Viengsay Valdés: “I still have much to dance”

The director of the Cuban National Ballet bets on dancers who can take on a wide range of styles and languages. She granted us an interview.

In one of the halls of the National Ballet of Cuba, prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés rehearses with Dany Hernández one of the most challenging pieces within the historical repertoire of the company: Tema y variaciones. It is George Balanchine’s choreography, which was created for Alicia Alonso in 1947. It is being said that the celebrated choreographer made it difficult for her as sessions were basically a battlefield. Challenge after challenge, the piece was staged.

Viengsay Valdés, everyone knows, never takes rehearsals lightly. “Not to mention this one, which was meant for Alicia. It is challenging to trying to be on her shoes. I got to do it right.”

The truth is that Viengsay Valdés is no longer one of the leading stars in the cast, but she is now the general director. Hence, she has no much time to spare. Therefore, she granted us this interview on a short break.

—After your appointment, the support of the government, cultural institutions, artists, and public in general has been awesome. Recently, you were congratulated by Raúl Castro himself…

—He saw me dancing several times and the fact he congratulated me, on the basis of mutual respect and admiration — knowing it was me the chosen one — has been certainly a pleasant surprise and, above all, a commitment.

—You have stated that such commitment is based on continuity, but also on renewal as ballet is not an art museum.

—Continuity, of course, implies the respect for a historical legacy. But it is not alienated from renewal, evolution, the upgrade of the Cuban ballet.

“I believe there is no need to lose our essence, roots, in order to contribute with our company, its repertoire, the daily work in the halls as well as the final result on stage. Much remains to be done.

“Since my appointment as deputy artistic director, I was pretty clear. And I am very clear now that I am in charge. It is my way to brewing a change from the inside, which is paramount from my personal view.

“Dancers need versatility. It is essential to develop not only the great classic pieces in the repertoire, which is actually what we have been doing so far. We also need dancers with certain degree of skills, a wide range of styles, that may lead them to perform with any choreographer, any language.

“This is vital. We cannot be labeled as a company that only focused on dance. We need to be a comprehensive dance company by boasting an international signature.

“A signature, of course, to make the company stand out. This is not about encouraging individualism. But you need to see diversity in styles and expressions.

“That is my goal with dancers. That is the way to finish off the artistic and technical development of them all.”

—There is a tradition of dancers who have led companies while still dancing. Alicia herself did it for a while. To what extent is it a challenge for you?

—I can confirm it is tough. Nobody can imagine my daily routine. I devote my morning to the physical side, my training, improve my technique…classes, rehearsals. In short, my constant improvement as a dancer.

“But it is totally the opposite in the afternoon: I have to address the administrative part. A lot of things; for instance, the schedule — especially now that we are organizing the International Ballet Festival, dedicated to Alicia in her centennial anniversary.

“There are many things at once. A lot of details come up along the way. My days are now longer. I sometimes start at 8:00 and I am still here at 19:00. Twelve hours working hard. It is exhausting, as a matter of fact. Luckily, I may de-stress the following day while dancing. Dancing is always cathartic.”

—In other words, you have no plans to stop dancing…

—I think I am experiencing one of the best times of my life, my career, and I will take the most advantage out of it as dancers’ career is short.

“If I can keep dancing, I will do it for my fans, my public. I still have much to dance.”

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz/CubaSí Translation Staff

Viengsay Valdes Represents Cuba at Tokyo Ballet Festival

Cuban National Ballet Prima Ballerina Viengsay Valdes considered today an honor to represent her country at the 15th Tokyo Ballet Festival, which brings together world dance figures.

This festival began on July 27th and brings together artists from the best companies of the world. The aim is to provide a general description of the ballet scene today.

The artistic level here is very high and my performances have been exciting, I danced Muñecos, a Cuban piece by choreographer Alberto Mendez, said Valdes after one of her performances.

I did not do it a long time ago and returning to this piece gave some fresh air, I also had the pleasure and honor to work the details with Mendez in Havana, and later transmit them here to my partner, Brazilian Daniel Camargo, leading dancer for the Danish National Ballet, she said.

According to Valdes, if the artists manage to personalized well the characters of the tin soldier and the typical Cuban doll that are found thanks to moonlight magic, they reach the audiences' hearts; and she believes she has achieved it in Tokyo, the same city where the piece was premiered 40 years ago.

Muñecos won in 1978 the Choreography Prize during the 2nd International Ballet Competition in Tokyo, and the relationship between the Cuban and universal dance, along with a dramatic end for the appearance of the sun and the return of the characters to their initial state, still attracts audiences from several countries.

After the closing gala on August 18th, Valdes hopes to return to Cuba to prepare herself to perform during the 26th International Ballet Festival in Havana, to be held from October 28th to November 6th.

  • Published in Culture

Viengsay Valdés: Expanding Ballet in Cuba, a Commitment of Fidel

The first dancer from the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), Viengsay Valdés, witnessed here the efforts of the Cuban Revolution''s historic leader, Fidel Castro, to expand the dance in his country.

Our Fidel, the leader of whom all Cubans are proud was humanist, sincere, a motivator of masses, commited to his country, the artist described in exclusive statements to Prensa Latina.

Fidel understood that for the people to reason, to be intellectual, to be willing and commited, they also need to feel, to dream, to get emotional, and that is delivered by art, delivered by the culture that makes us human, she declared.

The renowned ballet dancer remembered how in 2002 the revolutionary leader was present at the inauguration of the 18th International Festival of Ballet of Havana, an event in which she danced the pas de deux of The privateer, along with Carlos Acosta.

After that performance, Fidel decided that he wanted to see more, and the very next day, on October 29th, without prior announcement, he arrived at the National Theater with the purpose of witnessing the same pair of interpreters in the classic Don Quixote.

Always from the respect and the admiration we felt excited as artists to know about his presence and I tried to show me to the leader of Cuba who that night was a spectator, Valdés remembered.

According to the ballerina, at the end of the show she and Acosta were called to the Council of State, to Fidel's office.

Beyond the praise for our dance, we witnessed together with Ramona de Sáa, Loipa Araújo and Abel Prieto, Fidel's commitment to massifying culture in Cuba, he said.

As the artist said, the historic leader wanted to find a way to summon children from all over the country who wanted and were able to study ballet, and discussed how to go neighborhood by neighborhood, with an organized bus system to facilitate the development of their vocation.

Thousands of students entered ballet elementary school because of that experience, and to offer the people all that, it is just any leader who does it, she added.

The ballerina, who is also Vice-president of the Cuba-Laos Friendship Association toured Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in August as part of the activities of the Cuban embassies in those nations for the 90th birthday of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution.

Valdés participated in conversations about Fidel, acted in the three countries, then left for Moscow to fulfill the invitation to dance at the International Festival of Classic Ballet of the Kremlin, in Russia, and returned to this capital with the aim of preparing the Festival of Havana, which was recently concluded.

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Viengsay in Russia: Standing Ovation

Moscow, Sep 26 (Prensa Latina) Viengsay Valdes' memorable performance in Don Quixote was received with enthusiastic applause by a Moscow audience at the 5th International Ballet Festival in the Kremlin.

Dancing with the State Kremlin Palace Ballet company, Valdes gave a Cuban interpretation to the Kitry character captivating more than 6,000 spectators within the Kremlin walls, who prevented her from leaving the stage for a long time.

Amid all the costumes of the performance, Valdes told Prensa Latina that the Kremlin Ballet version of Kitry in Don Quixote is totally different from everything she has done until now.

She added that in international events she had already interpreted Kitry in the Russian version of Don Quixote with Ivan Vasiliev, a famous Bolshoi dancer.

'This is the second time I am dancing in the Kremlin. The first time was in 2005, during the 80th anniversary of Maya Plizetskaya,' said Valdes, who is recognized as one of the best in the world in the interpretation of Kitry.

'On that occasion there was a Don Quixote performance combined with all the guest stars in the world, I came with Joel Carreno, and danced only a fragment of the first act,' she pointed out.

'Despite having done some very important things, this role was one of the most anticipated for me this year, as I have been psychologically preparing for it for a long time,' revealed the Cuban star.

The international ballet festival includes several classics like Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Bayaderas and is attended by important worldwide figures of ballet.

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Giselle for ballet lovers in Havana

Giselle’s innocence will light up Havana next weekend through the performances of first dancers Annette Delgado, Viengsay Valdes and Sadaise Arencibia, as announced Cuba’s National Ballet recently.

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Carmen back on Cuban stages

Carmen, one of the emblematic pieces of the Cuban National Ballet Company’s repertoire, will go back to Cuban stages, following many years of absence from the Cuban scene.

  • Published in Culture
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