¡Viengsay!

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Cuban Art News highlights Viengsay Valdés and her career as prima ballerina of the Cuban National Ballet. See excerpts of an interview with the dancer here and the full report (with videos) in the link below:

Mention Viengsay (pronounced VEE-en-sai, meaning “victory” in Laotian), and faces light up. We’re talking rock-star popularity. But why? Perhaps it’s her “forever” solo balances en pointe. She has held herself on point, unsupported, for a whole minute, and in performance this superb technique translates into elegant, confident, seemingly effortless drama—as in this video of her 2011 pas de deux with Ivan Vasiliev from Don Quixote. (For her dazzling en pointe work, fast forward to the section from 1:42 to 3:47.)

Or perhaps it’s her multiple turns. In a 2009 interview with Dance magazine, Viengsay admitted to being able to do “ten pirouettes, and with fouettés, five turns and end with six.” That’s a lot of turns, and it makes audiences gasp. [. . .]

Add to this her deep national pride, loving ties to family and friends, a wellspring of theatrical dance and acting skills, and the ability to offer herself openly and generously to audiences everywhere, and you have a singularly fabulous prima ballerina.

It’s great to finally be able to do this interview with you, Viengsay. You have such an interesting background. What was your first stage experience? My first time on stage was at the age of three. My father was the Cuban ambassador to Laos, and my mother took me to a cultural activity. Suddenly she looked up at the stage and I was there, dancing.

A future foretold! Where were you when you saw your first ballet? I saw my very first ballet on TV. I was seven years old, and Alicia Alonso danced Giselle.

What an indelible impression it must have made. When was your first ballet class, and where? At the Ballet Elementary School Alejo Carpentier in Havana. I was eight. I loved it from my very first class, and immediately knew that I wanted a career in ballet. At 12, I decided to devote my life to it, determined to become a great classical ballerina.

And your first ballet role on stage? My first real role on a stage was at 11 years old. It was in The Black Doll, based on a tale by our national hero, José Martí.

Sometimes I find ballet on video, and without knowing which company is dancing, I try to guess by technique and style alone. How would I know I’m watching Cuban ballet? What are its unique qualities?  Cuban dancers are passionate and outgoing—not reserved. We are faithful musical interpreters. We do many multiple turns—we have a lot of control over the steps.  For the boys, there’s emphasis on balón, or bounce. And masculinity. We are actors, expressing joy, drama, and passion on stage.

You and I first met about 12 years ago. How has the ballet world changed in that time? The Ballet Nacional de Cuba? You yourself?  Ballet technique is constantly evolving. For dancers, more turns, more jumps, more virtuosity on stage. We must be careful with this evolution, as the new virtuosity can compromise the skills of interpretation—the acting, the role-playing. Ballet Nacional de Cuba has an abundance of these evolved, passionate young dancers, waiting to get their stage experience. They will become the next great ballet dancers. As for myself, of course I have changed. I have grown while representing Cuban ballet all over the world. I am grateful to have reached my highest level of achievement, so I am proud. [. . .]

For full interview, see http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/viengsay/4453

[Photo above from http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/multimedia/fotografia/generales/viengsay-valdes-en-carnaval-de-venecia/]

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