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Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART

11 noviembre, 2007
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Célida P. Villalón loves dance as few people do, and her long history in this field is well known in the dance circles of  New York, just as it was in years past in Havana, Cuba. Her dedication to this art form has earned her great respect and admiration for all her commentaries on the subject, wherever they are published.

Translated by Vivian Villalón (U.S.A)

 
The events of the times that she has lived through have led her unto a path filled with meetings of noteworthy celebrities, and thanks to her intelligence and culture, she has known how to treasure and transform into a doctrine each conversation, each lesson and each revelation.  The greatest world exponents of dance have performed before her eyes, thus bringing to her life unique richness and wisdom.

I knew of Célida P. Villalon through her reviews in dance magazines, as well as on the Internet and other sources, but I confess that I did not dare to make her acquaintance, due to the high respect that she inspired  me.  I was aware of her collaboration with the International Encyclopedia of Dance (Oxford University Press, New York, 1996), a work comprised of more than 2000 articles, written by a variety of experts from different countries. I also knew of her book “Pro-Arte Musical y su Divulgación de Cultura en Cuba”, successfully published in U.S.A. in 1990.

Through  recommendations from a former friend, I finally decided to contact Célida. I confess that I have become fascinated and in awe, not only by her charm and education, but also by her personal history.  Her life is filled with extraordinary anecdotes and accomplishments that deserve to be shared and known by anybody who loves ballet; a history that today, through Danza Ballet, we are able to publish, thanks to her great generosity and lack of pretension.

It is indeed my luck and privilege  that I can call her my friend, and be able to read her rich and extensive commentaries about what takes place on the stages of New York City, where she resides since 1959. Above all, I feel privileged to share with her the same passion that unite those of us who love the divine art of the Muse Terpsichore.
editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
Natalia Makarova . The ideal dancer (CPV Private collection photo)


How does ballet become important in your life and when?

Life placed me in close proximity to the most important artistic-musical movement in Cuba: Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical of Havana,  founded in 1918 by a distinguished Cuban lady, Maria Teresa Garcia Montes de Giberga.  Pro-Arte, as the association was better  called both in the island and abroad,  brought to my country the most famous performers, vocalists, dancers and ensembles (either  orchestra, chorale, dance or drama) of the world.  It is appropriate to mention here that this institution was always managed by a board consisting totally of women, and there are some who believe that it was the first feminist society in Latin America.   With the construction of its theatre, Teatro Auditorium, in 1928, located just two doors from my house,  a beautiful world filled with music was opened for me at a very early age.  From the time I was very young, I attended concerts, and after completing my academic studies, I went to work as part of the administrative personnel of the institution, dedicating my efforts to the School of Dance, first of its kind founded in Cuba in 1931,  Alma Mater to the Alonso brothers, Fernando and Alberto, as well as Alicia Martinez, known worldwide as Alicia Alonso.  I left this wondrous environment soon after Castro took over control of my country, for  I had a feeling from early on that his revolution would eventually become a dictatorship, curtailing freedoms and abolishing human rights.  His actions in the next forty eight years would prove that my instincts were right.  Because of an irony of destiny, I would like to think that I was fortunate not to have been present during the final days and sad end of Pro-Arte, when the non-profit entity was dismantled and completely crushed by the totalitarian government of Cuban,  in  September, 1967.

Dif you study ballet or any other performing art?

I took a few lessons during childhood, but my family understood soon enough that I would be better as an spectator,  than as a performer.

Do you like classical music?  Who are your favorite composers?

I love classical music, especially (and how could it not be so) Tchaikowsky, followed by Rachmaninoff and Chopin.

Do you believe that all classical music lends itself to dance?

All great melodies can be danced to, and the proof of this was offered by Leonide Massine, when he choreographed “Presages” on Tchaikowsky’s Fifth Symphony, and “Choreartium” on Brahms’ Fourth.  Regrettably, very few companies presently include those monumental works in their repertoires.

It is thought or it was thought that ballet is an “elitist art” and that one must possess a degree of culture in order to approach  the “ballet culture”.  Following the “massification” that has taken place since the 80’s, do you believe that this movement has served classical dance to remain high or has it brought it down from its pedestal?

Ballet has gone through various phases.  The first golden age of dance in the XX century  took place in the West,  when Diaguileff brought his Ballets Russes to Paris in 1909.  After his death, dance declines, although the Bolshevik Revolution, in 1917, brought about the first group of famous exiles  that included Balanchine, Spessitseva, Nijinsky, Karsavina, Pavlova, as well as the famous legendary masters, especially, Nicholas Sergeyev who made possible the staging in the western world of all the old choreographies by Petipa, Ivanov, et al, when he  brought with him to London the notations of their works.

 

editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
Alexandra Denisova and the Pro.Arte Ballet School in “Concerto”, by Alberto Alonso, to Bach´s music (1943.- Photo by A. de Moya) 


When you speak of the great figures that you have met which were surely many, I can’t resist thinking what  great part of the history of classical dance have passed through your life and in front of your eyes. Do you feel as reference to a whole luxurious era in the history of ballet, a golden age?


I do not dare claim that honor for myself.  As I have said before, God placed me in a privileged artistic environment, and it was my  luck to cross paths with great figures of the dance world, whom I met personally in Cuba, as well as abroad. Away from my country, I was able to continue  cultivating my passion, and in this extraordinary city where I live, it has been easy to keep in contact with the best dance of the world, and admire  the new luminaries that have been appearing on the stage throughout the years.

How was your life, after leaving Cuba?  How do you manage to acquaint yourself with ballet in New York? 

It was not easy; I came to the United States by myself, in May 1959, and luckily I started to work right away, but since I had left  my children, husband and mother behind, while I tried to establish certain comforts so that they could join me, I dedicated myself to assisting ballet performances in the hopes of alleviating the loneliness that the absence of my loved ones produced.  Thankfully, I was able to cope with that situation, and before the year´s end, my family had joined me in New York.   After adjusting myself to the new American way of life, and surrounded once again by my loved ones, I proceeded on a normal course, and my regular attendance at the theatre became more pleasurable than ever before.  In 1961 I had my first personal encounter with the Kirov Ballet.  What can I say about the excellence in dancing of the very youngs Natalia Makarova, Irina Kolpakova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Vladilen Semyonov, etc, whom I saw dance in the old Met, on 30th St. and Broadway, on the west side of Manhattan?  It was like living an incredible dream. I was an accidental witness to the building of Lincoln Center, since my job was located not too far from its construction site, and I could appreciate the developments on a daily basis.  I will never forget  the first time I came into the State Theatre of that magnificent complex, to attend the performance of the musical “The King and I”, an unforgettable show, for which Jerome Robbins had staged an enchanting piece of choreography.  I also recall with emotion, when that theatre was called (in  jest) “Balanchine’s house”, and began offering two seasons a year with the New York City Ballet, for a couple of months each season. During one of those seasons, Balanchine’s “Don Quixote”, to music by Nabokov,  was premiered,  and I had the privilege of seeing  him on stage as the Don, with Suzanne Farrell as his Dulcinea.  Few could infer at that time,  that such an unforgettable work could be considered later on the maestro’s love declaration to Farrell, his favorite pupil and muse.  Afterward, I was introduced to the Joffrey Ballet and its stars, where I saw Kevin MacKenzie (present director of the American Ballet Theatre) dance with Francesca Corkle, a brilliant technician.  I continued to follow very closely the performances of the American companies, especially ABT and  NYCB, with the principal dancers of the time (Lupe Serrano, Nora Kaye, Igor Youskevitch, John Kriza, Nicolas Magallanes, Allegra Kent, Patricia McBride, Edward Villela, among others.)  I soon  “discovered” the magnificent Stuttgart Ballet, when they came to New York with the incomparable Brazilian Marcia Haydee, partnered by Richard Cragun, in the innovative choreographies of John Cranko (and who would not  feel excitement while watching “The Taming of the Shrew” or “Eugene Onegin”?). During the  Cold War, the Bolshoi arrived in this city with Maya Plisetskaya  and a contingent of dancers, to appear in  Alberto Alonso’s  “Carmen”, which included Alexander Goudonov as a blond Don José, and Sergei Radchenko, the original Toreador in the Bolshoi premiere in 1967. Later on, the Bolshoi visited us again, this time with   Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova at the head, and there were  many more  that I was able to admire and applaud, but telling about them all  would surely make my recount overly long.

While you lived in Cuba you had relations with the Ballet Russe de De Basil, as you have told us in your article “Let’s Not Forget the Other Russian Ballet”. Since you knew them at their height of activity, can you describe your life in those days?

During that time (World War II), I was very young, and those attractive Russian men would make me dream that each one of them could become my Prince Charming.  Due to the labor strike of the company in Havana, a few of the dancers were in great need of help.  My group of friends, unconditional to ballet as I was, was involved in helping them in any way we could, and those moments became the highlight of our quiet existences.  My interest in dance became an obsession after watching the ballet “Paganini” by Michel Fokine, with the wonderful portrayal that Alexandra Denisova (first wife of Alberto Alonso) rendered as the Divine Genius.  Coincidentally, I began working at Pro-Arte, when Alberto and Denisova became directors of the Ballet School. The pupils of the School were introduced to the best known classic works, at the same time that Alberto´s career as a choreographer was taking hold. A few years later, Alberto began to work in the creation of a new dance style: the fusion of ballet with pop and afro-Cuban dance, very much present in the shows of the early era of T.V.  Shortly thereafter, I became interested in writing: First I wrote about ballet, but when television arrived in Cuba, in the early fifties, I also wrote about the televised musical programs appearing on the air.  My reviews were read daily during a radio transmission called “La Manga Al Codo”, a program of commentary and gossip relating to entertainers, very popular at that time.  Later on, I also wrote for magazines and newspapers.  After becoming well settled in New York, I continued to write about dance in various publications, eventually editing a pamphlet and book on my favorite subject: the development of ballet in Cuba… The rest, as the saying goes, “is history”…

Have you met personally any of the great dancers and choreographers of history, and what memories do you hold of them, impressions and common aspects?  How would you characterize these great figures?

I had direct contact with all the artistic figures under contract with Pro-Arte, especially the dancers.  I remember fondly, among them, Andre Eglevsky, who arrived in Cuba with his young son Andrusha, and his wife Leda Anchutina, in the late stages of pregnancy of their second child.  Eglevsky’s “Apollo” in 1946 was a revelation, as well as that of Igor Youskevitch, a year later.  Igor also brought to sunny Havana his wife, and his daughter Maria.  Rosella Hightower was a guest of Havana when she was invited to dance “Carnival” by Fokine, and the Queen of the Willis, in the first “Giselle” ever seen in Cuba, in 1945, with the School of Pro-Arte, and Alicia Alonso and Fernando Alonso in the leading roles. As it is well documented, this ballet catapulted Alicia to the top of what would become a very long and fruitful career, and created a special niche for her in the hearts of her fellowmen.  I also met Anton Dolin, who came with his group, that included the great Alicia Markova, an elegant but simple lady, beside Marjorie Tallchief (Maria Tallchief’s sister) and George Skibine.  Yvette Chauviree danced at Pro-Arte with a  French ensemble,  not long before my departure from Cuba, but I was so tormented by all the unpleasant events of the moment, that I can scarcely remember their performances.  When  the entire Ballet Theatre had visited the island years before, I became a good friend of Barbara Fallis, who later would live in Cuba after joining Ballet Alicia Alonso.  The Joos Ballet, Martha Graham and her Ensemble, Ballet Charrat, Ballet of Pilar Lopez, Mariemma and ensemble, etc., etc., all danced for the members of Pro-Arte.  Let’s leave the list there, or we run the risk of boring the readers.

editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
ALicia Alonso and Fernando Alonso in “Giselle”, with the Pro-Art Ballet School (1945 – Photo by A. de Moya)
 

¿Can you mention who have been your most admired dancers and why?

There were several dancers that were at the top of my list, such as Irina Baronova, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Yura Lazowsky, Yurek Shabelevsky, Paul Petroff, and Roman Jasinsky, all of the Original Ballet Ruses, who occupied a very special place in my heart for a very long time;  however, when I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in New York many years later, just after his desertion, he took hold of my heart completely.

¿Your most “loved” ballet and your most “hated” one?

There is more than one ballet among my favorites:  Of the old classics, “Swan Lake” takes first place, despite all the adaptations  it has suffered by an infinite number of choreographers.  “The Dream” by Ashton, also occupies a very special place on my list.  Among the neo-classicals, “Serenade”, Balanchine’s first ballet created in America, and “Dances at a Gathering” by Jerome Robbins, are my  favorite masterpieces.  I don’t think I hate any choreographic work, but I feel little interest in seeing works inspired in repetitive music (minimalist), or with fragmented or obtuse steps and poses.

Going back to the sources and thinking about the development of events throughout history, do you think that classical dance has a future and the recognition it deserves? Are there new notable dancers to admire and venerate as there were in the 60’s and 70’s?

At the present time I don’t think that ballet is at the same level as it was during the 60’s and 70’s.  In terms of quality, yes, but in terms of the interest by the public, it seems to have lost its top ranking.  During the years mentioned before, the defection to  the West of Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, would elevate classical dance to unimaginable heights, and their charismatic personalities transformed the coverage by the media into a real circus.  It´s not surprising, since never before had audiences seen  that kind of dancing before. It’s easy to understand that the craze became a contagious epidemic, not only felt by those who loved to watch academic dance, but also by those who wrote about it.  By the same token, many choreographers were hurriedly creating new works for this wonderful trio.  However, there was Fernando Bujones, winner  of the Gold Medal at the 1974 Dance Competitions in Varna, a magnificent dancer with a crystal clear technique,  and a youthful and engaging  stage personality, but  because of his award coinciding with Baryshnikov´s defection, the press did not dedicate all of the attention he wished or deserved.  Nevertheless, Bujones was the first principal dancer that would once again open the doors to our Hispanic ethnicity (already done before by the Alonsos), and  nowadays, dance counts with an inordinate number of magnificent dancers that speak the language of Cervantes, and can be measured on stage against any dancer of nationalities historically associated with excellence in classical dance.

 

editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
Andre Eglevsky, Alicia Alonso, Marjorie Tallchief and Barbara Fallis in “Apollo” with the Pro-Arte Ballet School (1946 – Photo by A. de Moya).


Not long ago, we read in Danza Ballet that you were present at ABT’s Farewell of Alexandra Ferri, and also that of Julio Bocca, and you commented that both occasions had been memorable. These two figures formed one of the most mythical, fantastic and perfect couples of recent times, and without doubt, they have already passed to the history of dance’s greats.  The generation of these dancers, Bocca, Darcey Bussell, Alexandra Ferri, has been more intelligent than others; let’s say that these dancers have known how to manage their careers, retire while still at their peak, and above all, value and develop a private life.  (Ferri and Bussell have both become mothers twice.


Ambitions make for bad counsels.  Ferri, Bocca and Bussell deserve all of my respect and admiration, because they have known when to leave the stage, while still in full control of their technique.  Regrettably, there are others that have extended their presence well beyond discretion, refusing to accept the unequivocal signs that silently appeared to be saying: stop already now, do not overstay your welcome…

What remains for a “star” that due to age, or natural conditions related to the passing of time, abandons the stage?  Various female dancers cannot stand the fact of being forgotten by their fans, they cannot live without that void of affection, and above all, cannot tolerate the challenging feat of existing without the permanent exposure to an adoring public?

It is their duty to transmit the wisdom obtained through years of dedication and learning, as well as their obligation to make way so that others may occupy that privileged place when the time is right.

How do you see the situation in Cuba at the present time under the direction of Alicia Alonso?  Fernando Alonso, was he culturally influential in the creation and development of ballet in Cuba?

This is a subject that touches me very closely and it hurts me deeply.  I detest the actual regime in Cuba because it is a dictatorship that has destroyed my country.  By the same token, I do not forgive those who have collaborated with the dictatorial system, only to be able to maintain themselves in positions of great power.  Fernando Alonso was the founder of the Escuela de Ballet in 1950,  that in time became the  Escuela Cubana de Ballet; nevertheless, it has been many years since (to be precise, 1974, when his marriage to Alicia ended) his career and his merits were put aside, when he was “convinced” (forced) to move to Camagüey, in what  many people have called  an “exile in his own country”.    However, the presence of Fernando in said city placed the local ballet company, Ballet de Camagüey, on the map, although after Fernando left the position and moved for a while to Monterrey, Mexico,  little is said about that company. Still, Fernando continues to live in Cuba, teaches occasionally, and does not seem to have any intention of distancing himself from the iron rules that prevail in the dance world of his country.  We all know that the Ballet Nacional de Cuba began as Ballet Alicia Alonso, and was founded in 1948 by the two Alonso brothers, including Alicia as its principal star, along with Youskevich.  But returning to the topic of the School, let me state that there are many excellent maîtres dedicated to teaching ballet in Cuba  – among them, Ramona de Saa, Fernando’s student since the 50’s, and the school’s director for many years – that regardless of having dedicated their lives to teaching, are hardly known outside  the island. Every time the Escuela Cubana or the National Ballet are mentioned, Alicia Alonso is the only one named.  Surprisingly, two articles originating in Cuba have just appeared in Danza Ballet, offering a myriad of compliments to Saa’s labor as a  teacher.  Even  dancer Carlos Acosta, in his recent biography (No Way Home, Harper Press, 2007) refers to her as “having saved his career”.  Judging from this new trend showing that someone in Cuba would dare to eulogize any work that isn´t  Alicia´s, it fancies me to think that de Sáa´s  anonymity is in the process of being a thing of the past.

Various anecdotes are known about the atmosphere surrounding   the choreographing of the ballet “Carmen” that Alonso created for Maya Plisetskaya and his disagreements with Alicia Alonso, can you make some comments on that…

I had already been away from Cuba for a number of years when Alberto did “Carmen”, but according to what he has told me during certain conversations, due to my family ties with him, he staged it at the request of Maya Plisetskaya, definitely his muse in this endeavor, and a very different ballerina from Alicia Alonso.  When Alicia wished to dance “Carmen” in Cuba, after its premiere at the Bolshoi, Alberto told me to having had to change some steps, so that the choreography would be more suited to Alicia’s style. Speaking about “Carmen”: the ballet has been again incorporated to the Ballet Nacional repertory, but of course, Alberto has never received any  royalties for his work.  In that same situation is Jorge Garcia, a dancer who was among the first 10 who defected in Paris in 1966.  His choreography of “Majisimo”, that he created in Cuba before his exile, to the music of “El Cid”! by Massanet, has been performed all over the world by   Ballet Nacional, but he has yet to receive the royalties that are due him.

At this moment, Cuban dancers are succeeding on international stages, demonstrating precision, both interpretative and technical, that approaches the sublime, as is the case of Carlos Acosta.  The Cuban dancers and their school are actually what the Soviets were 30 or 40 years ago?

Unquestionably, the Cuban dancers of today are outstanding performerss, as well as are the Spaniards and Argentineans, but   laudatory comments  on the technique of the Cubans,  appear sometimes to be somewhat exaggerated, perhaps motivated more by political sympathy than by artistic reality. I don’t doubt that  many foreigners  wonder why such  a small island as Cuba, with a population of just 11 millions,  has become  such a big producer of dancers. A curiosity, indeed, but  the truth of the matter is that the massive production cannot be allowed to decline, since with each tour,  the company loses a few members who either seek asylum, or simply “remain” abroad. On the other  hand, I don’t think it is difficult for the natives to understand why so many compatriots are studying ballet: Dance is an incentive that the citizen needs, trying to improve his/her precarious existence.  To be a dancer in Cuba is a prestigious title, indeed (dance  is surely one of the regime’s favorite projects), besides, traveling abroad can fulfill other needs, such as acquiring items that are not available in the island nation; and lastly, and more important, traveling offers the possibility of  attaining total freedom.  On the issue of the dancers´ exile, I would love to comment some day at greater length…there is an abundance of dancers scattered all around the world, and if you add to those the ones that “remain” anonymously,  the number is staggering. I have seen Carlos Acosta dance in New York several times, and his technique is impressive,  as well as the stardom  he currently enjoys,  which had never before been achieved by anyone of his skin color. About Jose M. Carreño, who I have also seen dancing with ABT in a number of occasions, I can say that he is a ”partenaire par excellence” and a “danseur noble” of outstanding qualifications.  There are many other Cuban dancers in companies of such stature as the San Francisco Ballet,  Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet and the Orlando Ballet in the United States, as well as in the Royal Ballet, and English National Ballet, both in the United Kingdom. But, if I may ask,  where are the Cuban choreographers of international relevance? Just one with relative successes comes to mind: Alberto Mendez, already retired (Alberto Alonso is of the former era).  In regards to the repertory, the works that the Ballet National present nowadays, many originals of the “assoluta” (she also ostentatiously claims the title of choreographer now) and other remade “ad nauseum”, earned this commentary from Nadine Meisner, present at the Dance Festival in Cuba, in 2002: “The dancing was the Festival´s best feature; the worst was that these sublime dancers seemed trapped like flies in disastrous stagings and creations by Alicia Alonso” – Dancing Times, London, February, 2003”.

What ideal of ballet and prototype do you like more the Russian, the French, the English…

Be it Russian, French,  English or American, I favor the dancer with limpid style, contained emotion, and in various instances, brilliant technique, although making an infinite number of pirouettes (very fashionable right now) does not signify everything in classical dance.  I do not like cold movements.  I believe that whether it is the movement of the arms, the position of the neck, the amplitude of the shoulders or the flexibility of the back, the dancer must demonstrate a trace of personal emotion that emanates from the innermost depth of his being

Let’s imagine that we could go back in time and you choose to dedicate yourself to being a ballerina…where would you go to study?  In your understating, which is the most complete school for the formation of dancers?

I believe that I would have like to study ballet, without a doubt, in the school of the Kirov (or Institute Vaganova, as it’s called today), the school of the Paris Opera, or that of the Royal Ballet of London, without forgetting the Danish school.  A difficult choice for sure, but following my heart, I would definitely attend the school of the Kirov.  If we consider the neo-classical style, however, I would have preferred the Balanchine curriculum, noted for great speed, precision and ease of execution.

 

editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov during a rehearsal of “Stars and STripes” with the NYCB. (circa 1979 – CPV Private Collection photo)


¿Can you give us your thoughts about Barishnikov?


As mentioned before, I was fortunate to have been a witness to the era of Nureyev, Makarova and Baryshnikov in the United  States.  I feel blessed for having been present at Misha’s grand debut in the Big Apple (July 1974).  “Giselle” had been scheduled, with Makarova and Ivan Nagy for the ABT, in the State Theatre of Lincoln Center (at that time the company’s summer season was held in that theatre, later it would be moved to the Met).  I had tickets for the evening’s performance, and when I arrived, I noticed the change in cast: Nagy was being replaced by Barishnikov…I pinched myself because I could not believe my great luck.  Baryshnikov had already captured the attention of the press because of his defection and his debut in Canada. As soon as he appeared on stage that evening, the audience stood up in unison…of what happened next, what can I say?Before my eyes,  a legend developped that still moves my soul and makes me shiver when recalled.  Makarova was a glorious Giselle, with distinct nuances and sublime inspiration…the Queen of the Willies was Martine Van Hamel, another marvelous dancer with long legs and impeccable technique.  The Willies rose to the occasion, as expected. After those incredible “brisses” by Baryshnikov in Act II, indicating his desperation, and bringing the house down, there is nothing more to add. The end of the performance was  true apotheosis, when Albrecht. moving backwards from Giselle’s grave dramatically, drops the lilies one by one, leaving a distinct row of flowers on the stage floor… and then the  curtain closed… There was momentarily absolute silence…a minute in which breathing was suspended, followed immediately by the screaming, kicking and applauding of an enraptured audience.  Nobody wanted to leave the theatre.  There were flowers for Makarova, and a wreath of laurel for Misha.  What could be done to calm down the excited crowd that refused to let them walk off stage?  After acknowledging the audience during a few minutes more, she laid her flowers at his feet…and he hung his wreath around her neck.  With that, the people seemed satisfied, and the exodus started towards the street, just to reconvene in front of the stage door.  Many celebrities of the New York scene filed past the tumultuous group, after having personally congratulated the marvelous Russian, among them the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who was a great lover of ballet, especially the ABT, and patron.  Her daughter, Caroline, who accompanied her mother that evening, continues to be counted among the many benefactors of the company. After this unforgettable  performance, and his joining  ABT as a principal, I continued attending the ABT seasons, and saw Misha in every  work he performed, including  “Push Comes to Shove”, by Twyla Tharp, a piece full of many twists and turns  that was a total charmer. I even took a trip to Kennedy Center, in Washington D.C., a magnificent complex dedicated to the performing arts, to applaud him in an enthralling “Don Quixote”, which he had staged and danced with the unforgettable Gelsey Kirkland, one of the best American-born dancers ever to appear on a stage. I was also witness to Baryshnikov´s 2 years tenure with NYCB, where I saw him dance, in a very Americanized way, the delightful  “Who Cares?”, which Balanchine created on Gershwin’s music.

¿Natalia Makarova?

She has  been one of my favorites.  The premiere of “Other Dances” which Robbins created especially for her and Baryshnikov, to piano music by Chopin, was very special: a beautiful, intimate piece full of subtle moments that require the interpretation of a pair of giants of dance as these two Russians are. Makarova should also be commended for her staging of that ageless classic, “La Bayadere”, a masterpiece if there was ever one.

¿Did you ever meet George Balanchine?

No. I have always admired  him from a distance. He is no undoubtly a beloved icon; the most admired and prolific choreographer of the XX century, and to some, we believe he was the best of all.

Rudolf Nureyev…

He was sitting next to my son and me one evening at a performance of the ABT, and when my son, who at that time was a young and enthusiastic teenager,  asked him to autograph the program so he could impress his girlfriend, he rudely declined.  According to people that dealt with him personally, he was difficult and arrogant, but regardless, a beloved  icon. One of his most memorable appearances I attended was when he shared the stage with Cynthia Gregory, in his version of “Raymonda” for ABT. 

Maya Plisetskaya…

I have adored Plisetskaya ever since I discovered her in a film that, among other works, had “The Fountain of Bakshisarai”. Her technical mastery and her ardent personality captivated me.  I continue to adore her to this day.  She was rebellious, and that is why her “Carmen”, as she has stated on more than one occasion, will never die. She has never bent under any dictatorship.  Bravo, Maya!

Margot Fonteyn …

I saw Fonteyn  with the Royal Ballet, in 1957, at the old Met, during my first short visit to New York, and I was taken by her unforgettable Odile  in “Swan Lake”, with Michael Somes.  Fonteyn and Somes had a contract with Pro-Arte to dance in Havana with the ballet school,  in Act II of “Swan Lake”, the following February, 1958. I had the opportunity of speaking with  her on the phone while in New York, to clarify certain travel details.  She invited me to a cocktail party that would take place at the Essex House, but I was unable to attend. Weeks later she canceled her trip  to Havana, and was replaced by Alicia Markova, in her second visit to Cuba, who brought along Michael Maule as her partner.

editora  Célida Villalón: A DANCE LOVER AT HEART
Gelsey Kirkland and Barysnikov in “Don Quixote” with the ABT. (Photo: Beverly Gallegos, 1978)


¿Have you had any direct contact with any of the Hispanic dancers?


Many years ago, in 1973 to be precise, when Fernando Bujones was beginning to gain importance with the critics and the New York balletomanes, I  spent a very pleasant afternoon with him, asking him questions for an interview that later appeared  in the magazine “Ritmo” (Madrid, Spain).  His was pleasant and jovial, and had that spark that seems to be the birthright of Hispanics.


Of the more recent luminaries, Angel Corella has allowed me to approach him more than once, and has responded willingly to my endless questions, with that typical Spanish fire appearing in his eyes and smile. My first encounter with him  was in 1996, and subsequently we have shared jokes and laughed to our heart’s content when we have casually met after performances at the Lincoln Center.  I have also interviewed Paloma Herrera, a very refined young lady, with a serene passion for dance.  An encounter with Julio Bocca, some years ago, was a very pleasant occasion, as he is quite a gentleman, very charming and down- to-earth. Audiences all over the world  will miss him immensely, as surely I will. Lucia Lacarra left a lasting impression in me when I saw her first with the San Francisco Ballet. She is a beautiful, lyrical dancer, with marvelous legs that could light the moon and the stars if she wanted to.   I had the opportunity to spend a good time talking with my fellow Cuban,  Xiomara Reyes, a graceful, adorable dancer, to reminisce of beautiful Havana, and  her beginnings in dance  in that beloved city that I keep close to my heart and mind.  Joaquin De Luz left his Spanish charisma in evidence as he spoke  to me of his career and his plans for the future, and the same happened with the Argentineans siblings, Erica and Herman Cornejo, who eagerly satiated my curiosity about their respective careers and recent triumphs. Erica´s radiant personality  lights  the stage, while Herman has proven to be, time and time again, the perfect classicist, with an extraordinary “ballon”. Carlos Molina, a  handsome dancer from Colombia,  of affable demeanour, gave me a few minutes of his busy schedule, to question him about his life and career. Among the choreographers, Nacho Duato, director of Danza Nacional de España,  was kind enough in 1997, to let me watch a rehearsal of “Remanso”, also called “Valses Poéticos”, his work for ABT on Granados. The conversation was pleasant and interesting, and I was able to see first hand, how his creative ability inspired  dancers Desmond Richardson, Vladimir Malakhov and Parrish Maynard, who were working with him at that time in the new piece.

¿Is MacMillan the best choreographer of the Royal Ballet?

MacMillan deserves all the respect he has earned, having various works considered masterpieces under his belt, but I prefer Ashton in many ways. It is a shame that Ashton professional endeavors are not better diffused throughout the world.

¿What future do you foresee for dance in terms of  new choreographies?

Although ballet is well served through the promising stars that every year surge from all the academies and workshops existing  in all corners of the planet earth, the world of choreography does not appear to have such clear potential. There is no doubt that presently,  there are several interesting dance makers, whose names inspire respect and admiration (such as Christopher Wheeldon, Twyla Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky, William Forsythe, Stanton Welch, and more recently,  Jorma Elo), but none of them has yet achieved the necessary perfection to deserve the prominence that made  the works of  Balanchine, Robbins, McMillan or Ashton, timeless.

 

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