Munich's Bayerisches Staatsballett underwent unprecedented upheaval late last season: As new director Igor Zelensky prepared to replace Ivan Liška, the German company announced that no fewer than 29 dancers had either chosen to leave or been let go by their new boss, who came to Munich from Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet. Among the dancers moving on was international star Lucia Lacarra. The willowy, expressive Spanish ballerina had led the Staatsballett as a principal for 14 years, and thrived in its diverse repertoire.
At 41, Lacarra decided to take her career into her own hands. Together with her husband and partner Marlon Dino, she is now a permanent guest artist with three European companies, in addition to freelancing around the world. Here, she explains why taking control instead of settling was the best choice for her—and how empowering it can be at the right stage in a career.
Sometimes, when you start having conversations with a new director, you realize that it's not the best fit. I don't like to stay somewhere and complain: I'd rather do what I feel I need. After all, it's my work, my career, my life.
Before joining Munich's Bayerisches Staatsballett in 2002, I spent three years with Víctor Ullate Ballet in Madrid, three years with Roland Petit's Ballet de Marseille, and then five years with San Francisco Ballet. After that, I was looking for a home, not just one more company.
I met Ivan Liška just before he became director in Munich, and I really liked his vision. I needed a company that would give me the freedom to travel around the world, but where I would be happy to come back. I was really lucky to find that in Munich, along with a beautiful theater and amazing working conditions. (In Germany, things are always very well organized.) We also had the most wonderful repertoire, including all the ballets that I had always wanted to perform, starting with my favorite, John Neumeier's The Lady of the Camellias.
Together with my husband, Marlon Dino, I think we were the first dancers to know that Igor Zelensky would be Munich's next director. He told us in 2013, and said that he wanted us to stay and work with him. I've known Igor for many years as a dancer, from performing together in galas, and our initial idea was to give it a try.
We met with Igor five or six times over several months, but we didn't agree about repertoire, we didn't agree about the amount of performances I should do—and I couldn't get a clear answer. With Ivan, we would always sit down and work out dates for the next season, generally 25 to 30 performances. Those would be respected: Even if I was invited to dance at the Met, if I had a performance in Munich, I always said “no." With Igor, however, the offer was just 12 performances. He wanted me to take part in premieres, but offered just one or two performances for each, and that limited me for everything. What I love is to be onstage: Just this autumn, I had more than 40 performances scheduled.
I decided I'd be happier going my own way, and actually, since then, a weight came off me. I started filling up my agenda with dates, performances, and I am going out now so motivated about everything that I have to do.
Lacarra with Josué Ullate at Víctor Ullate Ballet. PC Pedro Arnay, Courtesy Victor Ullate Ballet.
Marlon and I are going to be permanent guests with three companies: Ballett Dortmund, Víctor Ullate Ballet in Madrid and the Russell Maliphant Company. We've been going to Dortmund for the past 10 years, to take part in the company's annual galas. In October, the director, Xin Peng Wang, created a new Faust for us—it was planned before we left Munich, and we will now discuss future performances.
Things change with time. Fourteen years ago, I needed a home company. Now, I think as I have grown up, as an artist and as a person, I need total freedom. As a freelancer, everything that you dance happens because you've decided it. It's difficult to organize because our daughter is not yet 2 years old, but it's fantastic to have the choice, the opportunity to create my own schedule.
I certainly don't want to dance the same roles over and over. I haven't ruled out returning to classics in the future, but somehow I find it more difficult to motivate myself to prepare for Giselle or Swan Lake again. The work that you have to put in just to keep doing it at the same level isn't as satisfying as experiencing new things. One example is my work with Russell Maliphant: Those are ballets that I never expected I could do, until a couple of years ago. Right now, I have an open mind about what is offered to me.
I would like to keep going like this for a few more years, at least. I'm of the opinion that a dancer can have quite a long career if it's planned in an intelligent way. You can't expect time not to pass for you, to do a ballet the same way when you're 20, 30 and 40. You have to adapt and evolve. I consider Sylvie Guillem an example, because she danced until she was 51, and she was perfection at what she was doing.
I want to dance for as long as I enjoy it, as long as I feel I can do it with the quality that I want. I have quite high expectations, I'm very critical of myself. Right now, I have to say I feel very fulfilled. I have achieved nearly everything that I wanted, but I never really planned—I just wanted to spend my life dancing.