The Life of a Young Cuban Actress

By Helson Hernandez

Alianne Portuondo

HAVANA TIMES, Nov 30 — Alianne Portuondo is one of the principal actresses in the popular stage group “Mephisto Teatro.” She told HT, “The life of a young actress in Cuba is very simple, like that of any other young woman’s. The only difference is that our profession denotes a great deal of sacrifice in terms of one’s personal life.”

HT: What year did you graduate from the “National Art School” (Escuela Nacional de Arte)?

Alianne Portuondo: I graduated from ENA as an actress in 2004.

HT: You’re one of the actresses who can be considered one of the “fetishes” of the prominent Cuban director Tony Diaz. What influence has he been on you in terms of your artistic development?

AP: He has been a great influence because he’s what has given me the ability and opportunity to demonstrate my talent and thus develop in my career.

HT: What about “Mephisto Teatro,” a group in which you’ve played several roles, how has joining this group contributed to your development?

AP: First of all, we’re very heterogeneous, with different generations working together. This diversity allows you to learn something new every day from the experiences of your peers who are older. Plus, the whole objective of the company is the development of its actors, giving us the opportunity to develop the skills we possess – whether these are in singing, dancing or directing.

The first two skills are part of our training system, employing a staff of top-ranking teachers who make every effort to bring out the best in each one of us. So for me, belonging to this group has been a defining point in my career because I’ve been able to simultaneously pursue my two passions: acting and music.

HT: When the American musicals “Cabaret” and “Chicago” premiered, was information about these shows easily accessible here on the island for the study and preparation process?

AP: The process of investigating any work is complicated, but in these cases it was even more special because the only references we had were the movies themselves. The aim of our director was to show something new, drawing from his very personal reading of the conflicts presented in both.

So we had to go to the root of what is musical theater, very thoroughly investigating with the little material that we had on hand in both video and written forms. We also turned to other sources of information, such as actors who have been involved with this art form here in this country. Though musicals aren’t often presented here, there are many living exponents of musical theater in Cuba.

On the other hand, we were also fortunate to have several Cuban and foreign professors who were knowledgeable of art forms totally new to us, ones like tap and jazz. We also saw the videos that we were able to get from Bob Fosse himself. In short, it took a lot of work and dedication because our choreographer Ivan Tenorio is characterized as being strict and demanding with his dancers, and that’s how he was with us.

HT: You’ve explored significant figures in musicals. That’s a privilege that represents a goal for many actors who are eager for a genre that has lost its glory on the island.

AP: Well, I’ve been pretty lucky to perform those roles, which demand a lot of effort on the part of any actress who has the opportunity to play them. It was not only a goal but also a challenge that I faced with all my strength and a great deal of desire. But I enjoyed doing it a lot.

HT: Do you think that in the teaching of students at the “National Art School” (ENA), there’s still the lack of a broader program that enables learning in greater depth in other areas that might be useful, ones like singing and dancing?

AP: I think the program at ENA is quite broad. Perhaps my suggestion would be to expand the range of genres instructed in those subjects currently taught at the school, such as dancing and singing. That would be more beneficial for future classes. They could also expand the range of writers and works that are studied there.

HT: What’s daily life like for a young and committed Cuban actress?

AP: The life of a young actress in Cuba is very simple, like that of any other young woman’s. The only difference is that our profession denotes a great deal of sacrifice in terms of one’s personal life.

You have to spend a lot of your free time studying. Individual development is what ultimately allows you to grow daily in your profession. Life outside of work, so to speak, becomes a bit complicated. But there’s always time to share with friends and go to parties so as to have a normal life like any young person.

HT: Are you the only artist in your family?

AP: Yes, the only one in the profession as such. But in their hearts and souls I have many members of my family who love the world of arts. Among them is my mother, with her love for singing; my sister, with her love for dancing; and my dad with his fascination for the guitar – just to mention those closest to me.

HT: And your immediate aspirations?

AP: My immediate aspirations are to continue growing as an artist, to have new opportunities where I can carry on with developing in my career and to pursue acting. Acting is what I love doing most in life, whether it’s in the theater, film or television. The medium doesn’t matter, what matters is the acting itself.