Critics and fans worldwide are singing the praises of Cuban born Xiomara Reyes whose daringly dramatic interpretations of ballet’s classic roles have elevated her to the status of Principal Dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, a company known for attracting the dance world’s stellar talents.
Upon completing her studies at Cuba’s National Ballet School, she danced with the National Ballet of Cuba and performed as a soloist with La Joven Guardia (The Young Guard). Two years later she was invited to appear with the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium where she danced for seven years rising to the rank of First Soloist.
I had the privilege of speaking with Ms. Reyes who now calls New York City home. Her voice is alive with the excitement that fuels her impressive body of work.
You’re a product of Cuba’s renown ballet schools and you recently returned to Cuba after 18 years. How did you find it?
Cuba is very — interesting. Some areas are newer and some are more run down than others, but it’s a very poetic kind of place; as if from another time. I enjoyed the trip because I got to visit my half sister and her daughters, and we got to rekindle our relationship.
CF: You’re one of new breed of Latino ballet superstars that are commanding the world’s stages. What do you think accounts for all the new dance talent emanating from Latin America?
XR: I think it’s fantastic that we (Latinos) are being seen by the world. Music and dance are part of our Latin blood. Maybe we’re being noticed because we can be extremely passionate people. At least I am! And I always give my all at my performances but that’s because I love what I do. I approach every role with great emotion and maybe that’s because I’m a Latina. But it’s hard to say if that’s my culture — or just me. I think we Latinas can be a little more outspoken, a little more sassy.
CF: It’s got to do something with la cultura because other countries are also training dancers but the hispanos are rising to principal dancer in much greater numbers.
XR: Maybe we’re just part a world that is opening up to other cultures in general. The Internet is making communication more possible. Today, people are more inspired to experience the way different people express themselves. Also, Latin dancers have to leave (their homelands) if they want to perform with a bigger company. That’s why you see so many Latinos in every big company. I mean, it’s hard to leave your country, hard to change. But sometimes it’s what you have to do.
CF: All dancers begin honing their craft at a very young age. What in your childhood inspired or drove you to dance?
XR: I was sort of a hyper-kinetic kid, always moving around all the time. My mother would put on music and let me just dance by myself for hours — just to give herself some quiet time. In those days we didn’t have PlayStation or anything to entertain yourself with. So, I danced and that’s what I think got me into it. I also liked to read a lot. Which could be why I approach ballet through the prospective of storytelling. That’s always attracted me to ballet.
CF: I agree totally. I believe that great dancers are great actors who are communicating the story through movement.
XR: Without any dialogue. Which is pretty amazing, eh?
XR: But there are ballets that don’t require acting. Where you can deliver a good performance without being an actor. I just find that, personally, I prefer when I see a story being told. That’s what’s attracted me to the trade. I feel more connected dancing through a story. Luckily, I attended a great Cuban school that gave me a strong technique. So on stage I get to concentrate more on my acting while I dance.
CF: You always receive glowing reviews. Critics, fans and aficionados agree that you’re among the greatest dancers of these times. That’s why you’ve been asked to interpret all the great prima roles: Giselle, Cinderella, Juliette, Clara, Desdemona and more. Which of your long list of leading female ballet roles has been the most demanding?
XR: It’s got to be Sleeping Beauty. It’s very demanding technique-wise and the story line is not very well defined. Plus there’s not a lot of acting time allowed. So I had to find my way through it. I had to understand what story I was telling in order to know how to approach the role. I’ve learned that if I can connection to the role, that the rest comes easily.
And it’s a struggle with Sleeping Beauty because, frankly, it’s a bland role. Aurora was happy at 15 years old and now she’s asleep until somebody comes and wakes her up with a kiss?! I asked myself, why would anyone sleep for 100 years? And I came from the approach that although her early life was joyous, something hurt her deeply, her life situation became complicated — so her soul was calling her into the sleep, keeping her asleep until she could awaken to happiness. I thought, that’s something everyone can relate to: having a problem, not feeling able to deal with it, running away from it, until our soul tells us it’s okay to “wake-up.”
Sometimes, we’re all “Sleeping Beauties.” How many people just simply forget to live, for years! Just crawling into themselves, watching TV, running away from their problems, giving in to a massive depression? At first Sleeping Beauty’s life was full of possibilities and then her life’s cycle is broken, sending her into a 100 year depression. The 2nd act is her soul calling her to awaken. And then the 3rd act is finding her herself through her “Prince” and being freed.
CF: That’s an utterly fascinating interpretation of Sleeping Beauty. I’ll never look at that ballet the same way ever again. I’m always interested in any funny stories about the very serious dance world. What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you on-stage?
XR: Well, it didn’t happen to me, but it happened in Cuba. Once, on a very hot day, someone left the backstage door open — probably to let in some air. Well in the middle of a very serious big dance, a cat just wandered on stage and very, very slowly walked all the way across. Like if nothing.
CF: A cat?!
XR: Yes! Apparently the dance continued and the audience loved it.
CF: Something unpredictable like that happening on-stage can really wake up the house.
XR: Yes, and you can tell the quality of the performers if they don’t let something like that affect the show.
CF: What program is ABT presenting in Los Angeles?
XR: We’re opening (July 11) with a Mixed Repertory and then the next three performances (July 12 through July 14) are LE CORSAIRE. I’ll be dancing the role of Medora. It’s a fun, kind of PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN version. With pirate ships and pyrotechnics and everything. I think families will really enjoy this production.
CF: Finally, as a brilliant dancer, having a stellar career, what advice do you have to parents whose children are expressing a desire to dance professionally?
XR: It’s a wonderful life. Lots of kids want to become dancers and it’s a much harder life than you can tell from the stage. It’s not all opening nights, glitter and galas. Dancers have to be strong. But if you really love it and you’re happy doing it, it’s very well worth it. So if the kids are really committed to doing it, let them try if you can see that the passion is there!
To see the passionate Mr. Xiomara Reyes during her Los Angeles run with American Ballet Theatre log onto: www.musiccenter.org
Four performances only: July 11 at 7:30pm through July 14 at 2pm; tickets $34 and up; The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 No. Grand Ave., LA, CA 90012; 213-972-8555.