Sarah Lamb, Marianela Nuñez, Gary Avis, Steven McRae, Thiago Soares and Edward Watson celebrate Mara Galeazzi
As Royal Ballet dancers arrived in Verona to share the stage with Mara Galeazzi for the last time, they talked about their Italian colleague who has danced with the Royal Ballet from more than 20 years.
Long-time partner Edward Watson, who joined the Royal Ballet two years after Mara, had just finished rehearsing a pas de deux with her:
Mara's amazing, she's the most positive person in the company and the most amazing person to work with because whatever mood I'm in she can kind of turn it around within seconds, usually by ignoring it… it's always a total joy being with her.
We've known each other for probably 20 years and I've never known her strop, or be in a bad mood or anything like that, and I genuinely wouldn't have done half the roles I've done, or had the success that I've had in them, without her… I totally mean that. I don't know what I'm going to do without her actually. We'll see what will happen.
We've just done her last shows of Mayerling and Manon, and I realised that I don't really have an idea in my head until I'm onstage with her, then something just happens. Mara just knows what to do with certain roles, she understands totally from within what that character is, and how to say it through the choreography. We have a total connection like that, which I've just taken for granted for the last ten years that we've been working together, and I realised that none of this is from me, it's all totally from her. It's a total response to whatever she does, and it's a really, really rare thing for anyone to have. So it's been my career as well as hers. We don't ever talk, we just see what happens on that day and make it work, it's really special.
Because we know each other so well, she knows when not to look me in the eye because we'll laugh, like just now [during the rehearsal]. There was one show we did of Manon, it must have been in Beijing, one of my first shows, and there's a lift where I can't see exactly where her shoulders are, and so I grabbed her head instead and nearly pulled her wig off. All I heard was her going, “My wig!” [with an Italian accent], and now whenever we do it, and we come to that part, we both quietly go, “My wiiiig!” in every show, it's the only kind of thing we can get away with.
Another partner, Gary Avis, has known Mara since she arrived in the company.
She's an exceptional artist and a true professional, come thick or thin. I never worry whenever I partner Mara that there's going to be a moment when she's not interpreting the music, and she has 100% confidence in her partner. She never thinks, I've got to try and make sure I can do this by myself, but works together with her partner, so it's not just a lady being partnered by a man, but you work as a team.
She always has fun, she's a real pro but above all she likes to enjoy what she does, and she makes sure that this comes across to the audience. In whatever the circumstances, she never shows that it's a fight or hard work, but always tries to engage with the audience, and they feel as though they're going on this journey with her. It's never a case of doing steps and choreography, it's always real and true. She has a sense of making something come alive and have breath.
Mara has her own take on things and never does a carbon copy of somebody else's performance or interpretation. That's what so special about watching her because in the years that I've known her she's really grown in each role and never really done the same performance twice. I like that, it's really special. It's a special quality and not everybody has it, and I don't think it's something you can teach. It certainly comes from within, from the soul.
I remember when Mara was given that enormous opportunity of doing Mayerling for the first time; it was with Adam Cooper in Istanbul when we were on tour, and it was her first chance of doing one of those really big roles. She was so focused and so ready for her first entrance, but at that point in the evening the set collapsed, so we had to bring the curtain down. It's not easy to cope with that for someone who was taking on such an enormous role, there was such a big build up and then suddenly…
What's so great about Mara is that you can always have fun, whatever you do with her it's a really enjoyable time. It's nice because we've kind of grown up together and we know each other inside out and back to front, so there are never really any issues, and if there are you get them out, you air them, and that's it.
For the last few years, Sarah Lamb and Mara have shared a dressing room at the Royal Opera House:
Mara is incredibly generous, kind, respectful, encouraging, and very, very supportive. I'll miss her so much. Sharing a dressing room with her was always a positive experience, and it was always a warm friendship. She's really such a wonderful individual.
As a dancer she has a lot of versatility and so much natural talent and ability. She has an incredible depth and understanding of the dramatic ballets, and a real passion to take on something very new and very strange and make it work. Wayne McGregor has wanted to work with her for several years, and she's attracted many different choreographers.
Marianela Nuñez has known Mara since joining the Royal Ballet in 1998, soon after arriving in England from Argentina. After the Gala she spoke about her friend:
She's gonna be missed so much. She inspires her friends and colleagues, so we're going to miss her a lot, on and off the stage. She's a wonderful person and a wonderful artist with the biggest heart. I'm saying this because it's true, not just because you're asking me. There's going to be a big gap to fill.
So what's special about her as a dancer..? Her soul, she gives it all on the stage. I saw it again tonight, as soon as she steps on stage it's all for the audience and the artform. A beautiful dramatic dancer; she's inspired me a lot with all the repertoire she did. It's been amazing seeing her over the years. It's been heaven. She goes right to the zone, it's natural for her, so when she's on the stage she can become that person she's portraying and it's just wonderful. Sometimes in the rehearsal studio people are not like that, but she is. She gives it all, 100%. She's very generous in rehearsals, and I think that's because she's a very generous person, and this comes across on the stage. You can't really lie on the stage, you really see the person as they are. That's why her performances were wonderful because she's a wonderful person.
A very long time ago, maybe ten years, I was doing the younger sister, Olga, in Onegin [to Mara's Tatiana]. There's a quick change in Act 2, a blackout, and everyone has to run off the stage really quickly and we have to change costumes, and the corp de ballet's changing too, so everybody's rushing. Mara grabbed my hand because we have to leave the stage together and somebody bumped into her really hard and her contact lens come out and she started screaming, “I can't see, I can't see,” and the next scene we were going to do is very dark, so I was thinking, what are we going to do? But she coped with it so well, and laughed about it when it was over, which other people probably wouldn't do, and that's very her. She was always in a great mood.
She's always positive. These days, it's very rare to find people who give, people can be very selfish. It's rare to find people like Mara who will be there for their colleagues, and that's very important. To be an artist I think you have to be generous; you can't be selfish, you know?
Thiago Soares has known Mara for the decade he's been dancing with the Royal Ballet:
Mara's always one of the team. She's really positive and always thinks about the group, not just her, and interacts with everyone else on stage. She was already with the Royal Ballet when I arrived, and she was very kind and really helped me find my feet; she was very important for me to help me understand how the company works.
She's always committed, and gives everything of herself to those onstage and the audience, in rehearsals too. She doesn't worry about how she looks or anything, she just goes for it, and she feels every moment. She's a true artist.
Sometimes we argued during rehearsals, but with Mara it never lasts long. But they were good arguments, to help us work well together and create something important. The first time I danced in Mayerling was with Mara, and as she'd danced it before she helped me find my way – though I remember we argued during those rehearsals too!
Steven McRae has known Mara for less time than the others, having joined the company in 2004, but his feelings echo the sentiments of his fellow dancers:
Mara has always been the most genuine of colleagues. From the minute I joined the company she has encouraged me, though I've danced very little with here. I remember doing a choreographic evening Draft Works, with a young choreographer in the company, and I got to dance with her. I think it was my first or second season, and I remember her being so generous and encouraging. She wasn't afraid to help me and that's a quality that's quite rare amongst dancers, that quality of genuinely wanting to help without getting anything in return; it's not like I can do this and you can do that.
Everything Mara does she just throws herself at, there's no holding back, or today I'm going to take it easy: if she's doing it, she does it, that's it.
Mara has certainly left her mark. According to lurid films and the tabloid press, the upper echelons of the ballet world are filled with continual backbiting and jealousy. Here emerges a quite different picture. So as everyone starts to think about getting to bed, what does Mara feel about leaving her colleagues?
I will miss their love, the sense of family, their friendship, and all the giggles… everything they've given me all these years. I feel very emotional, and when I sat in my house the day after Monte Carlo [where she gave her last performance, as Manon,with the Royal Ballet], I was getting a lot of messages on Facebook from them all, and with each message I started crying. It's really like leaving my husband, and part of my heart will stay with them forever and ever. I'll miss them.
I think that the gala was fun, it was great, and everyone danced beautifully. There was great quality there, definitely, but I think that the most important thing is that because we are so close to each other, and respect each other, that really shows on stage. There's no selfishness, no prima donnas, there's no difference between us, and that's the most important thing.
So as the others fly back to London, what will Mara do next?
Well, life will continue offstage, as well as onstage, with many future projects. My charity, maybe more galas, and in the future maybe a company in the Middle East, but most of all I'll be with my husband and my child, we'll be all together now, reunited again, that's most important, all together in the same country: Muscat, Oman. In the heat, 50°! On the 30th August I'll be flying out with my husband and Maia… all together.
Epilogue: Every day's funny with Mara…
Gramilano: So does anyone have any funny stories about Mara?
Sarah Lamb: Oh, I have a lot of funny moments, but I can't think of any stories.
Marianela Nuñez: I have a story that I think everyone will share, it is of Mara in Japan singing the Titanic song in a karaoke place. So for every last show she's done we've all been singing it.
Sarah Lamb: Oh yes, and Mara generally has a lot of Malapropisms in English and that makes her quite funny…
Steven McRae: …every day's funny with Mara!
All photos by Gramilano
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.