Big Dig First Draft/ Cuban Ballerina in New York City

Laura Ramirez

Xiomara Reyes looks like your typical ballerina. She has a slender figure and moves gracefully even to sit down on a chair. Like many classical dancers, Reyes exudes elegance with every step she takes but her accomplishments and successful career is what sets her apart from many other dancers.

Reyes was born in Habana, Cuba where she started dancing at the early age of 3. She says, “I was a very hyperactive kid so my mom saw dance as a way of keeping me entertained”. “She would play music from the ballet Giselle, and I would spend hours dancing in the living room”. Her first role consisted of jumping like a rabbit on the stage with other young kids. Little did she know she was going to perform the biggest ballet roles on the same stage years later?

The Cuban ballerina says that she never thought of becoming a dancer. Since she was a child she dreamt with becoming an actress or a TV personality instead, but dance eventually conquered her heart. “At the beginning I was not so good technically” she says. That’s the reason why Reyes didn’t find dancing fun then. “What attracted me the most to dance was the possibility to create and play characters”. Today, not only has she played many important characters of the classical ballet repertoire, but she has also inspired choreographers to create special roles for her. The ballet “Ramatsky’s Seven Sonatas” for example, was created for Reyes and is currently an important piece in the American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.

Her professional journey started when she joined La Joven Guardia, the second company of Cuba’s National Ballet as a soloist. She later joined the main company and spent 2 years performing principal roles and perfecting her craft. Xiomi, like most friends call Reyes, graced the Great Theatre of Havana with her incomparable charm and exquisite technique, gaining her the respect of those within the dance world. The Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium was one of the many companies that noticed her talent and invited her to perform for them.

Xiomara left her country unlike many other Cubans. She didn’t struggle to get out of the island. She didn’t have to jump in a raft or boat and her final destination wasn’t Miami. Reyes’ talent was her ticket out of Cuba. The ballerina was offered a contract and a work visa by the Belgium Company and made that country her home for 7 years.

When talking about the period she spent in Europe with the Royal Ballet of Flanders Reyes says, “it was an interesting experience because I had to get used to a different work style, very different to the one I was used to with the Cuban National Ballet”. She also explains that this experience “wasn’t easy but it was an enriching experience” because she had to get used to another culture, another language and a very different lifestyle. “I grew as a person,” she adds. Also during this period Reyes met her husband Rinat Imaev, who was a principal dancer for the company at the time. Imaev partnered Reyes in many ballets and from that partnership grew the love that still keeps them together today as a couple.

But Reyes success didn’t stop there. She still had many goals to achieve. It had been her dream since she was a student in Cuba to join the American Ballet Theatre one day. “Since I was a girl I had a special attraction to that company” she says. This New York based dance group is one of the most recognized in the U.S. and in the world. Also it was the company where Alicia Alonso, director of the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban Ballerina Assoluta became one of the most outstanding figures of the classical ballet. “The fact that Alicia and other stars that I admired from a young age were part of this company and made a name for themselves in the ballet world there, made that desire to be part of this dance troupe even more magical for me”.

After years of preparation and with an already successful career Xiomara Reyes decided to send an audition tape to ABT. To her surprise, an invitation to perform with the company arrived a few days later. “I was offered a soloist contract right after that performance” and just like that, her dream became true. After 2 years with ABT Reyes was promoted to principal dancer. This makes her the second Cuban-born ballerina to be principal of this famous dance troupe, something she considers an honor.

When I asked the ballerina what it felt like to live away from Cuba for so many years she said, “one can’t help to feel uprooted” but it is something “I’ve gotten used to”. “You get to know new places and they also start becoming a part of you, of your history,” she added. Her nostalgia for Cuba was evident when she said, “One thing is for sure; I was born in that land, close to the ocean, with a sun that burns your skin and eating tostones (typical Cuban plantain dish). “This I’ll never forget” she concluded.

Reyes recently visited Cuba with the American Ballet Theatre and performed on that same stage where she danced for the first time as a child. The virtuoso Cuban dancer is performing this ABT season at the MET in New York City.

PS: This is a work in progress. Going to meet her again, and attend one of her rehearsals to take a close look at her work and see what her coworkers and others have to say about her. I’m also planning to attend one of her performances at the MET soon.


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