Summer months in Italy boast many ballet galas: Bolle & Friends, Abbagnato & Friends… who doesn't want to tour the glorious piazze of Italy: fantastic dance in fantastic settings. But this year, one gala stands out, for Mara Galeazzi gave her farewell on 23 July at the enchanting Teatro Romano in Verona. Not Galeazzi & Friends but Mara Galeazzi Gala with Principals from the Royal Ballet, though, not coincidentally, these were her friends, real friends, who have been with her on and off stage during her career with London's Royal Ballet.
Her friends and colleagues also happen to be extraordinary dancers, and in the lineup were Sarah Lamb and Marianela Nuñez , Gary Avis, Steven McRae, Thiago Soares and Edward Watson. A delightfully mixed programme juggled classics with neoclassics, modern and tap. The 2,000 year-old amphitheatre was crammed with 2,000 fans, the atmosphere was electric with anticipation, and a full moon emerged from behind the cypress trees to give its blessing to the evening.
To enthusiastic applause Mara Galeazzi arrived onstage with Gary Avis for the Gremin pas de deux from John Cranko's Onegin. She is evidently at home in Avis' arms with his noble, secure and sensitive partnering. When dance of this quality is presented by someone who is about to hang up their pointe shoes, it is difficult to understand the decision to retire; so many want to dance, so few can. But Mara has her reasons, two very good ones: her daughter Maia and her husband Jurgen, and she wants to be with them full-time.
Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson were ethereal presences in McGregor's Qualia, sensualness with utter control, a seductive combination. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares brought on the fireworks with the black swan pas de deux. Nuñez ‘s Odile manages to seduce the prince with guile but without ever seeming truly wicked – Nuñez must have had any nasty genes removed at birth – and so she succeeds in easily seducing the audience too. The dare-devil quality Soares brought to his variation and the coda was thrilling, and made a fascinating counterbalance with Nunez's seemingly effortless and controlled approach to her bravura passages.
Lamb and Steven McRae changed the tone dramatically with Alastair Marriott's In the Hothouse, a pas de deux set to the lied of the same name, Im Treibhaus, from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, which is intense and slightly mysterious. The motivating verse seems to be, “With desirous longing, you open your arms wide, and embrace… the desolate, empty, horrible void.” And this is what we see. When they are not on the floor, as they often are, Lamb is aloft for much of the time, skillfully maneuvering around, and being maneuvered by, a strong, controlled McRae, both demonstrating exquisite lines. Hauntingly beautiful.
On more familiar territory was the Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux, a ‘must' in any Verona gala. Galeazzi and Watson operate on the same wavelength, and gave enormous truth to MacMillan's choreography. No glance was thrown away, no reaction missed. The kiss was so tender and authentic that it sent a voyeuristic thrill through the audience. Here were two actors who also danced wonderfully together.
After an interval, Galeazzi and Avis danced in another Marriott piece, created for them, called Look West. Bernstein's Violin Serenata invites choreography, and it was executed as is only possible when two dancers know each other so well: two minds thinking as one, two bodies moving as one.
Lamb and McRae followed in the third act pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. Sarah Lamb ‘is' Aurora: a young princess who sparkles with enthusiasm, yet it's contained by her regal grace and poise. She is gorgeous, perfect. Lamb is the epitome of Royal Ballet style and comportment, yet hails from Boston where she trained and started her career. A good case for not worrying too much about destroying the house style by bringing in foreign artists. Of the seven Royal Ballet dancers in Verona only Avis and Watson are Brits, though Argentinian Nuñez and Australian McRae were ‘finished' at the Royal Ballet School. Italian Galeazzi trained at La Scala in Milan and Brazilian Soares in Rio. Vive la différence!
McRae's Prince Florimund impressed on this hot summer night with chaînés so fast that sweat rained into the first rows, and his elegant barrel turns floated, rather than jumped, through the air. He brought down the house again, later in the evening, with his tap number Something Different. His cheeky arrogance was delightful in the unaccompanied opening, which then exploded in a dazzling display of tap finesse to Louis Prima's swing classic, Sing, Sing, Sing.
Arvo Pärt's music, taken from Tabula Rasa (Blank Slate), is so intensely poignant that when Christopher Wheeldon's expressive yet simple choreography is laid on, the result is emotionally devastating. There is an inevitability to Pärt's minimalist theme, as though it wants to, but can't, break free from the tight constraints the composer has imposed. All this Wheeldon reflects in the movement, and the result is After the Rain. It is insistent and hypnotic, as are the interpreters Nuñez and Soares. A magical, meditative experience.
It was rightly Galeazzi's evening, and it came to a close with one of her signature roles as MacMillan's Manon. She was partnered again by an eager and passionate Watson, and the first act bedroom scene pas de deux was a suitable culmination of her ballet career: technically complex yet unforced, perfectly judged reactions and interactions, showing once again why she is one of the top dancers in the world.
Grazie Mara, you will be missed.
Top photo: Mara Galeazzi prepares for her last show
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.