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    Mayara Magri 2022

    Mayara Magri

    Principal, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Thu 26th May, 2022


    David welcomed Mayara, who unfortunately was suffering from a sore throat, not helped by having spent the day talking more than usual. The reason for this was that she’d been at the Royal Ballet School where she has been taking a two-year teachers’ course, something she always wanted to do and which has been amazing. She started during the pandemic, has three months left and today was her final practical assessment with the third-year girls. In fact, she didn’t need to do a lot of talking because they were very good. There’s a whole new way of teaching now, the students speak in class, express how they feel in the movement and what they are thinking, so it’s about bringing them into the process rather than just obeying commands as Mayara was trained in Brazil. Then you didn’t say a word and followed the teacher who told you whether it was right or wrong. An example was asking the students to do a step, reviewing it by asking how did you feel, how do you think you could improve on it and then they have to vocalise how it went for them so they themselves gave the feedback. They’re also asked if they could have improved on the musicality. After the feedback they repeat the exercise. In this way the students are more engaged in the class and learn in a more proactive way. It’s changed considerably since Mayara was there 11 years ago. She said in fact the methodology and psychology behind teaching has changed since you couldn’t even touch an arm by way of correction but could only demonstrate.

    Mayara has just returned from a weekend in Copenhagen where she and Matthew Ball were representing the Royal Ballet at the celebrations for the Queen of Denmark’s jubilee, dancing the Carousel pas de deux in the beautiful theatre in the Tivoli Gardens. They’d only performed it previously here in the gala so it was really special. John Neumeier, director of Hamburg Ballet, was watching and immediately afterwards invited them to perform the piece at the Nijinsky Gala in Hamburg at the end of June which will be exciting.

    Back in 2011 Mayara took part in the Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) competitions. These resulted in a complete change for her becoming a professional dancer. In Brazil there’s no big company to strive to be part of, dancers are devalued and have few opportunities so they all want to go abroad to progress their career and competitions and dance festivals are how they find their way out. At the Prix in Switzerland she won the audience prize and the scholarship which enabled her to choose where she wanted to train. Through that she was sponsored for her graduation year at the Royal Ballet School, but straight after the Prix she went to YAGP where she won the senior prize. Now, 11 years later as a principal, she had been invited back as a guest to perform in their gala. It’s very special to see all the kids striving for what she herself did all those years ago. She performed the Black Swan grand pas de deux with Jacopo Tissi, who she’d not danced with before. He had just left the Bolshoi and now has a contract as principal in Milan. He was a sweetheart to dance with and a really nice guy. Normally YAGP is held in New York but this year it was in Florida as they’d not been able to book their usual venue because of Covid.  For Mayara it was a busy three-day trip. Usually, you rehearse and rehearse and almost wind down before a performance but for a gala you do a lot in a short time and are exhausted afterwards but it was well worth it. The kids were so excited and screamed and shouted – a very different audience from here! There were other dancers from ABT, another Brazilian guy from Dusseldorf and mainly dancers who’ve gone through demonstrate how well they’ve done in their careers.

    Two weeks before Mayara was due to debut in Swan Lake,a role every ballerina wants to do, Covid hit them. They’d worked so hard and even had a stage call with full make-up, hair and costumes, and then it didn’t happen. She’d been due to be partnered by Marcelino Sambé, but when it came around this time she was with Cesar Corrales and felt they fitted better as a couple. He’s a gem to work with, a really nice guy, and they get each other’s energy which helps. Although two years late, it was good to perform it. Also, Zenaida Yanowsky was coaching. She’s amazing, always wants more and pushes you to be expansive. One of the things Mayara misses as a principal is not having more shows. She really likes to be involved and recalled talking to Kevin after the casting went up for Giselle when she only had two shows as Queen on the Willis. He agreed to give her two more but said younger dancers had to have an opportunity too. In the end she did nine shows – you need to be careful what you wish for! With Nutcrackerher debut was two different fairies, then again the theatre closed for ten days. But Kevin rearranged it so that when they reopened on 5 January, she did her first and only show as Sugar Plum Fairy with Ryoichi Hirano which she really enjoyed. She felt that if she was given a correction she should write it down for next year!

    After that, Juliet came around and that was really, really special as a role she’d always wanted to take on. Initially it was a bit worrying as she expected Kevin would give her a partner whom she’d already worked with and when she saw that she’d been cast with Calvin Richardson she wondered how it would be but they had a really good time in the studio with everything fresh to them both. Technically it’s not too challenging for the girl, unlike for Romeo, so she had time to concentrate on how to find her own Juliet and work on telling the story. So many people came to watch the performance – Ricardo Cervera, Nicola Tranah (Mayara’s teacher who always comes for her debuts), Monica Mason and Jeanetta Lawrence. Afterwards Monica gave her the sweetest compliment saying, with a warm hug, she was the principal dancer Monica had always thought she would become within the Company. She was lucky enough to have Lesley Collier as coach. Lesley was amazing, so giving and invested in the work which she knows so well while giving Mayara the chance to find the real story telling and be her own Juliet. Ed Watson also coached, mostly helping Calvin who was dancing his first lead in a full-length ballet. In comparison to dancing with Cesar when she knew how far she could go and what to expect from him on stage, it was hard. This was very different, though quite exciting, starting from zero so they could build together on what they wanted to create and it was a shared experience which turned out to be amazing. Mayara absolutely loved working with Calvin who’s very sensitive and generous so they both learned a lot from the experience, all credit to Kevin for putting them together. (David mentioned that when Cesar came to talk to us his comment about Mayara was similar to hers about him - that she has so much power and fire and dances with her heart which is fantastic so you let go and go for it.) Mayara feels that if you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve artistically and technically that really helps your partner to dive into that journey with you. If you’re dancing with someone who has done the role before you feel you’re trying to catch up though she didn’t worry about Sugar Plum, which is purely classical and fairly straightforward, dancing with Ryo who’s such a good partner and has done the role for many years. Reverting to Cesar, David said he saw himself as a classical dancer and didn’t want to do contemporary roles. Did Mayara feel the same? She said dancers always want to challenge themselves and she loves the classics as well as contemporary roles like Woman with Waterwhich was so inspiring and put together over three weeks. She wouldn’t turn down anything but wants to push herself to do the big roles in the classics while she’s young and calls herself a classical dancer which is why she’s in the Company. Next year she will debut as Larisch in Matthew and Laura Morera’s cast of Mayerlingand will do Mitzi in Frankie Hayward and Marcie’s cast.

    Mats Ek. Mayara grew up watching his work and when she heard he’d be coming she knew she had to try as hard as possible to make it. There were only a few days for him to decide on casting and Natasha Osipova asked him to come as she wanted to work with him. There were stops and starts because of Covid but finally it was to be Woman with Waterand most principals were around who had worked with him previously. When he walked into the studio she thought what an amazing man. This ballet is bare foot so she took off her shoes which clearly impressed him while others kept their flats on to protect their feet. Following a two-day workshop he decided who would be doing it and he wanted Mayara to do the opening night. Natasha is her hero in so many ways and wasn’t upset about this. Mayara really appreciates her artistic take which is unique and she too wants to find her own way of doing roles. Everybody raved about the experience of working with Mats on Carmen. Speaking about working with him in the studio, Mayara said at 73 he is still doing warm-up and shows you, not tells you, very specifically what he wants. Mentally he’s so invested in his work together with his wife Ana Laguna who’s incredible. She was his muse for years and their understanding and partnership and how they work together is so lovely, there’s no tension and it’s all about how to make the work as good as possible. The process was intense but they only had two weeks and at one point Mayara had a breakdown in the studio after the second stage call as she was trying her hardest but still felt it wasn’t good enough. Mats said he knew she could do so much better but didn’t know what else to say and she burst into tears. He was very sweet and it was almost as if he wanted to get that reaction to show she cared about the work.  It was a short time to learn, rehearse and put the work on stage. Did Mats explain what it meant? He just wanted her to be a human on stage, seeing a glass and a table and wanting to get close and create a relationship with them. It’s about finding a connection with something or someone you want to meet. Then the water was like someone coming into your life, and introducing you to something which you can take or leave and what that experience does to you, but it’s not a literal take. She had seen the film with Sylvie Guillem which is amazing. Lukas Bjornebøe Brændsrød didn’t have a lot to do but has such presence on stage. He liked being ‘cold’ as he’s from the Norway!  He is an amazing partner who Mayara hopes will go far as the girls love dancing with him, he’s so caring and his partnering is big which is what you look for in a big ballet. Mats is going to Paris to work with Paris Opera.

    Like Water for Chocolate. Mayara will be Rosaura, the elder sister of Tita so quite a lot of drama and a complex ending for her. The cast is Frankie and Marcie, Matt as Dr John, and Laura. Being part of a new creation is very special. Chris Wheeldon is amazing at creating the work with you and the music is beautiful. Yesterday they spent eight hours doing Act I on stage with lots of changes and little things happening. It’s very exciting and it will be a good, fresh ballet to watch. It isn’t an easy read; there’s a lot happening and it’s a hell of a job to transform it into ballet and make it work but Chris is very clever and understands how to tell a story.

    Contrast between working with Chris and Wayne McGregor on Dante. They are very different and the stories also. In this she’s a character so is drawn into story-telling and has a perception of what Chris wants to portray. With Wayne it is very much in his head, it’s almost as if the bodies are for him to shape and then at the last moment on stage you get the sense of what is happening. He wants not to have too many heads involved in the process as it happens in his mind, but eventually it falls into place and then he tells them what it’s about. It’s very different from Chris but every choreographer has a different way of working. In Inferno which parts of her body were chalked?  Mayara said it was her whole left side. She wasn’t a main character when it was choreographed just before they went to Los Angeles. She was one of a group of dancers in a circle while Anna Rose O’Sullivan did a pas de deux with Luca Acri. Their bodies were being taken back to Inferno with things like leeches attached and they were trying to get rid of them.

    Myrtha. She loves it, and working with Monica Mason who is a gem. You feel like a powerful woman though it’s not the nicest role to play but this time she felt more mature and able to take it on and had enough shows to make it her own and create the right atmosphere. Monica has coached her in Lilac Fairy but mostly in the very physical roles like Firebird. She has a way of taking you into the role and knows how and when to push you.  She’ll say ‘go from the top to the end without stopping’, and you may have a problem but you just can’t go against her. Sometimes it’s really hard to engage in rehearsals when you might have had two hours of Wayne, or Swan Lake and then contemporary work but you have to be fully engaged in the studio, body and soul. The conversation is so mature about how you feel and what you are trying to say, everything that makes the role that of a powerful woman. There was a time when Mayara thought she would be pigeon holed, just getting roles requiring very strong technique.  She is so grateful to Kevin who helps everyone experience all sorts of roles which is so enriching for your career. Calvin used to say that he was the contemporary dancer and as Romeo was quite nervous, but Mayara thinks there is no such thing as one type of dancer at the Royal as everyone does everything which is really good. She didn’t just want to be a strong dancer but wants to be soft and able to tell a story in a different way. It’s been amazing, especially this season with Juliet which was a step up for her and showed she could be girly and soft and vulnerable. Asked where the acting comes from, Mayara said with maturity which comes with time – she’s spent ten years in the Company watching all the dancers and artists. Even from the beginning just being on stage she saw how people played the parts – Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta doing Manon, Zen, Marianela, Natasha and Laura really taking on the roles. Although now there’s a younger Company she feels they’re the ones grasping the last generation and their way of tackling the role. She also believes that living in London helps as there is so much happening, she feels bad if she misses an exhibition which helps you understand art in a different way. Also being with Matt for the last four years has helped her to see and appreciate their own work differently as he is so invested in how he portrays a role and character. They’ve also experienced so many different things together, especially with the gap created by Covid when they had to open their minds to other outlets, making so many musician friends, and really enjoying going to concerts which they do almost every Sunday. It is so connected to what they do and yet there is a disconnection, for example they had never met anyone from the orchestra who play for them every night but now there’s more of a connection which helps their understanding of the combination of music and dance, story-telling and scenery which is what makes their art so special.

    Getting into the Royal Ballet. Ten years ago in January when she was at the Royal Ballet School, Gailene Stock asked Mayara to come to the office which worried her as she didn’t speak much English and didn’t know what was going on. Gailene said ‘you have the offer of a job at English National Ballet’ but when Mayara said she was there for the Royal, Gailene called Monica and suggested she come and watch class which she did the next morning, along with Kevin, and they gave her the job! Her first role was the hanging girl in Las Hermanas,all wig and make up to be hanged which was very exciting. She was a handmaiden in Apollo, picked by Pat Neary who was an amazing woman to work with. Mayara had just heard she would become a principal, when you feel you have to prove yourself, and didn’t want to have the extra pressure as it was what she’d been working towards all her life but thought she must just go on stage and be herself. Pat would say (here Mayara gave a good imitation) ‘Maori, why are you doing this?’ She is a legend who still takes class which is really scary but she’s good fun to work with. Vadim hadn’t done Apollo before so it was a new role for him too. They had a really great process and did the opening night, which gives an extra edge. In the triple was also Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gatheringwhich she knows and loves so it helped relieve the pressure.

    Her first big role was as a First Artist when she covered Emma Maguire in Symphonic Variations, a most exposed role. It’s a beautiful ballet, very pure, which she loved but it’s 20 minutes without leaving the stage. She was also Gamzatti, again lots of pressure working with Natalia Makarova who was a bit funny with her as she didn’t know her. Her cast was Matt as Solor and Lauren Cuthbertson as Nikiya. Then came Kitri in Don Q, having a great time with Carlos coaching. She’d been there when he choreographed it for the Company and can’t wait to do it again.

    Humour in roles. Mayara danced Lescaut’s Mistress with Cesar. Technically it’s quite a hard role but fun to do though she didn’t feel quite ready to let go with the humour. Helen Crawford and Julie Lincoln were coaching and Mayara was only sorry not to have had Monica whom she’d watched many times in the role on video. It was hard doing her debut, especially when not a principal as they’re trying to shape you for the role and there’s little space for your own interpretation. Now she can do a bit more of her own take on the role. How is it decided who coaches the casts? Kevin takes on the production and casting but they can make suggestions for coaching. She loved having Darcey Bussell for Sugar Plum Fairy, Lesley Collier for Juliet which was a dream. Leanne Benjamin comes in a lot and Olga Evreinoff comes sometimes so she is lucky but she’s not sure who they’ll have for Sleeping Beauty. The boys aren’t as supported as the girls, really there’s only Sacha Agadhzanov and Ed Watson. They were hoping for Federico Bonnelli who was really good coaching, but they’ve lost him to Northern Ballet.

    Covid. It was quite scary because they never imagined something like that could happen and didn’t know how to deal with it. They normally work to a schedule and if you don’t have a show why would you be taking class? They had to stay very positive, helping each other to find motivation and they had a park nearby so could jump around. They were supported by the Company and there was ballet class and yoga on line, but they had time to think of other things and got interested in music. They acquired a keyboard which Matt played though Mayara lacked the patience to learn. They made new friends from connected areas of the arts – curators, musicians, conductors – and saw outside of their normal lives. The Royal is so supportive and takes care of everything for them so branching out and working on their own was in a way enriching. Mayara signed up for the teachers’ course at the School, doing the theory in the first year and now the practical. She’s taught at ENB, White Lodge, Central and now the Royal Ballet Upper School. She doesn’t want to stop dancing but she enjoys teaching so it could eventually become her thing. She had 16 students at the Upper School who’ve all got contracts. They are lovely, willing ladies. They’ve also been through Covid with everything so uncertain but you come out of it so much stronger.

    Lesley Collier is leaving which we didn’t know. Of the apprentices, three don’t have contracts but have been injured so they’re staying an extra year. It’s stressful for them as companies aren’t hiring and Aud Jebsen wants to give others opportunities.

    Asked if she was able to go home very often, Mayara said no, though last year she went for ten days in July and had to quarantine for ten days on return, spending time looking at the grey skies out of the window while she did her course work. She will be going back this summer with Matt to perform together. Also, her sister is getting married so there’s a lot happening. They’ll be performing a version of Romeo and Julietwhich is being redone for them to the Tchaikovsky score so it’s only 25 minutes with just the two of them on stage.

    She mentioned not having many shows but how did Mayara fit in outside performances? She said she was grateful to Kevin for allowing them to go elsewhere. There are new creations and triples to work on but you do get the odd weekend. She really wishes she had more performances (after two months of rehearsals it’s hard only to have two shows) but understands there are so many principals and Kevin’s trying to share with everyone. Swan Lake only comes round every three years so she may only get ten shows which isn’t enough. Currently we only have eight productions but Kevin has said they will return to eleven so there’ll be even fewer performances. Mayara said it’s really hard and feels too many productions take up too much time. They’re always overlapping which may be exciting to watch but the dancers have to deal with the body going from three hours of Crystal Pite, then Swan Lake. It’s a question of how the Company balances out the work. In Paris Opera with 200 people they’ll be doing completely separate things and one group doesn’t touch the others’ work.

    On future roles, Mayara said there are so many she would love to do but Tatiana would be a big achievement and Mary Vetsera which she feels she’s getting closer to. It’s been a good season so far and it feels great to get back after Covid.

    Thanking Mayara very much for being our guest, David recalled an evening when he met Mayara as a student, with Thiago Soares and Marianel Nunez, speaking no English. David had talked to Nicky Tranah, her teacher at the school, who said Mayara was ‘the complete package’ and everyone agrees with that – there’s not a role she couldn’t do. It’s been a great pleasure to watch her over the last ten years and we look forward to the next ten and beyond.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell and edited by Mayara Magri and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2022