On the Rise: Adiarys Almeida

July 31, 2007

Don Quixote
’s Act III pas de deux has been done so many times that it’s hard to make it fresh. Yet when Adiarys Almeida and her partner Cervilio Amador danced it at their Cincinnati Ballet debut, a riveted audience burst into applause before the final fish dive. Almeida, compact and muscular, whipped off fouetté after fouetté without teetering or noticeably traveling, and her high-wattage grin made her fan variation as joyful as it was teasing.
Almeida, whom ballet master Devon Carney compares to the Energizer Bunny—“She’s a strong, happy kid”—had reason to smile even before the audience started cheering. The 21-year-old Cincinnati Ballet soloist walked away from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s 2003 U.S. tour in a widely publicized defection, taking her career into her own hands without job prospects or a word of English. When the curtain came down on the company’s appearance at New York’s City Center, appropriately on
Don Quixote
, Almeida went out for paella with friends. She never came back. “It was a long dinner,” she giggles.
The company was leaving for Virginia the next morning. “I woke up and thought, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ ” she remembers. While she prized her training at the National Ballet School, the familiar classical repertoire left her stifled. “I didn’t have much opportunity to learn contemporary work,” she says. Still, she worried about leaving her family. Seeking asylum would mean she could not return to Cuba for at least five years. Her dance partner, Amador, and another company member, Gema Diaz, had defected earlier in the tour. Almeida and several other dancers decided to go ahead.
For someone ready to gamble everything for a chance to learn new repertoire, her passion for dance grew slowly. As a 6-year-old growing up in Havana, she cried her way through dance class when she started. Gradually, she began to enjoy what she was learning. “Every day the desire to learn grew more and more,” she recalls. Her determination paid off, and she began formal ballet training at the National Ballet’s rigorous school at 9. Then, at 17, she entered the company. “It was really difficult to get a place because I’m short,” says the 5′ 2″ dancer, who remembers feeling that her first six months were like a permanent audition.
When Cincinnati artistic director Victoria Morgan read about the defectors in December 2003, she picked up the phone. Almeida had gone to Miami after defecting in October, living with her (non-dancer) boyfriend Jorge Quintero, taking class at Miami City Ballet and watching prodigious amounts of TV to help her English. (Even after two years, complex conversations still require a translator.) By February Almeida and several fellow dancers were in Cincinnati auditioning.
“I wasn’t totally blown away with the way they took class,” Morgan recalls, “but during the lunch break they danced
Don Quixote
. Wow!” For Almeida, learning contemporary work and Balanchine technique—Cincinnati has a number of pieces in its repertoire —has proved a challenge in the best sense. “In Cuba, there’s one main school and all the dancers learn the same technique. Here all the schools have different styles. You still have barre, center, and jumping, but the petit allegro is faster. I love moving fast—it’s good for me. You move more freely.”
Her strength and aptitude has inspired ballet master Devon Carney to choreograph a pas de deux for her,
Just You and Me
to music from The Matrix Reloaded soundtrack, which showcases her stamina. “You don’t need to give her a lot of rest,” says Carney. She will also dance a leading role in Carney’s Blue Rondo, set to jazz classics by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Carney feels she can go far with Cinncinnati. “Adairys doesn’t look little. She has great proportions and she dances big.”
Almeida’s commitment to her career is strong, although at times she longs to be with her family. “My mom can’t attend my performances and I can’t share the holidays with my family. And I miss my grandmother’s and my mother’s cooking,” says Almeida. But she knows that her family is proud of her accomplishments and that her bold jump to this country is worth the pain of separation—for now.
Jackie Demaline, theater critic and arts reporter, has been with
The Cincinnati Enquirer since 1994.