Cuban ballet dancer José Manuel Carreño made his debut as a flamenco dancer with the Spanish Ballet of Cuba.
The night at the Gran Teatro (Grand Theater) of Havana promised to be full of great emotions. Cuban dancer José Manuel Carreño — winner of the gold medal at the New York Ballet Festival and of the Grand Prix at the Lausanne Festival, in Switzerland — made his debut on the Island as a special guest of the Spanish Ballet of Cuba.
After twenty-five years of work as a classical ballet dancer, most of them with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Carreño accepted the challenge of playing Don José in the flamenco version of Carmen, choreographed by Eduardo Veitía, with the collaboration of Iván Betancourt and Leyza Méndez.
“It was a desire I had had for three or four years. For work reasons, I never had the opportunity of carrying it out. I had always had the dream of dancing flamenco with the Spanish Ballet of Cuba. Finally, it is another dream that came true now during the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations of Eduardo Veitía’s artistic life.”
“It is a challenge for me, like many other challenges I have taken up in my life. I really enjoyed both shows very much,” said Carreño, who has danced on the most important stages of all five continents.
Speaking of challenges, how do you combine classical ballet technique with Spanish dance?
“These are two completely different techniques. In general, in classical dance you barely touch the floor; you’re always up in the air; while in Spanish dance everything happens down on the ground, strongly clacking your heels as you dance. If I said it was easy, I would be lying.”
“Actually, it was more difficult than I thought. It meant breaking with the habits of a classical ballet dancer. Also, I had little time to rehearse. Luckily, I can say that my knowledge of classical dance helped me a great deal.”
What do you think about this version of Carmen?
“I love it. I saw it four or five years ago and since then I have told myself: ‘I have to dance it.’ It really fascinates me. I hope I can dance it many times more.”
Will it be staged in Cuba again?
“Coming home is always exciting. The Cuban audience at the García Lorca Theater is very demanding. Honestly, I hope to be back for this year’s International Ballet Festival of Havana. I do not know how, but I will make it.”
At the end of the performance of Carmen, a piece that since its premiere on September 19, 1998 has remained a popular success in the active repertoire of the Spanish Ballet of Cuba, cries of ‘bravo’ echoed in the theater for José Manuel Carreño’s debut as a flamenco dancer.
The leading figures of the company, Graciela Santana and Leslie Ung, cooperated with Carreño in his undertaking. They played the roles of Carmen and Micaela, respectively, with great skill in the art of the different flamenco styles.
Referring to his presentations abroad, Carreño said he will perform at the New York City Center on April 27.
“I will dance a tango during the gala performance of the Youth America Grand Prix, an annual competition for ballet and dance students between eight and nineteen years of age. This is one of the most famous junior competitions in the world.”
The dancer, who will be 44 in May, also plans to perform at the Lincoln Center with the Peri Dance Company, directed by Igor Peri, the choreographer of the Hail Mary he performed a decade ago in Havana.
In August he will teach a summer course in Sarasota, Florida, in the United States, together with virtuoso Loipa Araújo and Eduardo Veitía, director of the Spanish Ballet of Cuba.
José Manuel Carreño decided to retire as leading dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, but he will continue his career showing his talent and versatility on stages worldwide that call on his presence. We hope to be able to again enjoy his artistic mastery very soon.
Translated by Xelcis A. Presno
Revised by Susana Hurlich