– Dear Lissi, can you tell us about the most significant figures that influenced your career and helped you grow as a professional dancer?
Of course! First of all, the teachers at the National Ballet School in Habana were extremely rigorous and they demanded a lot from me. From that period I can name Alina Díaz, Moraima Martínez, Adria Velázquez, Ana Julia Bermúdez and Ramona de Saá, but really all of my teachers were transcendent for me.
As I joined BNC I began to learn from Alicia Alonso and I found out that choreographers are the most interesting people to learn from. At an early stage, I was lucky enough to work with Tania Vergara, a Cuban choreographer who opened my mind about contemporary dance. The work with Tania opened my mind about what I had to work in and it helped me through later contemporary pieces. Years later, Peter Quanz was invited to choreograph for BNC. I didn’t make it into the cast but, since I was curious about the way to worked and communicate with dancers, I went to see as many rehearsals as I could and decided to do my college thesis about his work at BNC. Fun fact is, although I never danced his ballets, we ended up theorizing about choreography, the quality of movement and many other subjects. I really learned a lot and finally wrote my thesis about his work. What I learned, actually helped me to get into the cast of Sechs Tanze, by Jiří Kylián. Patrix Delcroix staged the piece at BdM and it was one of the happiest times I’ve had on my career. I felt like I was playing all the time! It was all about good energy, sparkles and fun at the studio. It was a huge contrast with Cuba, where ballet is always a big deal. And that was an important lesson. Ballet isn’t just beautiful: it can be fun too!
– How would you characterize Cuban ballet tradition? What are the most important traits of Cuban ballet compared to European and Nord American schools?
Cuba has a very strong ballet tradition. Even the audience has a deep knowledge about ballet. They know the steps and the characters, they wait for the mad scene in Giselle and the black swan’s entrance. They know in advance what to expect from a classical ballet.
Cuban Ballet School’s method was created by Fernando Alonso, his brother Alberto and Alicia, of course. The three of them used their knowledge of the Russian, French, Danish and Italian School and took what was more effective in Cuba, given Cubans body type and culture. For example, whenever there is a pas de deux, the couple will communicate with each other through movement. The girl’s dance might be coquette, while the Cuban male dancer will always be very respectful and polite with her, offering his hand and then leading her around the scene. It isn’t just about doing the choreography, but to communicate with your partner and, therefore, with the audience. Also, there is a soft port de bras with the arms’ rounded lines, there is the fast footwork on jumps with batteries; there are the high Russianlike extensions, the artistry and cleanliness of the dance. But also there is this sense of coordinated movement, dancing with you whole body.
– How did it feel working under the direction of “mitique” Alicia Alonso?
Well, Alicia Alonso herself is a school. She is a great storyteller and has very expressive hands, which she moves beautifully, so she uses those tools to communicate. She used to spend a lot of time just talking to dancers and we weren’t supposed to make the steps with just a smile on the face. Alicia led us to the feelings by talking about the story. She also showed the pantomime herself and suggested how we could use body language to express ourselves on the stage. With her, I got to know how to communicate with the audience through feelings because to show that you feel afraid, anxious, mad or deeply in love, is a more complex system than just to put on a smile and move your arms around on a mechanical way.
– What is your favorite role in ballet and why?
I don’t have a favorite, but I really love a challenge. Some characters might be more challenging than others, but I often feel that those harder to play are the ones that end up being more enjoyable. I have a very soft and naive facial expression, that’s DNA, so I have to work harder than others to become Myrtha, Gamzatti, Carmen and, hopefully, Black Swan. I really enjoy the kind of role that doesn’t come naturally to me. I guess that when you grow up as a ballerina, you learn that almost everything is possible. You can jump and lift your legs higher, make more pirouettes and longer balance, turn you skinny arms into beautiful wings and become any character you want.
– Today we are presenting the photo series made by our friend and collaborator Artyom Shlapachenko and inspired by the image of great Anna Pavlova. What can you say about your collaboration with this photographer? Was it easy to understand his artistic idea? Was shooting in the streets distracting and challenging or easy for you as the model?
Well, Artyom and I used to go out for photoshoots when we moved to Monterrey, to get to know the city. We both grew as artists because it was a challenge to switch from one location to the other, looking for inspiration. I think that a ballet dancer needs to be open to new experiences, and this was a special one.
For Anna Pavlova session I was a bit shy at first. We were in Old Havana’s streets, Paseo del Prado, Plaza Hotel and a small coffee shop. I have to say that Cubans aren’t shy at all (except for me) and there were people yelling things like: “Hey are you filming in a telenovela?”, and we were using a photo camera, but anyway…
Artyom did a lot of research for the session and showed me his ideas. He realized that Old Havana hasn’t changed that much since Pavlova’s visit, so it is a believable set. I helped him to find a vintage dress and some accessories and the rest of it was really fluent. For me it was really fun to walk around Plaza Hotel’s corridors pretending to be a ballet diva, it is the dream of every ballerina!
– Please give us three main reasons for dance lovers to come to Havana
That’s an easy one! First of all, Cuba is a country in movement. Dance is literally everywhere. People bounce from one leg to the other while waiting in line and they even walk with passion on the streets. Cubans are all about self-expression and dancing is a huge part of it.
Second. There are many dance festivals and theaters. Every weekend you can catch a show by BNC, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Acosta Danza, Ballet Español de La Habana, Ballet Lizt Alfonso, Irene Rodríguez’s Company, Danza Teatro Retazos, Malpaso, Danza Abierta, Folklórico Nacional, Ballet Revolution, Tropicana, etc.
Third and particularly for classical ballet lovers, it is a great way to experience ballet like nowhere else. The International Ballet Festival brings to stage jewels of the classical repertory kept in style by Alicia Alonso, along with contemporary pieces by novel and established choreographers, international ballet stars, national and foreign companies. It is essentially a ballet party.
Artyom Shlapachenko and Lissi Baez exclusively for Anna Pavlova Network 2017. All rights reserved