By Laura Ramirez
Cuban-born Xiomara Reyes looks like your typical ballerina. She has a slender figure and makes the simple act of seating on a chair graceful. Like many classical dancers, Reyes exudes elegance with every step she takes but something sets her apart from other talented Cuban dancers. Her accomplishments and successful career makes her a unique ballerina.
Reyes was born in Havana, Cuba where she started dancing at a very early age. “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”, she says.
Her dancing debut took place when she was only 3 years old at the famous Grand Theater of Havana, main stage today for the Cuban National Ballet and the International Ballet Festival of Havana. Reyes’ role was that of a cute little bunny and all she had to do was jump around the stage with other kids. Little did she know then she was going to perform the biggest ballet roles on the same important stage years later?
A soft-spoken person, Reyes enjoys to talk about her beginnings. She confesses she didn’t like dance as much when she started. Becoming a ballerina wasn’t something she really had in mind. “I wanted to be an actress or a TV personality instead,” she says. One of the reasons why Reyes had a hard time liking dance at first was because of the technical difficulty and rigorous training that classical ballet requires.
At first, “I was not so good technically”. “What attracted me the most to dance was the possibility to create and play characters” she says.
Today, Reyes is one of the strongest technical dancers in the United States. From Giselle to Odette, there’s no principal role from the classical ballet repertory that she has not performed. The American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) principal dancer is also an inspiration to many choreographers. Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet “Seven Sonatas”, for example, was choreographed for Reyes and is currently a very important piece in the American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.
But how did the ABT star get to the position she is in today? Her professional journey started when she joined La Joven Guardia as a soloist. This is the second company of the Cuban National Ballet and is where most young Cuban dancers start their careers in that country. Reyes later joined the main company and spent 2 years performing important roles and perfecting her craft. “I learned a lot from my time with the Cuban National Ballet” she says.
Xiomi, like most friends call Reyes, graced the stage of the Grand Theatre of Havana with her incomparable charm and exquisite technique. Her strong performances gained her the respect of the international dance community and it didn’t take long for other companies to notice and want her talent. The Royal Ballet of Flanders (in Belgium) offered Reyes a soloist contract and she took the offer immediately.
In the year 1994 Xiomara left her country unlike many other Cubans. She didn’t struggle to get out of the island. She didn’t leave on a raft or boat and her final destination wasn’t Miami. Reyes’ talent was her ticket out of Cuba. The work visa offered by the Belgian company allowed her to leave Cuba legally and safely.
The 7 years she spent in Europe with the Royal Ballet of Flanders was a period of personal and professional growth for Reyes. “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 says. She explains that “it 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 around this time Reyes got to meet and work with her husband Rinat Imaev. “He was a principal dancer with the company and partnered me in many ballets” she explains. Imaev does not longer dance with Reyes but he is now her real life Romeo.
Reyes success as a dancer continued to escalate while in Europe, but it didn’t stop there. She still had many goals to achieve. One of her dreams since she was a student in Cuba was to join ABT one day. “Since I was a girl I had a special attraction for that company” she says.
The New York based dance group is one of the most recognized ballet companies in the U.S. and in the world. It was also the company where Alicia Alonso, director of the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban Ballerina Assoluta became one of the most outstanding figures in the history of dance. “The fact that Alicia and other stars that I admired from a young age were part of this company 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 came true. After 2 years with American Ballet Theatre, Reyes was promoted to principal dancer in 2003. This makes her the second Cuban ballerina (Alicia Alonso was the first) to become principal of this famous dance troupe. Although Reyes is humble about her stature, she says the position is a true honor for her.
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 (a 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 when she was a child. The virtuoso Cuban dancer is performing this ABT season at the MET in New York City.