After 20 years at The Royal Ballet, Marianela Nuñez has more than a few words of wisdom to share. As writer Lyndsey Winship points out in our September cover story, over the past two decades Nuñez has never missed a season, and never once had a serious injury. She's stayed with the company through four directors, rising through the ranks to become its star.
So what's the secret of her staying power?
Here are five of our favorite insights from Winship's story:
Pace Yourself So That You Don't Burn Out
Nuñez tells Dance Magazine that she's grateful for the way her career has been "managed," as she puts it.
"I did everything at the right time," she says. "The way the roles came my way, even my guesting. I started guesting quite late on in my career and that helped me stay free from injuries."
It's interesting to hear her talk about being "managed" at a time when some dancers are seeking to take more independent control over their careers. "I feel sometimes people are too young, they travel the world, they do all the repertoire," says Nuñez. "They are 28 and you look at them and, well, you can see that it's not fresh anymore."
Work Hardest On Your Weaknesses
Nuñez makes a heartbreaking Odette. Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy Royal Opera House
As a teenager, Nuñez was nothing short of a prodigy, and her dazzling technique net her a company contract with The Royal when she was only 16. But, she tells Winship, there was a lot left to learn.
A skillful technician, Nuñez never had any trouble with the steps, but she credits her coaches at The Royal, including former ballerina Lesley Collier, with teaching her "how to develop properly as an artist." Having thought she might be consigned to flashy supporting roles—Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty—Nuñez has proved herself the consummate all-rounder, a deeply lyrical, moving actress as well as a dancer of bravura flair. She makes a heartbreaking Odette with wings fluttering like sobs; in Bayadère, she dances both Gamzatti and Nikiya. She is particularly strong in the sparkling allégro and specific épaulement of Sir Frederick Ashton, The Royal's founding choreographer, the very definition of the English style.
Don't Let Personal Worries Distract From Your Work
With Thiago Soares in Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain. Photo by Tristram Kenton, courtesy ROH
Nuñez has learned to not let life's natural ups and downs throw her off course when she's on stage.
After her marriage to Brazilian Royal Ballet principal Thiago Soares ended, the pair kept their split quiet for over a year, going to work as normal and dancing together. It must have been hard for her, I mention. "Well, you know," she says, rolling her eyes. "Life!"
"We respect each other as artists and as people," she says, by way of explanation. "We are lucky that we could keep that relationship onstage. Life moved on. I've got my boyfriend [Argentinian dancer Alejandro Parente, who just retired fromTeatro Colón], I've got my life, but we need to dance together, and professionally it works."
Nuñez rehearsing Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote. Photo by Kristie Kahns.
Winship had an obvious question for Nuñez: After 20 years in the same company, what can there be left to do? But the ballerina finds plenty more to discover within each role—sometimes even returning to roles that some might consider "beneath" her.
"I still have a big chunk to improve," says Nuñez, ever the perfectionist. There are a few ballets she hasn't danced (she mentions Ashton's A Month in the Country), but she also loves to revisit old ones. Two years ago, after dancing many Giselles, she effectively asked for a demotion to revisit Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. "I thought it would be great to go back, now that I've learned more over the years," she says.
"You grow up as an artist, and also as a person, so every time you revisit a role you see it with different eyes," she says. "If I do a ballet I've done 300 times, it still feels like it's the first time. I just want to keep growing. I still want more from myself and from the ballets."
Embrace The Pressure
Nuñez in Christopher Wheeldon's Aeternum. Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy ROH
And the adrenaline of an opening night never fades. "The pressure felt from every angle—I don't know if people are aware of what it takes, mentally. It's a big night! But I love it." She grins. "You press that button on me and vroom!"
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.