Dias, Mariko Sasakii and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2022