“This is Covent Garden.” The recorded announcement reverberates along the platform.
I always feel that this is when my ballerina day starts… It’s been 20 years that I’ve come to this station and I just feel that this is where the magic begins, believe it or not — Covent Garden tube station.
This is the opening of a delightful 30-minute BBC Radio 4 programme Behind the Scenes — which can be heard online — with Marianela Nuñez, when she was shadowed during her preparations for the recent La Bayadère at The Royal Opera House.
She talks about the ‘magic’ and ‘special’ quality of Covent Garden which after two decades with the company still works its spell on this most level-headed of ballerinas. Journalist Beaty Rubens says,
I hadn’t expected someone so down to earth, so instantly likeable.
They visit her dressing room, where there are shelves of pointe shoes which she is going through at the rate of three pairs a day for a ballet like Bayadère. There’s a visit to the Pilates studio and as it’s a Gamzatti day the focus is on the ankles and feet. But she also plays Nikiya, roles she alternates with Natalia Osipova. Her partner Vadim (“You know we call him ‘The Dream'”) Muntagirov talks about “Nela’s” famously infectious laugh.
Nuñez is asked about nerves and pressure,
Thank God, I love those things… I think I work better under pressure and I’m hungry for it.
Kevin O’Hare talks about her mix of Royal Ballet style with an Argentine temperament, then the programme follows Nuñez to her family home in Argentina where she performs in an annual gala to bring ballet, free, to an audience of 8,000. Her father is justly proud of his daughter and the sacrifices she made to get to the top of her profession.
Back at The Royal Ballet there is Natalia Makarova coaching. Nuñez says,
She just makes poetry with what she says and how she moves and it’s just very inspiring,
Nuñez starts preparing about three hours before a show,
I like to be very quiet before a show.
She focuses on the ballet, makes sure everything around her is tidy, does a little Pilates and some class. Then comes the opening performance. There are too many flowers on this opening night for her to travel home on the Piccadilly line, but otherwise she’d go home on the tube.
Usually I come back home, even if I have a lot of flowers and if I can manage, I like to take the tube, and people ask me, “Is it your birthday? Why do you have so many flowers?”, and usually I say, “Yes, it’s my birthday.”
The next day she’ll be at the Opera House for a Pilates lesson as 9.30, then class, then a Gamzatti rehearsal…
Life goes on.
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.