Laura Morera 2023
- Alexander Campbell
- Amelia Townsend
- Annette Buvoli
- Carlos Acosta
- Christopher Powney
- Iain Webb
- Isabella Gasparini
- Laura Morera
- Liam Boswell
- Madison Bailey
- Margaret Barbieri
- Nadia Mullova-Barley
- Ryoichi Hirano
- Sarah Lamb
Principal, The Royal Ballet
Interviewed by David Bain
American International Church, Mon 05th June, 2023
The evening began with much hilarity as David and Laura “danced” around the microphones and cables until Laura could be heard properly by the audience. She had just won the Best Female Dancer category of the National Dance Awards and David began proceedings by congratulating her. He commented that, in her acceptance speech he expected her to say, “It’s about time!” Laura remarked that she simply felt very honoured that the award was given to her at this time because there are so many incredible dancers currently performing. She dedicated it to her husband, Justin Meissner who, at a time when there is so much talk about equality, diversity and female empowerment, empowers her every day. She remembers him telling her that this was her moment, that she was ready for great things and that he was going to be there for her and support her. They have been together for 26 years and Laura feels that, without him, none of what she has achieved would have been possible. He never wants to take centre stage so she felt that she should put him there this once and he was very moved by the gesture. However, she thinks that nobody will remember her dedication to Justin and will only remember that she made a tribute to Liam Scarlett.
David remarked to Laura that she continually refers to her 27 years with the Royal Ballet, however, he pointed out that from 1995 when she began, to 2023 when she is leaving, is actually 28 years. Laura conceded that this is correct but that she hadn’t paid much attention to the detail as everyone else had referred to her 27 years so she just “went with it”.
On retirement, Laura will be performing the third act of “Anastasia”. She has previously performed the whole ballet. She explained to us that, contrary to what people assume, when you retire you are not simply asked what piece you would like to perform. She had to find something that would fit into an existing programme containing a Wayne McGregor piece and a Christopher Wheeldon ballet, but that was not a Liam Scarlett creation. This brought up some emotional baggage for her. She also found it tricky because there are several ballets that the Company is currently not performing. “Anastasia” fitted the bill because it is an honour to leave after performing a MacMillan ballet; it is a very dramatic ballet which is all about the main character, something which Laura finds alien but for once, she felt she could make it all about her.
Towards the end of the ballet Anastasia kicks her demons, manifested in the character of Rasputin and, despite what everyone else thinks, she finally knows that these memories are hers; she knows who she is and there is a sense of liberation. Laura also has a romanticised idea of the bed circling and all the people from Anastasia’s past appearing before her. During a recent rehearsal, Laura found it poignant that she was with people and colleagues from her own past such as Bennet Gartside with whom she has worked since their days in the Royal Ballet School, and it was as if there were also ghosts from her past such as her late father and Liam Scarlett, people no longer with us who meant a lot to her, so she felt it would be a lovely tribute. Laura is aware that Deborah MacMillan does not like the idea of performing a single act of the ballet and there was some doubt about whether it could work, but Laura tried to bring an emptiness, a void to the Anastasia character where her memories, her trauma and her happiness keep coming back to this woman who is so lost and needs to find inner peace. Once she achieves that, she will be free from her torment.
Many people say that is has been discovered from DNA evidence that Anna Anderson was not Anastasia, but it really does not matter. Although it is the story of Anna Anderson and the Grand Duchess Anastasia which inspired MacMillan, the ballet is about so much more than just Anna/Anastasia, about so many other people. Laura made reference to the section on “Anastasia” in Kenneth MacMillan’s biography. The scene when the soldiers enter was more influenced by the fact that MacMillan himself had been stopped and held at gunpoint by soldiers during a train journey and how scared hehad been by the experience. So, in reality, our lived experiences are portrayed in ballet and this ballet is about fear, joyous memories, absolute grief and trauma and although, during the rehearsal process, Laura had some doubts about its success, she feels that it is an incredible piece, and she hopes that those who come to watch get the same feeling. Matthew Ball, who is in the other “Anastasia” cast, recently said to Laura that he never realised how much this ballet was about change as Anastasia moves constantly from moment to moment as she recalls each memory. This is what Laura hopes to bring to the piece as well as freedom, sadness and joy; all these complex emotions, all at once in the space of 40 minutes!
Laura next explained how the rehearsal process works. Gary Harris is the choreologist, the person who records the dance moves set out by the choreographer. He has “The Book” and reads the Benesh notation while Leanne Benjamin is the coach for the principals. The music is extremely difficult. After the Ballet Awards, Laura went back to listen to the orchestra rehearsing. The ballet is “full of counts” and during the rehearsal watched by the Ballet Association, the dancers were all counting. Laura realised that she was commenting on being late with her steps though the audience probably didn’t even realise. There are moments of melody that emerge, but it is mainly counting throughout the whole ballet. Sometimes Laura counts with words, using the emotion she is feeling at the time and putting it to the rhythm of the music so that she does not have to literally count 1,2,3,4 etc., but rather uses a rhythmic “Get..away…from...me”, for example.
The dancers start by listening to the music and getting the counts in. As Laura is quite a precise dancer, once the rehearsals got underway, the challenge for her and what Leanne was striving for her to achieve was to be less precise in her movements and blend them more, so they were much smoother. There are moments of expressionism, and the ballet is very choreographed, for example when Anastasia is trying to reach out, but there are also moments that are so real and so beautiful which invoke in Laura the memory of the night her father died when, at the hospital, she felt that someone had “pulled the plug” on all her energy and she suddenly felt drained. She feels the same way in “Anastasia”. There are moments when Anastasia is angry because she is not being listened to as she is telling her story and asking them to believe her. There are also moments when she is showing the lines of her life, saying “Look at them. It’s me!” and other moments when she is just in her own world and there is huge loss in her life.
The dancers are almost ready, and the next challenge will be to bring in the orchestra in a couple of days’ time, on Wednesday, with the first night on the Friday. David commented on that fact that Koen Kessels, the resident Royal Ballet conductor, was present during the rehearsal attended by the Ballet Association, conducting the pianist. Laura explained that it is extremely helpful to have him there because it allows them to agree whether some bits of the music are too fast or that it may be necessary for her to push herself to achieve the tempo even though the choreography in that instant is challenging. In fact, Laura says, some of the choreography is “brutal”. It is wonderful to have the conductor there as Laura has a great relationship with Koen who is a versatile conductor and can be “in the moment” and feel the emotion. Because of this, the more Laura understands what he is aiming for with the music, the freer she can be to simply concentrate on the memory that is coming to her at that time.
After Laura retires from the Royal Ballet, she will begin to work with the MacMillan Foundation. She feels lucky that Deborah MacMillan has given her this opportunity as she wants to see someone young in the role who can nurture the works, a great feeling for Laura as she is used to being considered “old” for a dancer. She has performed a great number of MacMillan solos and also has a great relationship with the Royal Ballet. So, it is about bringing the passion and keeping the essence of what Laura believes MacMillan represents, whilst also respecting the knowledge of the people who actually worked with him, such as Leanne Benjamin, and learning from them. Lady MacMillan clearly saw something nurturing in Laura and that she can relate to the dancers in the middle of the Company. When Laura worked on “Romeo and Juliet”, she oversaw the whole production. She sees scenes in her mind cinematographically and in the scene when Romeo and Juliet first get together in the ballroom where he touches her for the first time, she could advise the Company to pretend they were in a film with all the lights on them and tension in the air. This was the atmosphere that was created around the principals. She was also in charge of the three harlots which is a role she has played often and feels passionate about. In fact, she feels that these roles are principal roles and, indeed, whatever role you have on stage should be delivered at a “principal level”. In other words, what would you do if you were on your own on stage? There should be no slacking or relaxing for a moment and this attitude elevates the production.
Kevin O’Hare is also trying to fit Laura in to other coaching work and she will be brought back for Liam Scarlett’s “Swan Lake”. She will try to recreate Liam’s essence and style to deliver what he wanted. If there are any Ashton performances, she hopes to be involved, but those conversations are still ongoing. She will begin with MacMillan’s “Manon” in December, followed by the Scarlett “Swan Lake” and then a triple bill with “Danse Concertante” where she will work with others such as Alessandra Ferri and Ed Watson. These are followed by “Requiem” with Leanne Benjamin and one of the Benesh notators in charge, whilst Laura will oversee. The new role brings many challenges because suddenly she is a different person arriving where there have previously been many others who have worked with MacMillan in the past. For her it is about having the authority and understanding why she is in the role but, at the same time, respecting those who have done the work before her. She hopes that they can work as a team because it is about the dancers on stage and elevating the production, making sure that everyone is the best they can be and feels that they are all part of a company performing the works.
David remarked that during Kevin O’Hare’s tenure, he has brought in several different people to work with the dancers on MacMillan ballets which is different from what took place prior to his directorship. Laura responded that Monica Mason is very passionate about MacMillan and during her time as Director of the Royal Ballet she was able to oversee the productions herself. Kevin, on the other hand, is more inclined to bring various people in. Leanne Benjamin was chosen by MacMillan for certain roles and Laura observed her when she was playing Anastasia (Laura was one of the family members) and she could clearly see what Leanne was trying to portray. Leanne is very confident within herself and has embraced Laura’s new position and welcomed her with open arms. Laura respects and admires Leanne and is not coming in to “step on her toes”. It’s about playing a different part. The more people involved, the merrier. Gary Harris, for example, also knows the roles in detail and he is very relaxed, whereas Leanne brings a nervous energy, so they complement each other well.
In her “Anastasia” cast she, Ryoichi Hirano and Bennet Gartside are all quite relaxed people. She is happy to have them as her partners for her last show. Choosing the right partners for her final performance was important. In the past she danced several roles with Federico Bonelli and she feels that, were he still in the Company, together they would have chosen a different piece but, to Laura, it “didn’t feel right” to dance any of the pieces they may have selected with anyone else. She had danced with Ben since the age of 12 when they were put together at White Lodge, and they have a great love for each other. She has also danced several roles with Ryoichi, and she finds them both incredible partners. She said goodbye to Federico when they danced “Giselle” together for the last time and she had been keen to dance more with Matthew Ball which happened randomly this season. She also danced a farewell role with William Bracewell and she will have the chance to “say goodbye” to Vadim Muntagirov when they dance together in “Month in the Country” during the upcoming Royal Ballet’s Japan Tour. So, it was important to have both ‘Ben and Ryo’ in her cast and she discussed things with them before she even mentioned “Anastasia” as her retirement swansong. Bennet Gartside is no longer dancing main roles and is a now a Principal Character Artist, so he has had to work hard to get back into shape to be able to do the partnering and make it seem effortless. The moments in “Anastasia” with her husband are some of the most vulnerable and real where there is quiet and peacefulness in the chaos. When the partnering is secure and flawless, you can create an illusion; you don’t have to act it, you just feel it.
The Royal Ballet will be on tour in Japan next month and Laura will be dancing “Month in the Country” with Vadim Muntagirov. She remembers Zenaida Yanowski telling her that she would have liked to danced “Month in the Country” for her retirement piece, but it was not possible at the time. When Zenaida said this, Laura had not yet danced the role and though she thought the piece looked amazing and it was a role she would have liked to do, it was hard when you had never danced it before. For example, though “Cinderella” worked out well and she enjoyed doing the performances, it may well not have, and it could be difficult dancing your last performance in a ballet that you really do not know. But this ballet was everything Laura had expected it to be and more; she finds it “a jewel of a ballet”, very musical, beautiful to look at and wonderful to act. As Vadim was not in the UK, she rehearsed with Matthew Ball (who is dancing it with Marianela Nuñez), starting with the pas de deux, accompanied by Kate Shipway on the piano. Both Laura and Matthew had been hearing the “Anastasia” music for a while and when they heard the music of “Month in the Country”, they both sighed, destressed, and simply listened to the music which took all the tension out of their body. For Laura, the ballet is stunning and beautiful. It is pure and uncomplicated and though the main character is complicated, you absolutely believe that this woman gets caught up and something ignites in her that she hasn’t felt for a very long time. She gets carried away and brings drama to deflect from the situation. The challenge with “Month in the Country” was to make sure that all the drama, all the faints, all those moments, such as opening the doors and doing a big back bend before going through, were not over-dramatized for no reason. This is a ballet that Laura has only performed three times, but she feels that, with Vadim and the great cast that she had around her, they reached a really good level, and she was able to enjoy it from day one. When a ballet really suits an individual, people sometimes believe that you have performed it several times before even when it is only your debut. They can see almost you in the costume. This is what happened with Benjamin Ella dancing the Bluebird role in “Sleeping Beauty”. Laura genuinely believed that he had danced it before and couldn’t believe that he was rehearsing for his debut because she could actually imagine him in in the Bluebird costume.
The language of Ashton comes naturally to Laura, and she can explore it without becoming bogged down in the difficulties of the choreography which she finds comforting as it gives her room to explore the emotions. Added to this was the unexpected gift of dancing with Vadim Muntagirov. Initially she was meant to be partnering with Federico Bonelli but he would be leaving the Royal Ballet before the performance date which upset Laura. Next up was William Bracewell, but this was also changed when Lauren Cuthbertson went on maternity leave. According to Laura, the partnership with Vadim should not work but somehow it does. He is very shy in the studio but once on stage he is an honest dancer who “wears his artistic heart on his sleeve”. These three performances of “Month in the Country” with Vadim are precious to Laura and she says that she will keep them in a little locket in her heart and having two more performances with him in Japan will be very special.
Laura, her husband, Justin Meissner and Ricardo Cervera have visited Japan on several occasions in the past. Justin created a company whose aim was to teach, at a time when this was quite a unique endeavour, though nowadays the market is saturated with such companies. He presented galas to showcase British ballet to a Japanese audience. Initially they tried to find a Japanese producer to work with, but they found that the traditional Japanese galas were extremely long with many classical pas de deux, but rarely featuring Japanese dancers. There were many conditions set for them such as the demand for big stars and vetoing of certain dancers. So, they refused to capitulate and decided to do things on their own, something which was unheard of at the time. They even disguised themselves to surreptitiously hand out leaflets promoting their galas outside competition events. They were truly on their own. However, they were amazed to see how many people turned up for their first night and the idea picked up momentum with Chacott, a famous ballet and dance retailer in Japan, offering to sponsor them in their second year. In the third year, they continued on their own, without sponsorship and brought a varied repertoire which the Japanese audience loved.
Included in that repertoire was the ballet ‘Quizas’, choreographed by William Tuckett for Laura and Ricardo Cervera when they were both still very young. The ballet, which Laura says she could not dance with anyone else, played to their strengths. It is a humorous ballet which includes salsa rhythms and Ricardo entering playing fake maracas but develops into a beautiful pas de deux. They were highly complimented on the ballet in the post gala reception and were even asked if she and Ricardo could give salsa lessons! It was explained to them that, in Japan, it is considered rude to laugh during a performance as this may be interpreted as laughing at (not with) the performers, so audience members had been holding napkins in front of their faces to disguise their laughter when Ricardo came on holding his maracas. Another ballet from their repertoire was ‘Room of Cooks’ by Ashley Page. It was important for them to feature dancers who best represented the choreographers’ works and not just the big names. It was humbling for them to see so many dancers working hard to deliver a gala that she and Justin had produced.
Workshops were created around the galas to bring the essence of choreographers like Ashton and ensure that the dancers really understood what the steps and movements signified. Once when coaching an Ashton piece in a small school in Hiroshima to some very dedicated students, she explained that the piece was based on the Charlestonand the Twist. However, the students did not know what these two dances were. So, she encouraged them to do research on the Internet to learn the background to the steps and broaden their education.
During one of their biggest events, they brought over two pianists from the Royal Ballet and did workshops including Japanese pianists where they highlighted the importance of the music and the stagecraft. The aim was to encourage everyone and get them to a professional level whatever their ability or likelihood to succeed, showing them how the Royal Ballet worked and treating them all with respect. A young Japanese student once asked Laura if she had ever been in a situation where she felt that she was not good enough to continue but that she loved doing what she was doing so much that she simply could not give it up. This struck a chord with Laura because, at that time, she had similar feelings and it has become a passion of hers to ensure that we do not just focus on the physical but also consider dancers’ mental well-being, encouraging them to find ways to continue, and to seek help when they need it. Sometimes the answers to our problems come from unexpected places; sometimes just a conversation helps, whether you are a student or already a professional.
Unfortunately, the project was eventually taken from them in a hostile manner which was devastating for Justin as he had devoted so much of his time to it. Laura has endeavoured to keep the idea alive for him and they are now ready to relaunch. They will continue to go to small, remote locations to find and inspire talented students. Japan is one of many places where they have shared their skills, others include China and Spain.
The talk turned to the most recent production of “Cinderella”. Wendy Ellis-Somes, who remembered Laura as the Autumn Fairy, asked Kevin O’Hare whether Laura could coach the solo. In fact, she ended up coaching all the choreography of the four seasons as well as the Fairy Godmother’s role for all five casts. It was a considerable task, especially considering that everyone was new to the ballet. Wendy was very supportive and sat in the rehearsals, pointing out the details of the movements but, at the same time, giving Laura a great deal of freedom to work with the dancers and “drill the Ashton into them” so that even if they didn’t perform every single bend or move to perfection, there would still be enough to honour the spirit of Ashton.
As for the role of Cinderella, Laura found the choreography beautiful but challenging, especially as she was just returning after a bad torn calf injury. Despite the difficulty, she loved dancing the role and after an initial struggle, she found that she simply needed to bring the fairy tale element into her heart and link Cinderella’s story from Act I to Act II then into Act III, ensuring that there was continuity, and that they were not simply separate entities. She and her partner, Matthew Ball, worked extremely hard to create something special together. They had not partnered each other much before. Matthew had danced several roles with Yasmine Nagdhi who is a very different dancer to Laura. However, they created something much deeper than simply dancing and, according to Laura, Matthew took very good care of her so they developed an excellent partnership. There is a moment in Act III when they look into each other’s eyes where there was a baring of the soul which only happens when you are extremely comfortable with your partner. She had a very similar experience with Federico Bonelli during a rehearsal for “Giselle” and also with Vadim Muntagirov, especially in “Month in the Country” and Ryoichi Hirano in “Winter Dreams”; a moment when you exist alone with your dance partner in a “silence and stillness”. Making these special connections with a partner is something that Laura will miss when she retires.
David commented that the Stepsisters in this new production of “Cinderella” dominated less than in the previous one and that the roles were performed by excellent dancers. Laura remarked that her husband, Justin Meissner, who had been a First Soloist in the Royal Ballet and had danced the Jester role on several occasions, had difficulty with the fact that, when the Sistersundressed, they were so obviously men. In Laura’s cast, the Stepsisters were played by Calvin Richardson and James Hay and Laura tried very much to interact with them so that, although Cinderella was “an outsider”, she was still part of action. For example, at one point the sisters argue and Calvin shoves James, so Laura/Cinderella goes up to James to commiserate and James reciprocates by shoving her, showing that the younger sister is bullied by her older sister so mimics her by bullying Cinderella. Watching Luca Acri playing the younger sister, Laura felt that she could read everything that he was trying to convey, and she fell in love with the character. Performing roles like this will certainly help him to develop character dancing. Dancing the Stepsisters meant that the dancers could concentrate on the characterisations because they had no need to focus on difficult steps or technique. Characterisation is something that the dancers try to perfect even when the choreography is challenging, so this was an opportunity to develop, and it was definitely a great success for the men/Sisters.
Next Laura spoke to us about “Like Water for Chocolate”. Christopher Wheeldon began working on the ballet soon after Liam Scarlett had died so Laura was “not in a great place” which made her find music very moving, especially the Liszt and Chopin that Liam loved so much. It triggered her and there were many tears. Christopher Wheeldon was very sympathetic and sent Laura an e-mail telling her to take the time she needed. When she first walked into the rehearsal studio, she had a complete meltdown because she could visualise Liam sitting there on a chair, and the buzz and excitement of a new piece reminded her that Liam, with whom she had worked for 12 years, would never create anything new again. Something Laura will always be thankful for is the “humanity” of Christopher Wheeldon, who immediately noticed her discomfort and, taking her hand, showed her different elements of the show including the designs and then the rehearsal process began, upon which Laura switched to “artist mode” and everything was fine.
They began by rehearsing some of the scenes with Tita,including the fight scene and the moment when Mama Elena sees Tita melt down and washes her hands of her, telling Doctor John to deal with it and that she wants nothing more to do with her. This was followed by Mama Elena’s wake duet with Joseph Sissens. The first day involved several complicated lifts, but then the dance was stripped back to a more sensual, tango-like dance. This was the first time she had danced with Joseph, but it worked well. However, he was in the first cast so he would, in fact, be dancing with Lauren Cuthbertson, whereas Laura was in the second cast. Then, for some reason, Lauren could no longer perform the role and Laura was asked by Christopher Wheeldon to join the first cast and have the role of Mama Elena created on her, the first time she had done a principal role for him. Although he is very precise with his choreography, he gave Laura a great deal of freedom to define the role. At the end Mama Elena appears as a giant ghost, wearing a “crazy” structure. The costume was very effective but difficult to work with because sometimes she was strapped into it for around 45 minutes. During one demanding stage call, Mama Elena’s long cloak got caught on the wheel, but they kept pushing the costume forward which pushed her hips forward, but her back was bending in the other direction. She was screaming for them to stop but the music was so loud no one could hear her, and it took a long time for them to release her from the contraption, which was physically and emotionally traumatising.
During the National Dance Awards, they showed some of the footage from the ballet including Cesar Corrales leading the revolutionaries in a wonderful dance and, now at the end of her career, she realised that she was being paid to listen to incredible music and watch extremely good-looking men doing this amazing dance. The ballet had a particular energy which Laura loved, and she would have loved to dance it again before retiring. Mama Elena is a harsh character and though, as dancers, you always like to have some empathy for the people you portray, Mama Elena is simply a mean character. However, the wake scene was so beautiful that, once Laura knew that this scene existed in the ballet, it was easier for her to portray the stern character of Mama Elena from Act I, even to the point of being dismissive when she watches her own daughter try to end her life by attempting to strangle herself with her plaits. This is a brutal scene, but Laura felt that, by knowing the backstory, she and the audience would realise that, with this scene, Mama Elena was simply recreating her own past experiences.
David next remarked on the fact that Laura became emotional when speaking about Liam Scarlett, during her acceptance speech at the National Dance Awards. Laura commented that she thought that she had got to the point when she could say Liam’s name without it choking her up, but, clearly, she is not quite there yet. Whilst accepting that we all have different experiences, she can say with her hand on her heart that, in the 12 years that she worked with Liam, she never had a single bad day with him in the studio. He was generous and very much a dancer’s choreographer, creating a great deal of work for the corps de ballet. She first worked with Liam when she and Bennet Gartside worked on a pas de deux from “Of Mozart”. Laura felt that this work was very “mature”. Liam excelled at abstract ballets which have a narrative. For example, in “Asphodel Meadows”, which she last danced with William Bracewell, there is a moment when the dancers look into each other’s eyes, but Liam asked them to actually avoid looking at each other until that moment. One of her lasting memories is Liam bringing some ballet students with whom he was working on “Cunning Little Vixens” to watch them rehearse and she felt proud that this man, who was an incredible talent himself, wanted to “show them off” because they were doing something special with his vision. This was humbling for Laura.
During the first night’s performance, Liam gave Laura a hug and normally, whereas he would say something like: “It’s yours now, do what you want with it because I trust you fully”, or he would ask her to take care of any younger partners she might be dancing with (as Laura has a tendency to be exuberant on stage). This time he said: “I love you. Take care of Will”. The pas de deux went extremely well and when they looked into each other’s eyes, Laura noticed that William Bracewell was teary. Afterwards, whilst she was in her dressing room changing for her next role, Liam came up and silently put his hand on her shoulder. When she looked up at him through the mirror, she saw that he was crying and Laura knew that, for Liam, she and William had transcended his vision which is the most a choreographer can ask from a dancer. Little did she know that that moment was, in a way, a goodbye.
She is not the only person who feels that she had a completely different experience of Liam than what has been publicly expressed and there are many dancers who were not sure where they belonged in the industry until Liam “saw them and set them free”. He once said of her: “Laura Morera is the reason that choreography is so simple.” She feels that the 12 years she had with him was a gift. He provided her with a variety of roles at a time when she was not particularly busy and feeling that she had been denied roles that she could have brought something special or different to: Juliet or “Month in the Country”, for example. Liam created fast choreography in “Asphodel Meadows”for her, but then, conversely, made her a really mean chain-smoking stepmother in “Hansel and Gretel”, followed by the vulnerable and sweet role of Annie Crook in “Sweet Violets” and then a contrasting role in “Age of Anxiety” which is all about rhythm.
Laura has always been called a versatile dancer who can dance any role. She is a dramatic, intelligent but also beautiful dancer. However, in many cases, she was not offered roles that she was clearly right for. But Liam did give her the opportunities and created roles on her. She used to tell him that he was doing way too much and that he should slow down and be more present. But she is grateful that he, at such a young age, has left behind him this great body of work that she hopes one day we will see performed again. She felt free to give him her opinion and advice on changes to his choreography when she felt something didn’t work because sometimes, as a choreographer, you are so invested in the work that you lose perspective. For example, in “Frankenstein”, she felt that the relationship between Frankenstein and Elizabeth needed to be closer in the Act II pas de deux, because, if the character were as paranoid as Liam was portraying him, he would not try to save her. So, with Liam’s agreement, she and Federico Bonelli created a closer bond between the characters, which he subsequently agreed was the right thing to do. Laura said that she has had several gifts in her life and Liam Scarlett was definitely one of them.
David shared with the audience that the Ballet Association’s leaving present to Laura was being used by her to take her brother to a Joaquin Sabina concert. Her “wonderful” brother is five years older than her, did everything with her and “loves her to bits”. The death of her father changed the family dynamic and Laura describes it as “still driving in the same car but with one of the wheels missing”, which made the car unbalanced. Because of her work, the family has always had to fit around her schedule, so this was an opportunity to do something with her brother to try and build on the relationship and the love that they have for each other. It is his 50th birthday in July so she will present the concert tickets to him then. She wants to show him that it is not a one-way street, that she does think of him and though her schedule is difficult, he is very important to her. She wants to show the people she loves that she does have time for them.
David remembers Laura’s whole family, (mother, father and both grandmothers), always supporting her throughout her whole career since her time at White Lodge. She went to the Royal Academy of Dance summer schools at the age of 7 and this is where she met Ricardo Cervera. They kept coming back, having won scholarships but then it was decided not to give them the scholarship anymore, so they were advised to find another summer school. Her British tap teacher suggested the Royal Ballet School where she was eventually offered a place at age 10. The ballet scene in Spain was not ideal, with people injured at an early age, no career prospects and no real ballet companies so, as Laura really wanted to continue in ballet, she felt that it was best to try the Royal Ballet School, though this meant breaking up the family. Early on she was on stage in Swan Lake, and she knew that this was the journey she wanted to take. For her, dance was not simply about doing pirouettes, it was an art form which would allow you to have a long career. Apart from the physical demands, the art of dance brings you a maturity, an emotional knowledge you acquire through the things that happen in your life. In Laura’s case it was the death of her father, the aftermath of the demise of Justin’s company, the death of Liam Scarlett. After his death, the company performed “Dances at a Gathering” and Laura was sent a photo of her and Luca Acri in a scene at the end of the ballet. In close up, it is evident that she is in floods of tears because the art “allows you to grieve”, become different people and show your emotions, whether happy or sad. Being in a company where you can experience this is what has kept Laura here and, even in her darkest moments, she has never contemplated leaving. Instead, she wanted to fight to stay and make her impression on the company.
David opened up the floor to questions and one audience member commented that the Prologue Fairies in “Sleeping Beauty” seemed influenced by all the “bending” that had occurred in the recent production of Ashton’s “Cinderella”and were bending in a similar manner. Laura replied that this is the ideal because it becomes the style stamp of the Royal Ballet. She remarked that when she and Federico Bonelli attended galas, they were often told by people that they were obviously Royal Ballet dancers because they moved differently and there was an elegance to what they did, and they wore stunningly beautiful and extravagant costumes. Laura feels that it is good that Ashton has such an influence on their style and that they can represent him throughout the classical repertoire by taking something that they have learnt and seeing how it fits with everything else that they do.
Laura was asked what changes she had seen in the mental health care given to dancers nowadays. Her response was that the main change was awareness and she said that some of the things that she experienced in the ‘80s simply would not be permitted today. She is, however, concerned about the fine line between the inability to criticise at all versus overpraising dancers or demotivating them with harshly delivered feedback. Many problems come from the dancers’ lack of self-worth and self-empowerment. She herself has experienced criticism which has not damaged her but made her think about how she can improve and reach the potential that the person giving the feedback sees in her. On the other hand, she has also had feedback which was damaging because it set her goals which were impossible for her to reach unless she “drove herself to an early grave”. That kind of feedback is pointless because it chips away at your self-worth. In ballet, you can hear one thing from one person but the complete opposite from someone else and there is a great deal of negative feedback. Everyone tries to get you to fit their ideal mould but trying to fit all these different moulds is horrendous for dancers. After much help, Laura developed her own self-worth and she simply tried to become the best version of herself that she could be. Subsequently, if anyone gave her feedback which meant that she would damage her health if she tried to comply, she was mature enough to challenge the feedback or “step away from it”.
It is now Laura’s quest to help other dancers find that self-worth and manage the negative feedback that they constantly receive. For example, you may not be “classical enough” but let’s work out why and, as you have already been given the role, let’s give you the freedom to believe in yourself, be open-hearted and find a way to connect with the audience and your partner. There is now a great deal of awareness in the company, but there is still a long way to go if it is to create elite dancers who are happy and healthy.
Some young dancers feel that they do not belong, and they say that classical ballet is for an older generation or that it is irrelevant, and we need to tell the stories of today which are meaningful to them. But Laura tells them that it is a gift to be in a company which gives you access to those stories, and which embodies a history they can learn about but also that gives you a pure connection to the music. With ballets like ‘The Nutcracker’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’, you can make magic when you connect the steps with the music and, by eliminating “the drama”, create purity. It will be up to new choreographers to create the stories that the dancers want to portray but there is a place for everything, and the company does not only perform classical ballet. Everyone is so scared of offending and, though there may be some things that are offensive, it is important to have the conversation as some of these stories are just part of a history that we can learn from so that the younger generation do not make the same mistakes we made in the past.
David shared the great news that Laura has been asked to become a president of the Ballet Association as she has strongly supported the Association throughout her 28 (not 27) year career. We are proud and feel privileged that she has accepted. Equally, Laura feels privileged and honoured to be asked because the support, love, knowledge and respect from the Association means a lot to the Royal Ballet dancers and she enjoys getting together with us to share the knowledge about herself and her experiences in a more human way by connecting to the people who queue up to buy tickets for the ballets.
After thanking Laura, David ended by reminding us that the Ballet Association also exists to support ballet dancers of all ranks and that it is important that we also come out to support the younger, emerging dancers and that we do not just show up for the ‘stars’.
Report written by Herma John and edited by Laura Morerai and David Bain.
© The Ballet Association 2023