Cuba's Favorite Daughter

June 1, 2011

Not only does she balance on pointe longer than any other ballerina, but before she comes down she’ll carefully change her position and balance some more. Not only does she sprinkle her 32 fouettés with triples, but she’ll finish in exactly the same spot, in a sustained sous-sus!

When Viengsay Valdés danced Don Q with Ivan Vasiliev at the Youth American Grand Prix gala in March, the balconies of New York City Center resounded with screaming teenagers. The audience got so excited they even clapped along, just as they do in Cuba. Valdés, who often performs at international galas, is loved not just for her amazing feats, but for the warmth and joy she brings to the stage.

When BNC comes to the U.S. on tour this month, Valdés will again be dancing Kitri. It’s one of her favorite roles. (“The red dress—it’s fire onstage!”) She’ll also dance pas de deux from The Nutcracker, Giselle, and Swan Lake in “The Magic of Dance” program.

The work ethic under Alicia Alonso is famously demanding. “I work very hard in Cuba. I give everything in the studio so I can enjoy onstage.” In addition to classes and rehearsals, she does an hour of strength training every day. About her superhuman ability to linger on pointe, she says simply, “It’s not something that I’m really trying to find, because I have it naturally.”

She has fierce pride in her home country. “The dancers are amazing. If we could have a million-dollar production of Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake, we could be the best company in the world. The Cuban school is really good, strong. It’s a different situation. We are not a capitalist country; nobody has to blame us about this. It’s our country, our system, and we do our best. We really have passion for dance.”

Many wonder, how does Alicia Alonso, who is nearly blind, conduct rehearsals? “She has people around her to explain what is happening. But also because she has so much experience that she can tell you exactly what she wants and how to respect the style of each ballet.”

Valdés has a mission. “Cuba is famous for its male dancers,” she admits. “I’m trying to show that girls are good too.” (And she’s the one to do it!)

But her larger mission is to serve her country, and this is the reason she will never leave. “I don’t need to defect; I have a name in Cuba. I am a dancer from Cuba, so I can go around the world in the name of Cuba. Some dancers don’t have this. They are famous but they are not representing a country. I am representing my own country and I am Cuban.”



Viengsay Valdés. Photo by Boris Muriedas.