Cruz Cuts to the Crux:
Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Karel Cruz
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
February 2007 -- Seattle, Washington
We met with the modest and very talented Karel Cruz at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s studios during their busy preparations for the upcoming 2007-08 season. This is an edited transcription of that conversation.
Tell us about your background – how did you get started in ballet? Where are you from? And how did you make your way to PNB?
I was born in Cuba and grew up in a town called Holguin. My aunt was the director of the ballet school there and she encouraged me to start ballet. I started at the age of eight, but didn’t even know what ballet was! I switched to Havana when I was 14 – to the National Ballet School, graduating after three years in 1996 at 17 – I then spent two years with the National Ballet of Cuba.
Did you get to work with Alicia Alonso? Was she still actively involved at that time?
Yes and she was, but it was decided I was too tall for the corps, so I was cut. This was disappointing but my aunt in the meantime had moved to Venezuela and so I went to Caracas at 19. First to Nina Novak’s Ballet Classico de Camera, where I studied with her for a year and a half – which was a wonderful time – and then went to Vicente Nebrada’s company for one year.
We had a tour to the US and I was offered a scholarship to the Rock School. I spent a year and a half in the school, and they arranged auditions for me at various companies. Bojan Spassoff, the Director, was wonderfully helpful to me. I first auditioned for ABT [American Ballet Theatre], then NYCB [New York City Ballet] at their summer home in Saratoga, and then finally PNB. I flew all the way out here and took three classes and was offered a job. This was in 2002. I got to be a part of the tour to London later that summer.
I know our readers would like to hear some details about your training in Cuba – what was it like?
It’s amazing training in Cuba. All boys together except for partnering, character, and choreography. Male dancing is much stronger there as a result of this training.
I’ve observed many excellent men who’ve come out of that background, and they all seem to be left turners. Are you?
[Smiles] Yes, I am a “lefty” turner! It was hard adapting here where so much of the corps work is oriented to the right. But it’s made me be better. Venezuela had already exposed me to new and different styles and ways of moving, so in that way I was already prepared. The Rock School also exposed me to different ways of moving and to taking class – things being quicker, with an expectation of less time in between.
Had you had any previous experience or exposure to Balanchine?
PNB was my first “immersion” in the Balanchine repertory and it was very hard at first, particularly ballets, such as those to Stravinsky, where everything is counted and detailed. We did do “Concerto Barocco” in Venezuela but that’s about it.
What are some of your career highlights here? Any special ballets, roles, or working with someone that stands out to you?
“The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” where I got to do the role of Tybalt was great fun for me – exciting. The sword-play was great to learn and they brought in an expert to coach us.“Mercury” in 2003 was good for me – very neo-classical. Doing the Cavalier in “Midsummer” – with Stacy Lowenberg – was also good. I enjoyed working with Shelley Washington when she came to stage Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs.” She was great.
Other big ballets that I’ve enjoyed here have been “Swan Lake” where I did the Pas de Trois. I also did the Prince – with Mara Vinson – [White and Black Swan pas de deux] for some of our school shows.
What are some of the things that you’re looking forward to this coming season?
I’m looking forward to our new version of “Roméo et Juliette” and I hope to do Tybalt again. I love the Prokofiev music the best. I like big ballets best – and am looking forward to doing “Midsummer Night’s Dream” again.
What words of advice or inspiration might you like to pass on to young boys or men who may be considering ballet?
Discipline is key. If you have discipline, you will be great! In Cuba, every single detail matters – the right clothes, the correct white socks, black tights, white shirts. If you come in one day without one right thing, you’re not allowed to take class. This discipline is key to instilling the right framework.
How was the tour to Vail earlier this summer?
It was fun. A very beautiful place – a small town surrounded by big mountains with beautiful buildings and flowers everywhere.
What are you working on right now?
“Ballet Imperial” with Francia Russell staging it. Also “Für Alana,” which is this very lovely pas de deux but with some modern torso movement in it. I’m lucky to be paired with Louise Nadeau!
How do you like to relax? Any hobbies and interests outside of ballet?
I just bought a bicycle six months ago and have had fun riding around. Being from Cuba, you can imagine I love baseball and I like to throw around some balls – but I do have to be careful about injuries...
Any parting thoughts you’d like our readers to know about?
This is the best time in my career thus far. I look forward to seeing the next generation of dancers!
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