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Cuban Ballet Dancers in the World

Cuban Ballet Dancers in the World

by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

The Ballet Nacional de Cuba has been acknowledged as one of the four great ballet schools in the world thanks to its method of training its dancers. This has stamped each one of its dancers with a very distinctive mark, something which makes them recognizable on any stage where they perform. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is their physical quality. To a great degree, this training permits them to join other companies which espouse transformations and avant-garde ideas and to incorporate themselves into contemporary dance.

The fact that Cuban ballet dancers are able to be part of so many different schools and companies shows how much the fundamental concepts of Cuban dance have to contribute to dance in the entire world. Many Cuban dancers have been successful over the years in a variety of different countries but I would like to start with the exceptional phenomenon of the Carreño family. Perhaps the most well-known and promoted member of this family has been José Manuel Carreño. As a shy young man in 1989, he obtained the gold medal at the New York Festival and a year later conquered the Gran Prix in Jackson, Mississippi thereby opening the doors to some significant contracts.

In 1993, José Manuel joined the American Ballet Theater, remaining with that company for around eighteen years while also being able to dance with other important companies such as the English National Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, the Ballet of Tokyo, the Mariinsky, the La Scala Theater of Milan, the Colón Theater of Argentina and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba. In recent years, he has become the artistic director of California’s San José Ballet.

José Manuel’s uncle Lázaro Carreño, directly associated with him because of his passion for the dance from a very young age and former Premier Danseur of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba with a list of successful performances with many foreign ballet companies, has stated: “Ballet is an art and the ballet dancer is a machine; but that machine must be honed and trained every single day, in rain, thunder or lightening, whether we feel well or not.”

Lazaro’s other nephew, Joel Carreño, was also Premier Danseur in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and today he is dancing with the Norwegian Ballet; his cousin Alyhaidée has a successful career dancing in the Dominican Republic. All the Carreño family members have been teaching classes at various institutions for many years and so the family tradition is alive and well as a truly natural process.

When we speak of the trail left by Cubans on the world’s foremost stages, a special spot is occupied at the top of the list by Carlos Acosta, perhaps the most well-known in his homeland for his origins and simplicity. For years, Acosta starred in the Royal Ballet of London, performing at the most prestigious theaters in the world. Recipient of the National Dance Prize of Cuba, he caused an appreciative stir when he decided to return to Cuba to create a dance company that would allow him to continue his career in a more contemporary vein.

Another interesting case is that of Joel Suárez, a Cuban dancer now with the Vanguardia Company of Germany known as “Sasha Waltz and Guests.” He has admitted that his learning experience occupies a very important place in his work in contemporary dance, after having devoted twelve years of his life to classical ballet, eight as a student and four in the National Ballet of Cuba. These days he appears to have found his niche and he feels deeply motivated to be there.

Xiomara Reyes left Cuba at a very young age when she was part of the “New Guard” of the Ballet Nacional. This is an extraordinary idea promoted by Laura Alonso where seventeen and eighteen-year-olds can perform in the great classics. At that time she was invited by the Royal Ballet of Flanders, where she remained for seven years, attaining the status of first solo dancer. In January of 2001, after winning a number of international prizes, she joined the American Ballet Theater as soloist and in April of 2003 was promoted to principal ballerina, a position that has brought her success upon success.

Among some of the more recent experiences of Cuban dancers abroad are the case of Viengsay Valdés who danced a season in Don Quixote at the Ballet Concierto of Puerto Rico, young Arián Molina who has been invited by the Pennsylvania Ballet to dance the lead in Swan Lake and Grettel Morejón who has been invited for a tour of Italy in the Sofia Festival Ballet Company’s Sleeping Beauty.

The laurels attained by Cuban dancers in complicated situations and facing difficult challenges have been a great source of motivation and influence for the present and future generations of dancers in Cuba who dream of stardom and all the recognition deriving from it. We seem to have an endless source of figures that are able to represent our pride. Names such as Hayna Gutiérrez, Romel Frómeta, Yolanda Correa and Víctor Gilí immediately come to mind.

I am also convinced that all of these special men and women will continue to demonstrate that unique touch which has been called “lo cubano.” They are well-aware that in order to triumph on the great stages of the world, they must pass through the metamorphosis that will convert them from ballet dancers to artists, adding spirit to all the merits attained by their bodies

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