If you are a confirmed ballet-lover, you will agree that being a leading figure in the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) is among the best credentials available in the world of dance. This is a company that prides itself on the technical ability and extraordinary artistic qualities of its dancers.
BNC ballerinas have the challenge and example of a magical name in the history of ballet: Alicia Alonso. Basing themselves on their sublime director's extraordinary performances, a school in and of itself, they must aspire to create their own Giselles, Carmens, Odette-Odilles.
Followers of the company and our readers know that that Alicia Alonso has accomplished the goal of making ballet enchanting to a broad, popular audience in Cuba, and keeping alive Giselle, a romantic ballet par excellence, in the version she herself developed. It has been, and clearly is, danced by all of the company's leading figures.
The company has already offered a series of performances of Giselle, which along with Swan Lake, is the most beloved and demanded by the public and by dancers, since it is considered a sign of having arrived at the summit. The BNC can be proud today of having no less than four prima ballerinas for the performances: Sadaise Arencibia, Anette Delgado, Gretel Morejón, and Viengsay Valdés.
Let us recall that the first staging of Giselle took place in 1841, with a script by Teofile Gautier, and libretto by Vernoy de Saint-George, based on the German legend of the willis, described by Heinrich Heine in his book on popular traditions. The music is by Adolfo Adam, and the choreography by Jules Perrot for his wife, the exceptional Carlota Grissi.
A masterpiece of Romanticism, with its legend and touch of mystery, Giselle casts a spell on the audience and the dancers that even the passage of time cannot diminish. Impressive technique is not enough to bring the role to life; its fundamental characteristics require extraordinary acting and style.
Both qualities were exhibited masterfully in the performance by prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés on February 19. This comes as no surprise, since she has been described by the most prestigious critics as among the world's four best contemporary dancers, but she must be seen on the stage… the harmony of her dancing, precise technique, charismatic lyricism, elegant style, astonishing arabesques, sense of interpretation, and interminable balancés (Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman wrote that time stops when Viengsay performs this step.
But she has something more. In this era of male and female dancers with impeccable technique, it is the passion Viengsay puts into her dancing that captivates audiences in Havana, of course, but also Paris, Madrid, London, Tokyo, Washington, Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, and throughout the world.
She was Giselle on the stage in Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand Theater and gave a performance that was unforgettable, elegant, and imposing in its precision.
Viengsay moved from the innocence of the farm girl (with the famous diagonal taking the audience's breath away), then to a broken heart and contained madness, and magically to the emotional resolution of the second act, in which she was impeccable, subtle, "as fragile as a glass about to break," as cinematographer Enrique Pineda Barnet would say, after the performance.
It must be added that the corps de ballet was sensational, and soloist Revé, making his debut as Albretch, was an attentive partner, although in need of more rehearsal.
As she left for another of the innumerable galas to which she is invited, before leaving on tour with the BNC to El Salvador (March 31- April 1) and Costa Rica ( March 25-26), the prima ballerina was kind enough to offer a few comments to our readers:
"For me, Giselle has always been a challenge, as one of the great classics that are required for a prima ballerina. It's not just the simple fact of debuting in the role, but rather gaining experience each time it is danced. I have directly drawn on the great masters, from Alicia herself, Fernando Alonso and Josefina Mendéz - who got me started in this role, and elaborated many artistic details for me. On this occasion I had the opportunity to rehearse with maitre Aurora Bosch and a special complement was the help and collaboration of maestro Enrique Pineda Barnet in terms of the acting, which was an important factor for the young Patricio Revé in the role of Albrecht."
Asked if the orchestra was perhaps a little slow during the February 19 performance, the dancer responded, "I must acknowledge that yes, the musical rhythm was slow, especially in my variations, but resorting to technique, control, and the very pull of the character, I was able to come out fine."
Viengsay announced that the company will take Giselle on tour to Spain and France, this coming May and June, adding, "Dancing Giselle in Paris is, of course, very significant, precisely because that is where the National Ballet of Cuba was awarded the Grand Prix de la Ville in 1966 during the Dance Festival, for this ballet and our version has been much praised and well-received."
Commenting on her upcoming gala performance with U.S. dancer Brooklyn Mack, she said, "I have been invited as a special artist to observe performances and classes for students participating in the Youth America Grand Prix Regional Gala Semi-Final, in Salt Lake City, and will have the opportunity to share my experiences as a professional ballet dancer with the young participants. It will also be a great pleasure to again dance with the U.S. principal danseur, Brooklyn Mack, in the pas de deux Diana and Acteón, which we debuted in the 24th Havana Ballet Festival and was requested by the organizers of the event. Previously, I had been invited to the galas held in New York in 2011 and 2013."
Giselle is a work of art and continues to move audiences enormously. First ballerina Viengsay Valdés, with her technique, art, and charisma has joined the distinguished group of stars who have kept this majestic piece of romanticism alive.
OF STEEL AND CLOUDS
Viengsay Valdés is a dancer who has assumed leading roles in all of the ballets performed by the BNC, which has an enviable, diverse repertory of classic romantic works, and vanguard choreographies, which provides its prima ballerinas a wealth of opportunities.
Born November 10, 1976, she began her ballet studies in 1986 at Havana's Alejo Carpentier Provincial School, and continued at the National School with outstanding teachers, among them Ramona de Saá, Adria Velázquez and Mirtha Hermida. In 1994, she graduated with Honors. The legendary prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso soon noted the innate talent of the 17-year-old Viensgay, and invited her to join the BNC.
She advanced quickly to principal dancer and in 2011 to prima ballerina, dancing in the most important theaters of Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the United States. She has been a guest star invited by some of the world's most prestigious companies, including the Mariinski Theater Ballet in St. Petersburg; the Bolshoi, in Moscow; the Royal Danish Ballet; and the Royal Ballet of London.
She has had spectacular seasons with Giselle, Don Quixote, an unforgettable Kitri, … balancés, pirouttes, fouttes, in London's Sadler's Wells Theater; with Cuban star Carlos Acosta in the Paris Grand Palais; as a guest artist at the Mariinsky, with Russian Leonid Sarafanov; and with the Washington Ballet in the Kennedy Center for a new version of Don Quixote choreographed by Anna-Marie Holmes.
Her long list of gala performances include, for example, Les Étoiles du XXIe Siècle in Paris, and among the festivals in which she has participated are those in Beijing, Japan, Laos, New York, Washington, Mexico, Turkey, Buenos Aires, Australia, and South Africa.
This past month, presented at the 2017 International Book Fair in Havana, was her biography written by Carlos Tablada, aptly entitled De acero y nube (Of steel and clouds.)