Marianela Núñez on one of her fav ballets, La Fille mal gardée, and life under lockdown

Marianela Núñez.<br />© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Marianela Núñez.
© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Part of the Royal Opera House #OurHouseToYourHouse series which also includes the ‘Live from Covent Garden’ season starting 13 June 2020. More details of streamed shows.

La Fille mal gardee is one of the most loved works in The Royal Ballet repertoire and is being streamed by the Royal Opera House this Friday, 12 June, from 19:00 BST. After that you can see it on demand until the 26 June 2020. More details

Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta are in the lead roles of this 2005 recording and we catch up with Marianela about what makes the ballet so special and what life has been like under lockdown, which for her has been in Argentina.

DW: Tell me about Friday night’s streaming of La Fille mal gardée

MN: I’m super happy because I think it’s the perfect ballet – we definitely all need La Fille mal gardée in our lives at the moment. It’s the ideal medicine! If Fille doesn’t cheer you up I don’t know what will. It’s perfection, it will make you laugh, it touches your heart. I’ve seen it a thousand times, I’ve danced it a thousand times, but it always feels like the first time I’ve watched it or danced it. It’s so fresh. It’s such a masterpiece from beginning to end, the sets, the choreography, the music, the characters. Just thinking about it, I smile! I have the best memories, dancing this with Carlos [Acosta] for so many years and having William Tuckett as our Widow Simone. We stayed together as a team for years and years and we actually felt that we were living the story for real.

Do you remember when you first danced it?

Yes – this film [to be shown on Friday] was my debut! In 2005! It felt so natural between me and Carlos. We had so much fun in everything we did – we just literally clicked. I can remember my first performance as if it was yesterday. It became such a mark for us. I’m not trying to sound big-headed or snobby, but I think we did make a stand. For many years, people wanted to see us together in this. It became one of the roles that put me on the map. It opened so many doors, so I hold this in my heart with such precious memories. It’s a very dear role for me. Last time we did Fille, Carlos wasn’t dancing anymore so I got to dance it with Va-Dream [Vadim Muntagirov], my other gorgeous partner. It’s the perfect name for him. I adore dancing with him. Actually you have to work super hard in this ballet, it’s not easy, but I have had the experience of dancing it with these two wonderful men and I love it! I can’t wait for this lockdown to be over so that I can experience this ballet and all the ballets again.

I was saying to someone the other day – listen, when we are finally allowed in the building, I’m going to get all the costumes from all these ballets, put them one on top of the other and run all over the Opera House – and dance, crazy but non-stop, because I’m that desperate!

Which brings me to the series of clips on your Facebook page of the famous ‘Fred Step’. A series of Royal Ballet dancers executing the step in their own surroundings (and brought together by the Frederick Ashton Foundation)

It’s so gorgeous, isn’t it? I was in tears when I saw the final cut – even when I watch it now, the tears go down my face! It’s so touching.

Video created by the Frederick Ashton Foundation

What made you decide to return home to Argentina rather than stay in London?

Well, funny that you should say that because for me home is London, so I wanted to stay home! When these major things happen, it’s so scary, you really just want to stay in your own home. That was my first instinct. But of course, when the borders started to close down, and we didn’t know how long it was going to be for, I got worried as my parents are over sixties, and living here in Argentina with my brothers and also my boyfriend, Alejandro, has just arrived here from Europe. He couldn’t get back. He had been working at the Rome Opera as a guest for a month and came back here with his daughter. He was supposed to return to London to spend time with me. Then he should have gone on to La Scala, Milan. But he got stuck here because the borders were suddenly closed. Although my home is in London, my loved ones are here in Argentina, so that’s what made me want to come here at this time.

Tell me a little about what it’s been like in Argentina – they were quick to implement lockdown.

Obviously, there was a worry about how the health system could cope in a country like Argentina, where there are difficulties everywhere. The government did pretty well and locked down at the same time as most of the countries in Europe. They have managed to keep the cases down, but we are still in lockdown, and they have just announced another three weeks, until the end of June, so the quarantine is continuing.

Marianela Nuñez in Don Quixote.© Foteini Christofilopoulou, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Marianela Nuñez in Don Quixote.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Have you had any access at all to a studio or have you been holed up at home?

I have literally been at home, only allowed to do food shopping and go for a little walk. They eased up a bit and then there was an increase in cases, so they shut down again. Here we are heading into winter, the opposite from Europe, so with winter, there are usually more colds around which makes it harder. Also, we have the really poor neighbourhoods. They don’t have all the facilities like [clean, running] water; they are living right next to each other, so it’s harder to maintain the social distancing rules and keep it under control. In Argentina, we have twenty-four provinces and the biggest number of infections has been around Buenos Aires. It was big, but nothing like as big as Europe. The rest of the country is pretty much free, running back to the ‘new’ normal. I hate to say that it’s a ‘new’ normal, but it’s true.

Tell me how you have been feeling and how you have been able to stay motivated.

I’m desperate to get back to our studios and to our work, my home which I call the [Royal] Opera House. I think about this every day. For someone like me who’s been in the company twenty-three years, I’ve never had a season off, so I’ve never experienced ‘being off.’ For the past ten years I haven’t taken my summer holidays because in those holidays I usually guest all over the world. I haven’t stopped for many, many years and suddenly I’ve been forced to stop because of the situation, and it was scary. I didn’t know what it was like not to be dancing because that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. But what has been amazing, something I’ve always said: dance has been there to hold me up, in great times and in bad times. Ballet is my passion. It’s genuinely what keeps me going. When you have a big passion like that, it doesn’t matter where you are, even with the difficulties of being in the living room, hard floor – you have to invent, create a little ballet studio at home. You do it because you wake up and your life has meaning. I’m trying to keep in shape because I know when this is over I need to be in the best possible shape to give the audiences the best performances I can. I love what I do, and I just keep going – my body just does it.

Marianela Núñez.<br />© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Marianela Núñez.
© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

What about online classes?

We’ve been extremely lucky because the Royal Ballet has provided us with [ballet] classes as well as yoga classes, Pilates classes – so we have all that support, constantly, weekly. I’ve been doing some extra classes with friends, or sometimes I see something online. I have met a lovely Pilates teacher through a friend – actually via Zoom, I haven’t met her in person yet!

The other beautiful thing is that the dance community came together in such a strong way. It’s touching, and it’s inspiring – I feel super proud of all the dancers and companies and audiences all over the world for what they have created during this extraordinary time. The union and the inspiration is really something to remember. I hope we can keep that because it has been something incredible to witness how everybody just kept it together.

It came in such a quick way, so suddenly. I do think sometimes you have to look at your life, and you have to pause for a second. The extraordinary thing with this is that we had to do it all at the same time, all over the world, and that is powerful! I feel blessed to be part of a company like the Royal Ballet where even at times like this, we constantly get phone calls from the management to see how we are, from colleagues, from teachers and from people who take rehearsals – a community of togetherness, of solidarity and kindness. That’s why I call them my family and my home and being so far away – it’s been just the same and sometimes even more. That makes me proud and reassures me that out of this, a lot of amazing things will come. It’s going to be difficult, and we will have to stick together. The arts will definitely need a lot of support, but with the amazing people that are involved in the arts, we will make it happen, we have to make it happen. We can all say it now from home – it’s what makes our lives. Watching all these performances [and posts] online, going to museums virtually, reading – we need that to nurture our lives, and I am experiencing that seriously.

Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta in <I>La Fille mal gardée</I>.<br />© Tristram Kenton, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta in La Fille mal gardée.
© Tristram Kenton, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Do you know when you will be able to return to this country?

Well, I am British, I have my British citizenship now so I have been staying in touch with the UK and with the embassy at all times. I’m hoping to get help and to get back into the country within the next four to six weeks, but it’s not certain. Obviously there are plans – A, B and C, a thousand plans, but it’s not going to be going back to our normal way of working. Something will happen eventually. And we’re all in this together – we’re looking at ballet companies everywhere and looking at the steps they are taking, week by week and even day by day because of course, it changes daily. We will get through it. I know it’s not just me – every dancer is saying the same thing – we will do everything we can to help it happen. The world needs the arts! People want to get back into the theatre, and it’s what enriches us. It’s what human beings need!

About the author

Deborah Weiss

Deborah Weiss is a freelance dance writer and critic, based in London. Royal Ballet School trained and a former senior soloist with London Festival Ballet and Bayerisches Staatsballett, she began writing in 1993 whilst living in Southern Germany. She has written for a number of publications including Dancing Times, The Dancer and Dance Europe.

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