All hail Queen Marianela. Photo by Laura Gallant

5 Lessons We Could All Learn from Marianela Nuñez

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 from Teatro Colón], I've got my life, but we need to dance together, and professionally it works."

Never Settle

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!"

To read Dance Magazine's full cover story on Marianela Nuñez, get your copy of our September issue.

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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

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Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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