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Cuban ballerina enjoys drama, ‘madness’ of ‘Giselle’

Cuban ballerina enjoys drama, ‘madness’ of ‘Giselle’

National Ballet of Cuba begins performances tonight at SPAC
Cuban ballerina enjoys drama, ‘madness’ of ‘Giselle’
Grettel Morejon of the National Ballet of Cuba at SPAC on Wednesday.
Photographer: erica miller

The ballet is back, though not the company that the Capital Region typically gets to see.

On one of very few stops in the United States, the National Ballet of Cuba is performing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center this week.

It’s the company’s first year here and its only stop in New York. They’re bringing to the stage what might be one of their strongest ballets, “Giselle.”

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“Giselle” is a classic fairy tale story, in which a girl who falls in love with a prince who has cleverly disguised himself as a commoner.

There is madness, myth and mystery, and much of that is seen in the principal role of Giselle. It’s widely recognized as a difficult one, both in terms of acting ability and technique. Alicia Alonso, who founded the company 70 years ago, perfected the title role during her dance career. In her late 90s, Alonso still leads the company, which has often been called one of the world’s top ballet companies.

“I first visited Cuba in 1999 and was profoundly moved,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the president and CEO of SPAC. “The passion and dedication of the artists - despite tremendous adversity and deprivation is unparalleled. Bringing 'Cuba' to Saratoga represents the power of art and performance to transcend politics, economics and social strife.”

Ballerina Grettel Morejon is slated perform the lead role in “Giselle” for Friday’s performance. Morejon said dancing as Giselle has been the most challenging and rewarding role so far, though it’s far from her first big break.

Born in Havana, Morejon attended the National School of Ballet there and has danced with the National Ballet of Cuba since 2007. She’s traveled around the world with the company, dancing everywhere from Europe to Africa. Morejon is also a part of Sofia Ballet, an international ballet company first formed in Bulgaria.

In other words, her feet are hardly ever still.

The Gazette caught up with the ballerina shortly after a class with the women of the ballet company.

Q: Why did you want to dance in the first place?
A: I started at [age] 9 because I really liked to move and my mom realized that. I was really happy at the school (the National School of Ballet). It is a very hard career. But it’s beautiful also. I’m really honored to be a ballerina now.

Q: How do you feel like you’ve grown as a dancer since you joined the company?
A: So much. You know, you start like a little kid. Growing up, being a ballerina is hard. You need to have respect for dancing. [You have to] dance with injury and problems that people [usually] have. I feel very happy and like I’ve grown.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your role?
A: Well, first of all, "Giselle" is my ballet, the one I most love. For me, it has all the things that a ballerina has to have: drama, technique, style. The part I like the most is the madness in the first act. It’s very dramatic, psychologically. You really need to know what you’re doing [so you can convey that] to the audience.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the role?
A: Everything. Just because it’s like three roles in one. There is the joyful girl. Then she realizes that everything with the prince was a lie and the madness is like another kind of girl. Then in the second act, you have to float. You have to feel like nothing and this is very hard for a dancer. 

Q: Is this your first time in Saratoga Springs?
A: Yeah. I like it! It’s very strange. We arrived two days ago and it’s a very unusual city. It’s calm, without loud noises. I like that. [I feel] like I can rest.

Q: A few years ago, I was reading that dancers in the company had all these techniques for preserving their shoes [Shoes are expensive, unfortunately, it’s easy to go through them within a matter of days]. Some dancers were freezing their shoes when they weren’t using them.
A: Most of the girls use Gaynor Minden, it’s an American brand and it’s almost like plastic. In Cuba, it’s much hot[ter]. So freezing is okay because they get colder and [last] longer.

Q: How do you feel like the performances have been received in the United States?
A: Spectacularly. I feel really honored and very thankful for the American people. It’s been incredible. We danced in Chicago and Tampa and Washington and I couldn’t believe myself when I took a bow and felt like I was in Cuba. Because in Cuba, the people are like very excited for ballet. I’m happy [it’s] the same here. 

Q: Some of the reviewers said that there is this pressure for the National Ballet of Cuba to modernize and do other works [besides "Giselle"]. Do you feel that pressure?
A: Not really because it’s a classic ballet. We do so many things; we do "Don Quixote," "Swan Lake," but we do modern. You have to preserve your classicals.

Q: I know some of the dancers who have trained at the school or in the company have eventually decided to leave. But you stayed. Why did you decide to stay?
A: It was an option. It happens all over the world, you are not happy where you are, you try to find some place you like it. I like Ballet National de Cuba and I like Cuba. I feel very Cuban. I had the opportunity to dance with other companies and remain in Cuba so for me this is the best option.


“Giselle”

WHEN: 2 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: SPAC
TICKETS: $18-103
MORE INFO: spac.org

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