Alicia Alonso’s successor in the emblematic National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) hopes to update the institution after the death of its legendary director by introducing new choreographies, bringing teachers and supporting performances of dancers who emigrated to other companies.
In an interview with The Associated Press, 43-year-old Viengsay Valdés said that Alonso’s insistence on classical technique and repertoire worked for decades and increased the company’s prestige, but modernizing the BNC is now imperative.
Valdés is looking to incorporate new pieces and bring dancers from other countries, including those who left the cast, to help teach the huge amount of new dancers and young colleagues on the island.
“Something that I defend is that the classic is the artistic technical basis for a good dancer and from there it’s possible to grow in another type of choreography,” Valdés said this Thursday.
“What we have to do is enrich what we have today, develop what we have,” she added. “Without this study of the past we cannot progress and yes, we must update the company.”
Valdés, one of the most recognized artists produced by the National Ballet of Cuba, in January became its artistic deputy director. Alicia Alonso, the BNC founder, passed away last October at the age of 98. Despite her official title, in practice she is in charge of the company’s operations, from the selection of programs to the promotion of dancers and the choice of roles, among others.
Thanks to a system of artistic education that enlists children from an early age and takes them through the state academies to the National Ballet itself, this was the alma mater of hundreds of prominent dancers of the continent, from Mirta Plá and Lázaro Carreño―along with Joel and José Manuel Carreño, part of one of several dance families on the island―to Loipa Araújo, Lorna and Lorena Feijóo, Rolando Sarabia, Taras Domitro, Anette Delgado and Carlos Acosta.
The company founded in 1959 has been criticized for clinging to a classic and romantic repertoire without encouraging innovation, factors that many of its members argued as the key element for the emigration of great dancers.
Valdés, who started studying dance at age 10 and joined the BNC in 1994, said she has started addressing many of the company’s problems.
“Personally, I would try to promote, to give everyone the facility, access to that information they need as artists and that is a mission that I have since I took over the direction,” said the dancer, who also performed in the Washington Ballet and Russia’s Bolshoi, passing through British and Danish casts.
This month, Argentine dancer Julio Bocca spent two weeks in Havana giving master classes and helping prepare the company for the production of “The Nutcracker.”
Valdés also said that she will support bringing and recognizing Cuban dancers who emigrated and who work in major companies around the world, some of whom left in the midst of strong criticism of the BNC, Alonso’s leadership style or the revolution, or abandoning functions.
In recent years, some have returned to give performances.
“I think they can be given the opportunity to perform in Cuba,” said the deputy director. “That also enriches these new generations,” although at the same time she stressed for this she will not sacrifice the opportunities for developing local artists.
Among other challenges that she recognizes, there is maintaining the prestige of the BNC in the competitive and demanding world of dance, as well as reinforcing the sense of belonging and the unity of its members.
“A great deal of hard work has to go into maintaining that technical, artistic quality, that name that we all need to continue developing and that we all need for it to continue sounding in the world, and being up to the big companies and what it means to have our own school,” she said.