A New Leader, at Last, to Bring Cuban Ballet Into the Future

Even to the most admiring observers, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba has appeared, for a really very long time, an establishment caught in the previous. One cause has been particularly conspicuous: the superior age of the firm’s creative director, Alicia Alonso, now 98.

Over the years, rumors of doable successors have surfaced and vanished, as Ms. Alonso, at least partially blind since the 1940s, talked of residing to 200. But her grip has lastly loosened. In January, the Cuban ministry of tradition appointed Viengsay Valdés, the Ballet Nacional’s 42-year-old prima ballerina, as the troupe’s deputy creative director.

In Cuba, the place audiences sing alongside to ballet scores and ballet dancers are beloved celebrities, Ms. Valdés is one thing of a hometown hero. And she is aware of her mission: “I have the legacy of Alicia Alonso to maintain, but I also have to update the company,” she mentioned throughout a go to to New York final week.

The appointment — it got here “in the middle of the ‘Swan Lake’ season, which I was getting ready to dance,” she mentioned — was a shock. But after 25 years with the firm, she is aware of the way it works and is raring to “check every gear,” from the nationwide college upward, and to give the entire group an intensive tuneup.

Ballet Nacional’s 2020 home performances will unavoidably be Alonso-focused, but before then, Ms. Valdés wants to get the updating started. Ballet performances are scheduled far in advance, so it won’t be until November — after Ballet Nacional has toured Ms. Alonso’s antique “Swan Lake” to Spain — that the first program chosen by Ms. Valdés will have its debut in Havana. It will feature the company premiere of “Concerto DSCH,” a celebrated work that Alexei Ratmansky made for City Ballet in 2008.

If, as Ms. Valdés put it, she wants Ballet Nacional to “be like the other companies in the world,” importing pieces by the excellent, ubiquitous Mr. Ratmansky will certainly help. She is also in negotiations with City Ballet’s talented and ultra-busy resident choreographer, Justin Peck.

Despite the Cuban troupe’s reputation for adhering to full-length classics, Ms. Valdés’s turn to contemporary dance makers isn’t entirely unprecedented. Another work on the November program is “Celeste,” which the in-demand Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created for the company in 2014. Yet another is a 1983 piece by Alberto Méndez González, one of Ballet Nacional’s homegrown choreographers.

“We have more than 700 pieces in our repertoire,” Ms. Valdés said. “Maybe some are old-fashioned but some are good, and I’m also trying to recover them, because they are ours.”

For now, Ms. Valdés plans to continue dancing with the company. It was her experience as a dancer in Ms. Lopez Ochoa’s “Celeste,” she said, that underlined for her the importance of new choreography: “It was amazing to have something made for you and your personality. I want the dancers to have this experience.”

Finding the right choreographers to ask is among the many challenges she now faces. “Maybe we can give a small compensation,” she said, “but we need good choreographers who want to give something from their heart to Cuba, like a gift.”

Some problems are logistical. Materials for new productions or for refurbishing existing ones — things like wood and canvas — often must be imported, and in Cuba, importing anything can be complicated. The tightening of restrictions by the Trump administration won’t help.

Then there’s the perennial difficulty of keeping dancers. This, Ms. Valdés insisted, is not unique to Cuba. “A dancer’s career is short,” she said. “They want to try another company, another country. Most companies now are made up of artists from all over the world.”

Still, if Ms. Valdés is to fulfill her goals of turning Ballet Nacional into one of the world’s greatest companies and also making sure its dancers are included at every important international ballet festival, she will have to convince her dancers to do as she did: Represent Cuba, then return home.

Despite opportunities to leave, why did Ms. Valdés stay? “I love my island,” she said — her family, her friends, her house.

“I am so proud to belong to the Cuban ballet, and to travel around the world and then come back,” she added. “That’s the greatest satisfaction an artist can have — to be renowned and loved in your own country.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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