Ballet Stars

Two Cuban National Ballet Stars Share Their Different Approaches to Giselle, and What They Love About U.S. Audiences

Sadaise Arencibía as Giselle. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Grettel Morejón and Sadaise Arencibía, principal ballerinas with the National Ballet of Cuba, danced the title role of Giselle in the company's performances on June 6 and 8 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. SPAC was the final stop on a U.S. tour that took the company to Tampa, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Morejón's was an intimate, caring, and protective Giselle, placing complete confidence in Albrecht before he becomes her deepest disappointment; Arencibía's was a spectral capture, as present as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, but also the vigilantly mad witness to her own downfall. To say that both interpretations are as distinctive as they are mesmerizing might sound like a false equivalency. Yet, Morejón and Arencibía demonstrate that two vastly different articulations can wax both genuine and stunning, with the same steps to the very same music.

I knocked on their shared dressing room door at SPAC last week, and the welcome from each was as warm as their enthusiastic and forthcoming responses to my questions.

Has the role of Giselle changed over the years since Alicia Alonso created it for the Cuban National Ballet? If so, how?


Sadaise Arencibía: The essence is the same. The style is very well-defined. Over the years, however, there have been revisions as those who dance the key roles change from generation to generation. For example, arms might change slightly, because each dancer is different and interprets the role in her own way, according to her personality. Each mad scene is a response to our individual feelings. Even me, I do things differently every time I perform. The interpretation can't be rigid.

Grettel Morejón: Each time a younger generation dances it, they do so as they live and as they think. Ballet is what you create with your intelligence and how you think of and see life. Young people have a lot to say in Giselle. That is not to say that what they bring is better or worse, but it has changed, and our way of moving is different. The style is the same, but you can see small differences from 20 years ago and now. There are even differences between Sadaise and me, reflecting the epoch during which each of us has been dancing.


Of the ballet masters who have coached you, who have you relied on most to transmit the authentic version?

SA: First of all, Alicia Alonso. We also had the privilege of working with former prima ballerina Josefina Méndez when she was alive. From her in particular, I learned the style, the elegance; the way in which she moved was beautiful.

GM: María Elena Llorente is the one I have relied on most. She picks up on the details of your personality in a particular kind of way, and those which correspond most saliently to classical ballet. Each moment has its own particularity. In the romantic style, the back has to be curved, with the arm held in a soft curve, the neck at an angle that lets the audience see its most responsive sinews and tendons.

Sadaise, you have also danced the role of Myrtha. What is involved in moving from the role of Giselle to that of Myrtha in preparation, tempo and capturing the character?

SA: Myrtha is more demanding, technically. It is especially hard on the knees. Where Giselle is languid, sweet and more fragile, Myrtha is hard, implacable and cold

Do you ever imagine that Myrtha was once like Giselle?

SA: Sometimes, only with a different personality. The Queen of the Wilis is stronger. Most prominent in Giselle is her character, a love for Albrecht that is pure, free of anything external. The way Giselle moves in Act II tells you that she now belongs to Myrtha, but is conflicted by her feelings for Albrecht. Her first consideration is to save him from death.


Arencibía and artists of the Cuban Nation Ballet in a 2016 performance of "Giselle" in Havana. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

How do you approach the pacing of the story in order to internalize and dance it?

SA: You have to work at studying it. At first, Giselle resists Albrecht because she is humble, and doesn't see herself meriting anyone's attentions in quite this way. It changes for her when she sees that Hilarion is jealous. She realizes that because of her social class, she doesn't know, and nobody she knows has ever encountered, such people as Albrecht and his aristocratic entourage. But little by little, she internalizes what has happened, and retreats into the corner to be with her mother to safely absorb it. At that moment, I try to concentrate on feeling all alone onstage in the midst of all the confusion. I live in that feeling of solitude.

GM: In the second act, Giselle is trying to protect Albrecht, and she's suffering at the same time. The music inspires the movement and emotion, and in it there is everything you need to do with your body. It all starts inside of you, you just have to figure it out. It remains a process and that is the interesting part: It is never-ending.


Artists of the Cuban National Ballet in "Giselle." Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy SPAC.

Having mastered the classical ballet repertoire, what else would you like to perform?

SA: Because our repertoire is limited to the classics, there are many other ballets I would like to dance. At the last international festival in Havana, I was fortunate enough to dance the last pas de deux in John Cranko's Onegin, and I would like to dance the whole ballet, as well as Manon and Lady of the Camellias. I love ballets that demand a lot of dramatic interpretation. I'd like to dance Cranko's ballets, especially Romeo and Juliet, and William Forsythe's in the middle somewhat elevated. That ballet interests me particularly because it takes place in a dimension that is not real life and poses challenges to the imagination about a different one.

GM: I would like to dance the works of Jiří Kylián and Kenneth MacMillan.

What was it like to dance for U.S. audiences?

SA: Everywhere we danced, we received a very warm response. In Tampa, the curtain calls were so lovely because they went on so long, and Tampa has a longstanding relationship with Cuba going way back to its founding. In Chicago, we danced Don Quixote and were surprised that the applause lasted even longer than in Cuba, which is our most enthusiastic audience. I especially like it when the applause is genuine, when it comes from the kind of people who don't know much about ballet and who can appreciate it in general. I have been so happy with this tour—it represents a high point in my career!

GM: This went beyond all my expectations. I couldn't believe how explosive the applause was when I was taking my bow. To hear "Viva Cuba!" from this audience was a very emotional experience for me. When we danced Don Quixote in Chicago, the audience laughed every time at the comic pantomime. In Giselle, it felt as if they were very connected to the dancer who was interpreting the role. This is the best thing for us! It sends us energy, and most important, it shows once again that the language of dance is accessible to everyone!

(Translation by Toba Singer)
Show Comments ()
Ballet Training
Torija coaches BalletMet Dance Academy summer intensive student Polina Myers. Photos by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

It's the complex transfer of weight that makes piqué turns en dehors—commonly called "step-overs"—so tricky. Maria Torija, director of the BalletMet Dance Academy, shares her ideas on how to successfully navigate these inevitable variation-ending turns.

What's in a name: " 'Step-over' is the American way," Maria Torija explains. But the turn has many names. "Vaganova calls it 'tour dégagé.' 'Lame-duck'—that's the English! Maybe we should go to the French. The Paris Opéra calls it 'tour piqué en dehors.' "

Walk the line: Whether you tombé front or side, Torija stresses the importance of precision in consecutive piqués en dehors. "Hold the passé until you finish the turn, and then tombé right in the path you're going, like on a tightrope." The leg doesn't extend to the front or side. That's a different step. "Tombé means you fall into it. It's a very quick motion."

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Josephine Lee exploring Oklahoma. Photo Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's stop at Oklahoma City Ballet. She touches base with company soloist Amanda Popejoy and school director Penny Askew. Stay tuned for more!


Keep reading... Show less
Sarah Beth Marr. Photo by Oliver Endahl of Ballet Zaida, Courtesy Marr.

Several years ago, Sarah Beth Marr, then a dancer with Mejia Ballet International in Arlington, Texas, went to see a famous ballerina give an interview at a nearby theater. She was eager to hear the dancer's insights on navigating a ballet career. "I was hoping for some kind of secret sauce in order to keep going," she says. When it came time for a question and answer period, several in the audience asked the ballerina about what got her through challenging times. "Her answer was that she worked really hard and pushed herself and tried to be the best," says Marr, "and there's a lot of truth in that." But she was left with a heavy feeling inside. "Is it all about working really hard and striving and carving my own path, or is there something deeper?"

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joffrey Ballet's April Daly, Yoshihisa Arai and Amanda Assucena in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake. Assucena will make her debut in the role of Odette/Odile this week. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Remie Goins, a student at International City School of Ballet in Atlanta, performs at the YAGP finals. Photo by VAM, Courtesy YAGP.

You've watched First Position, the 2011 documentary about dancers at Youth America Grand Prix. You've studied videos of past ballet competition winners online. Now, you're interested in joining those elite ranks by entering a competition yourself. But what if your school doesn't have a program set up to guide you through the process? Pointe asked four experts to break down what ballet competition newbies need to know.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joseph Gordon, pictured here in George Balanchine's Who Cares?, became New York City Ballet's newest principal this weekend. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

On October 13, the evening before the close of New York City Ballet's fall season and longtime principal Joaquin De Luz's retirement performance, Jonathan Stafford, the leader of the company's interim artistic team, promoted seven company dancers: six men and one woman. In addition to De Luz, NYCB lost three other principal men this fall. Chase Finlay, Zachary Catazaro and Amar Ramasar were fired last month in the midst of a scandal surrounding the sharing of sexually explicit communications. With principal Adrian Danchig-Waring out of commission while recovering from a broken foot, the company has been in need of male dancers to bolster its upper ranks.

Joseph Gordon has been promoted to principal, and Daniel Applebaum, Harrison Coll, Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz, Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Peter Walker have been promoted to soloist. All seven made a number of debuts throughout the year and shone in featured roles; we've rounded up some of their recent accomplishments below.

Keep reading... Show less
News
From left: ABT principals Devon Teuscher, Christine Shevchenko and Gillian Murphy isn Praedicere. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.

Last spring American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced the company's Women's Movement, a multi-year initiative to support the creation of new work by female choreographers. ABT's fall season, running October 17–28 at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, sets the project in full swing. The opening gala features a world premiere by tap extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance. A co-commission with the Vail Dance Festival, this work marks ABT's third collaboration with Dorrance this year: She created Praedicere, a pièce d'occasion for ABT's spring gala, as well as a work on company dancers at Vail last summer. The gala performance also includes past and present works by two female choreographers: Twyla Tharp's 1986 In The Upper Room and Lauren Lovette's 2017 Le Jeune, which will be danced by the ABT Studio Company.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Sarah Lane and Jeffrey Cirio in Harlequinade. Photo: ErIn Baiano

American Ballet Theatre's two months of performances at New York City's Metropolitan Opera House can be an exciting but demanding time for the dancers. With nine ballets in eight weeks including Whipped Cream and Harlequinade, a night off is hard to come by.

James Whiteside as Harlequin in Harlequinade. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Josephine Lee outside Ballet West Academy. Photo Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, exploring schools and getting know academy directors. Below, check out Lee's stop at Ballet West. She touches base with academy director Peter Merz. Stay tuned for more!

Editors' List: The Goods
San Francisco Ballet soloist Koto Ishihara stretches in her warm-up boots. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Dance Magazine.

With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.

Bloch Inc. Printed Warm-up Bootie

via Bloch Inc.

Created by Irina Dvorovenko and Max Beloserkovsky, this collection comes in a variety of tie dye, floral and even butterfly prints.
blochworld.com, $48

News
Kimin Kim and Soobin Lee. Photo Courtesy SunHee Kim.

Kimin Kim may be a huge star in Russia, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. The prodigious South Korean dancer, who became the Mariinsky Ballet's first foreign principal in 2015, trained at the Korea National University of the Arts, also known as K'Arts. He owes much of his success, he says over email, to the academy's teachers, who prepared him well for his high-profile career. So when dean SunHee Kim approached him about guest-starring in the American premiere of her original ballet Song of the Mermaid, which K'Arts Ballet brings to New York City next week, he didn't hesitate to sign on. "I had performed the role of the Prince while I was at school in Korea and it was such a memorable performance," Kim says. "I've always wanted to do it again, so I happily accepted her offer."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!