Jonathan Gray sees Laura Morera's final performance at The Royal Opera House
|Title||Anastasia Act III|
|Company||The Royal Ballet|
|Venue||The Royal Opera House, London|
|Date||17 June 2023|
It's always sad when a favourite dancer decides to retire from the stage. With The Royal Ballet's Laura Morera, however, it seems like the end of an era. Although born in Madrid, she trained at both the Lower and Upper Schools of The Royal Ballet School in London and joined The Royal Ballet in 1995 after her graduation. Her training, therefore, is essentially British, and Morera's dance qualities – musicality, sure technique, speedy footwork, lush épaulement, a sense of drama, and a big personality – are the epitome of what is known and understood as the “British” or “Royal Ballet” style.
Morera quickly became a dancer to spot amongst the company ranks, particularly by the ballet “regulars” up in the Amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House, and it wasn't long before she could be seen performing solos in classical ballets such as Raymonda Act III, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Her acting abilities were also noted, and Morera was given early on in her career important roles in some of Kenneth MacMillan's ballets, including Las Hermanas, Danses concertantes, Gloria and Song of the Earth. Morera later excelled in MacMillan's leading roles, performing as Manon and Anastasia, Épine in The Prince of the Pagodas, Masha and Irina in Winter Dreams, Concerto, Elite Syncopations, and no fewer than five roles – Princess Louise, Mitzi Capsar, Princess Stephanie, Countess Larisch and Mary Vetsera – in Mayerling, a feat no other dancer has equalled.
She was also a dancer with whom choreographers wanted to work, Kim Brandstrup, Ashley Page, Liam Scarlett, William Tuckett and Christopher Wheeldon among them. Morera was particularly associated with Scarlett, and she created the role of Elizabeth in his full-length attempt at Frankenstein.
Another string to Morera's bow was her innate understanding of how to perform the works of Frederick Ashton, and she was among a handful of artists who truly brought his ballets back to life. No one who saw them will ever forget her funny, scintillating and touching performances as Lise in La Fille mal gardée, first with her great friend and stage partner Ricardo Cervera and then with Vadim Muntagirov, nor her wickedly funny and sexy Gypsy Girl in The Two Pigeons. She was second to none as Natalia Petrovna in A Month in the Country (which she is scheduled to dance with The Royal Ballet on tour in Japan later this month), Titania in The Dream, Lady Elgar in Enigma Variations and Lykanion in Daphnis and Chloë, and she also gave memorable performances in Les Rendezvous, Les Patineurs, Symphonic Variations, Birthday Offering and Rhapsody.
Although Morera was never given the opportunity to dance the lead roles in The Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake, she was a miraculously musical Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, a tragic Giselle and a feisty Swanilda in Coppélia. She also appeared as Kitri in Rudolf Nureyev's staging of Don Quixote, Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, Effie in August Bournonville's La Sylphide, and she was outstanding in the role formerly danced by Lynn Seymour in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. Earlier this season, Morera even added a new full-length ballerina role to her repertoire – Ashton's Cinderella. “It's never too late for a debut!” she laughed when I interviewed her in 2019 whilst she was preparing to dance Swanilda for the first time.
For her final appearance at Covent Garden, Morera performed Anna Anderson, the woman who believes she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia, in the original one-act version of MacMillan's Anastasia. It's an expressionistic work, originally created for Lynn Seymour in 1967, which gave the ballerina the opportunity to perform a dramatic, emotionally draining role as a woman who thinks she has lost her identity. Reliving what she believes to be the happier times of her life as a member of the Russian Imperial Family, despite the menacing presence of Rasputin, the ballet is a nightmarish, phantasmagorical, sometimes brutal depiction of the events of the Russian Revolution, and how Anastasia may have escaped its horrors only to find new ones in another country. Modern science has since proved Anna Anderson was not Anastasia, but when the ballet was made, both MacMillan and Seymour believed Anderson's story to be true.
Preceded by two superficial works that required The Royal Ballet to be nothing more than dancing bodies, it was good to be reminded in Anastasia just how strongly choreography can present dancers as human beings, even when their distress is great. Morera gave a compelling, powerful, inexhaustible performance, which brought cheers from the audience at the end. As flowers rained down upon her during the curtain calls, she was presented, one by one, with bouquets, hugs and kisses from some of her former dance partners – Matthew Ball, Federico Bonelli, William Bracewell, Alexander Campbell, Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Steven McRae, Vadim Muntagirov and Edward Watson to name a few – and then Kevin O'Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, paid tribute to her with a speech, thanking her for all she had done for The Royal Ballet, and announcing that she will continue to work with the company, staging on them the works of Kenneth MacMillan. In reply, Morera took the microphone and thanked her audience, the company, and her family (pointing upwards at the mention of her late father) for all the support they have shown over the years. Morera's words were simple, honest, and direct, just like her dancing. She is going to be greatly missed.
Laura and her leading men
Jonathan Gray was editor of Dancing Times from 2008 to 2022.
He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. He was on the Curatorial Staff of the Theatre Museum, London, from 1989 to 2005, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet's productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times and The Guardian, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.