By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, August 11 — Today we interview prima ballerina and choreographer Maysabel Pintado, who was the leading figure in the renowned Lizt Alfonso ballet company. As Maysabel put it, “For me, dance is a way of life, and like life itself, it ends up being mysterious.”
HT: What happens within Maysabel when she surrenders to dance?
Maysabel Pintado: Dance is my fondest language. Not needing to introduce words or language to communicate makes me special, as are all dancers, or painters or musicians. Every time that I dance for the public I try to show who I am or what I feel through movement, and I believe that expression is my best ally.
I always attentively analyze each expressive detail; I think of the effect that I can achieve with the audience; and I carefully study the music with which I will work because I nurture myself on the range of colors that it possesses. I try to transmit my feelings but without thinking hardly at all about whether it will be liked or not; I only think about how I will find the best means of sharing my message. For me, dance is a form of life, and like life itself, it ends up being mysterious, always having dissimilar readings, hidden intentions and new roads to discover.
HT: You began your career when you were very young.
MP: Yes, at the Rosalia de Castro Cultural Center in Havana., from where for many years ballerinas came out who now work in companies of Spanish dance and flamenco.
HT: I understand that when you were only 14 you joined the famous “Ballet Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba” company. Specifically why did you choose this company for your development in the world of dance?
MP: It was a simple decision. I had taken classes in workshops at what’s today the Ballet Español de Cuba, but due to matters of fate I wasn’t able to audition along with my classmates to get into that company’s school. At the same time I was taking classes from a teacher who had danced in the Ballet Lizt Alfonso since its establishment. I didn’t know anything about the work that they did there. I believe that the lack of Spanish dance companies at that time, plus the spirit that three childhood friends and I gave ourselves led us to present ourselves at the 3rd Choreographic Competition organized by that company. There, we were fortunate enough to win first place in the category “Best Collective Youth Performance.”
So, we made ourselves known a little, and several months later we presented ourselves at the first gathering that Lizt carried out to form a pool of young dancers. After some eliminatory rounds, I was chosen along with 12 or 13 other young women.
My career really began as amusement. It was with time that I realized that this was my world. I never intended to be a dancer, and much less a prima ballerina. Years of work, experience and circumstances compelled me to continue the path to dance. It took me a long time to realize that I had been born with a quality, and that I needed to draw out its fruits. The company was relatively new when I began and that was a factor that helped me a great deal. As it was growing, I grew with it. I think that’s why I rose rapidly, and I’d like to think that I knew how to avail myself of the situation.
HT: And your family? How did they influence your choice to go into dance?
MP: I’m really an oddity in my family, because they’re more into sports than anything else. My mom and dad were athletic medalists, and my cousins also participated in sports at one time. In fact, me first flirtation with athletics was rhythmic gymnastics, at my doctors’ suggestion, as a way of dealing with the tremendous blow I suffered as a result of my father’s death. When I was eight, parallel to my sport trainings that I’d been involved in since much earlier, I began taking my first classes in Spanish dance. With much support and dedication, my maternal grandmother would take me to the classes. Then my mom continued, and even today she continues being vital for my professional development.
HT: With “Ballet Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba,” you ended up being one of the most important figures in the image of the company, performing leading roles in its highly acclaimed shows.
MP: That’s true, and I’m glad to think that I was able to contribute something to the history of the company. I learned a lot in my profession and about life while I was there. There were many experiences and I’ll always remember them. I’ve only said this a few times, but I think I became a dancer by chance, because I never saw it as a real job. I had wanted to get a degree in foreign languages, but fortunately I surrendered to the stage after putting up some resistance despite the fact that I was doing well from the very beginning. As it turned out I’m now a prima ballerina, which causes people to always ask me where I’m dancing now, which makes me to think that I did a good job and that my efforts weren’t in vain.
HT: In the international arena you’ve performed as a prima ballerina in more than 100 functions in various countries. Tell us about some of those experiences.
MP: I’ll never forget the first foreign stage that I stepped on, it was the Teatro Apollo in Barcelona. But of course there are experiences and sensations that I’ll never feel again, like dancing in Central Park in New York in front of more than 3,000 people, or three years later finding myself in that same city but at the New Victory Theater realizing the dream of many artists, which is none other than dancing a season on Broadway.
By evaluation, I wasn’t a prima ballerina yet, but for a long time I had danced in works as a soloist. I remember with great affection one of the functions at the Colsubsidio Theater in Bogota in 2004, since it was there that I reunited with my mother after spending months working in Colombia and I had missed her enormously.
Then came the grandiose premiere of “Vida” in Toronto, where we all felt like movie stars, and more recently in opera theaters in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. Ultimately, maybe I’m being a little unfair, because really I remember many more, each function with its own story, but these were extra special.
HT: Do you think that “Vida” is the most symbolic show in your repertoire?
MP: I adored my character in “Vida” from the very first moment. It seemed very simple but it has many shades. I found it very strange to dance so little in terms of technique, but at the same time it gradually became the principal seam of the entire work. I needed to exploit my bodily expression much more than with other characters because often I had to make myself noticed, though I was completely still on the stage. I believe my greatest challenge was interpreting “La Muerte” (Death), which I tried to humanize so that it would be ethereal and invulnerable, but also fragile and melancholic – if only for moments.
Also, after a while of playing in the role of that character, adjustments were made to the script: “La Muerte” became “La Angel,” completely changing the concept of the character but with choreography and music similar to the previous adaptation. It was tremendous, and I loved the challenge. I really enjoyed the characters because I had to study and keep myself occupied, though it was very hard. Also, because in the most moving moments of the show I had to be completely cold, and that was sometimes difficult, especially in the scene in which the “death-angel” fulfills the mission of forever separating Vida from her little granddaughter.
That touched me very closely, like with everyone at some point, with the difference being that while behind the curtains the others cried, I had to stay strong, and I also often had to help control the emotional state of the principal figure. I never experienced anything like it. It was tremendous for me, and I learned plenty!
HT: And to work along with the diva of Cuban music, Omara Portuondo, what significance did that have for you?
MP: It was incredible. Omara is an exceptional being, someone from whom we have much to learn as an artist and as a person. She was hard on me in that final scene; I think she was trying to ease the tension, but we enjoyed working with her. She’s always very affectionate and respectful of everyone she works with, no matter if they are younger. She has amazing energy, which doesn’t stop at the stage – she exerts it in life. I admire her like many people do and I hope to work with her more often. That would be a blessing for me.
HT: What could have been more important for the future of your career as making the decision to part with Lizt Alfonso, given that you had been one of the figures with the most responsibilities in the company.
MP: One’s health comes before everything. I had many knee and back injuries early on that I didn’t see to properly. After a while I went to a specialists and I learned how to deal with them. I’m speaking of years, and as more happened — with the company assuming more responsibilities and more work, I had to work even harder. Everything was fine until I noticed that it was affecting me emotionally, and I began to look for new reasons to try to continue. That was in 2006, when I began to find a beautiful world in choreography, but this was parallel to my work as a dancer.
I continued working a few more years with Lizt, until I realized that I was jeopardizing my health. My injuries were increasingly bothering me, while dancing — more than pleasure — was a sacrifice. To top it off, I ended up with a herniated disc that put me in bed for a good while. So I began to think that no one deserved to remember me dancing poorly, without soul, and I think that the first one who didn’t want to see me like that was me. I’ve always thought that it’s better to step away at the right time, without leaving anything pending and at the best moment, so that there’s no the bitter flavor of having fallen into decline.
Another important reason was the curiosity of discovering the world much more independently. The work of Lizt’s company is very absorbing in achieving the fine results that it has, but it leaves one practically without a personal life. For me, I was always interested in working with other dancers, with other companies.
I believe that within the Ballet Lizt Alfonso I reached my expectations, and I surpassed them, and now it’s up to me to take my own steps.
HT: After concluding your commitments with the Ballet Lizt Alfonso, you showed us your abilities as a choreographer, obtaining the maximum laurel in the well-respected “Certamen Iberoamericano de coreografía Alicia Alonso,” in CIC 2010 for your work “Espectral.”
MP: I was extremely lucky that I dared to participate, and it was an even bigger surprise that the jury identified with my work to the point of choosing it. It has been an enormous reward because I also had the opportunity for it to be premiered by four dancers with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba within the framework of the International Ballet Festival, where homage was paid to Alicia for her 90th birthday. What an honor and a responsibility! “Espectral” gave me the opportunity to fulfill many dreams, and it was the first time my husband, Denis [Peralta], presented me with one of his musical compositions for me to work with in terms of dance.
It’s a choreography that emerged thanks to the effort and good will of many people, and each one of them should also feel like they won the award. This was my first work as an independent artist, and the fact that it won a competition lends me a great deal of energy to struggle to continue fulfilling dreams, because right now I think that nothing is impossible. Everything is about coming up with an idea and working to realize it.
HT: Could choreography be a new door in your professional life, or is it perhaps a spiritual refuge to alleviate the nostalgia of having left behind the practice of dance?
MP: Both, I’m sure. It’s a door that I touched and opened with a countless number of surprises — all good ones up to now — and that revealed to me an extremely wide spectrum. Choreography always accompanied me, but it presented itself to me in a much more serious way, as if to demonstrate to me that my artistic life had not ended; rather, it had just begun, but along a different, much more encompassing road – and one that will take much longer to travel.
HT: At 28, recently life gave you another great satisfaction, the one of becoming a mother. Along what spiritual road are you traveling right now?
MP: I’m rediscovering myself. I still haven’t finished savoring the success of “Espectral,” and now I’ve received the great gift of being a mother. I knew the responsibility and challenge of having a baby, but really I never thought about everything that it would bring to me. The sensation of fullness that I feel compensates me for everything that I might be missing artistically. It’s funny because I don’t think of choreographies with dancers, but of creating a tiny choreography with my little boy, to film it and keep it with the fantastic hope of showing it to him when he grows up, like when I danced this past November when I was three and a half months pregnant.
Choreography presents itself to me more than ever as an intimate, personal language, without great pretenses for innovation, only the mere joy of movement and the spirit of sharing it with those who love it most. If other people join in along that road and they identify with what I’ve done, then I’ll enjoy it that much more. I think I’m nurturing myself and filling myself with energy to reintroduce myself into choreography with a new and stronger spirit, because I’m moved by the incredible impulse to think that, after exhausting periods of creation, I’ll come home to join my most complex and valuable work, which is my family.
HT: Will Maysabel ever dance again?
MP: I haven’t stopped doing it since to stage my works I inevitably dance. But if you’re referring to dancing like I did previously I believe that I might do it, but not as a part of my work, but for pure pleasure. The times that I’ve danced since I left the company have been very special moments and I’ve enjoyed them a great deal. Each time has been with one of my works. So, though I’m beginning to gradually bid my farewell to dancing, I’m presenting myself before people with what I enjoy the most about dance today: choreography.