Viengsay Valdés, Cuban National Ballet (BNC) prima ballerina, is one of the stars of world dance at the moment, continually invited to galas and festivals, with the most recent being the 15th edition of the Tokyo World Ballet Festival, this August.
This is not just another festival. The Tokyo event, which every three years brings together great dancers from different companies and countries, was first organized in 1976 by Tadatsugu Sasaki (director of the Japan Performing Arts Foundation and the Tokyo Ballet, who died in 2016).
The first edition was an international sensation, featuring three legendary figures - Margot Fonteyn, Maya Plisetskaya, and Alicia Alonso, who at 97 years of age continues as director of the Cuban ballet.
Viengsay, described as among the world’s best by the prestigious magazine Dance Europe, has been invited on three occasions, the first in 2006, when she shared the bill with Sylvie Guillem, Alina Cojacaru, Alessandra Ferri, and Tamara Rojo.
This year, organizers of the Tokyo Festival have announced the participation of prominent stars including María Alexandrova, with Rojo, Cojocaru, Ferri returning, as well as Melissa Hamilton and Myriam Ould-Braham making their first appearances. Among the male dancers are Marijn Rademaker, Roberto Bolle, and Federico Bonelli.
Cuba’s Viengsay presented two pieces, one for the concert program and another for the Sasaki Gala. The first was Muñecos, with a Brazilian partner, Daniel Camargo, now dancing with the Dutch National Ballet.
This was a special selection, since with this same piece, Alberto Méndez won the Choreography Prize in the 1978 Second International Ballet Contest of Tokyo, which has seen 40 years of premieres and triumphs.
Muñecos, is a contemporary ballet piece, telling the love story of a rag doll and a toy soldier. What is so unique is how Méndez, 2004 winner of Cuba’s National Prize for Dance, achieves a perfect fusion of the Cuban and the universal.
For the Sasaki Gala, at the request of organizers, Viengsay danced the solo ParAlicia, choreographed by Cuba’s Tania Vergara to music composed for the piece by Frank Fernández, which she herself premiered in 2010 to celebrate the 90th birthday of the prima ballerina absoluta, a legend of world dance,Alicia Alonso.
In 2015, the filmmaker Alejandro Pérez produced a video of this tribute to Alicia that emerged, according to journalist Marta Sánchez of Prensa Latina, “from a longing of the musician to give the world ballet diva something… and the reality surpassed the dream since Alonso personally adorned the piece… with arm and head gestures and even small foot movements,” and the first take is included in the material.
The 2015 article by Sánchez states that, in the dancer’s opinion, “The varied nuances of the music support the performance and the artistry, while Vergara’s choreography intelligently combines classic technique with contemporary movements, and takes advantage of the emotional moods suggested by the musical composition.”
In Havana, like the world over, ballet fans have idols they follow passionately. And Viengsay is one of these idols. During the National Ballet of Cuba’s last season at the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro before a brief summer break, she took the stage to dance the lead role in Cinderella and it was spectacular.
The Cuban version of Cinderella includes two acts and four scenes choreographed by Cuban Pedro Consuegra, now based in France, with music by Johann Straus II, composed specifically for dance.
Inspired by the story of the same name by Charles Perrault (1628-1703), set design is by Armin Heinemann, and both the choreography and the design emphasize the fairy tale quality of the ballet - making for delightful entertainment.
On this occasion, Viengsay was accompanied by Dani Hernández, an excellent partner, a prince. Both received several ovations, particularly for the final pas de deux, which both recognize as very demanding technically.
Viengsay has been constructing her legend thanks to her talent, virtuosity, and iron discipline. It is no accident that her biography is entitled De acero y nube (Of steel and clouds).
She is unquestionably a special dancer, who gives her all in every performance. Her technical skill is clear, her uninterrupted, brilliant pirouettes, prolonged en-pointe balances, beautiful arm gestures, plus her acting, always wearing the character’s skin.
Rapidly approaching is the 26th Alicia Alonso International Ballet Festival of Havana (October 28 - November 6), dedicated this year to the National Ballet of Cuba’s 70th anniversary.
The BNC’s public information office has already announced that to be featured is a series to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Alonso’s debut on the stage as Giselle, a role considered among the most demanding in all of classical repertory, and one in which she has been recognized as among the best in contemporary dance.
We can already imagine these performances. Surely all of the company’s
prima ballerinas have made Giselle theirs, and have been much applauded. It is one of the company’s trademark pieces. This is the era of Viengsay Valdés. She is the love struck country girl and the ethereal wili. International critics recognize her. The adjectives to describe her? Magnificent, impressive, moving. She has the magnetism of a star.