Where Are All the Men at Ballet Nacional de Cuba?

June 8, 2011

I saw only boys last night at BAM. Some of the lead female dancers were familiar to me because I’d seen them dance in Havana. But the guys were all new—quite young and unfinished. So they tended to disappear behind their more experienced partners.

An exception was the pairing of the very young Osiel Gounod as Franz and Grettel Morejón as Swanilda in the Coppélia excerpt. Both were excellent and looked like a pair. Gounod is fairly small, but has a big, ebullient presence and surefire jumps and turns. Morejón is young (21) and delicate; she played with the music, teasing us with her holds on pointe. Theirs was the first partnership in this evening of excerpts called “La Magia de la Danza” that really clicked. The audience went wild.

And another thing unusual for BNC: Gounod’s skin shade is dark, and since almost everyone else was quite pale, it was noticeable. There have been so few black dancers at BNC that I figured he must be really good to land this role. And he was!

None of the other boys looked solidly grounded or completed their movements with finesse. I realized that there have been so many defections that the ranks of male dancers have been depleted. Of course, this is Ballet Nacional de Cuba, so all of them could pirouette like crazy.

Another pairing: The terrific Viengsay Valdés, having lost her former partner to defection in Canada, has recently trained a new dancer named Alejandro Virelles. His multiple pirouettes slowed down to a lovely balance at the end. But he looked almost tentative in his movement and certainly was no match for Valdés in terms of presence. With her joy and easy sensuality, she has a Hollywood type of allure (think Rita Hayworth). Even though she didn’t strike those super-long balances that she did at Youth America Grand Prix (or at the Dance Magazine photo shoot), she captivated us. (And find out why she’ll never defect in my interview.)

So back to the question, Where are all the men?

As Gia Kourlas pointed out recently in The New York Times, many  male ballet dancers from Cuba have gotten work at companies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Carlos Acosta’s nephew, Yonah Acosta, who is a really beautiful dancer, is now with English National Ballet. But, more often then not, they had to defect to consider those options—and that’s taking a big leap.

You can see what a big leap it is when you read this statement from Alicia Alonso about the dancers who defect.

We tend to think there will always be a supply of spectacular Cuban men dancers. As Kourlas says, they “seem to grown like weeds.” Well, a whole generation of weeds has been pulled up, and now the garden of male dancers has thinned out. I’d like to see BNC in a couple years because I’ll be hoping that the young Gounod and Virelles will mature into dancers as powerful as Cuba’s women.

Photo of Osiel Gounod and Grettel Morejón, by Nancy Reyes, Courtesy BAM