An Interview with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's Grettel Morejon
by Toba Singer
June 2011 -- Los Angeles, California
Reviews of the recent Ballet Nacional de Cuba U.S. tours have consistently praised the work of company First Soloist Grettel Morejón, who is 22 years old. A tight rehearsal and performance schedule didn’t allow time for a formal interview, but I was able to chat with Morejón over dinner after a performance of Don Quixote at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
TS: How did you start dancing?
GM: I used to dance around the house, in front of the TV.
TS: Did your parents have any influence on your decision to dance? Did any of your sisters or brothers dance also?
GM: My mother and grandmother raised me, and they supported my decision. I was the only one in my family who danced.
TS: At what age did you go on pointe?
GM: Eleven years old.
TS: I know that while you were a student you partnered with Dani Hernández, who is today a company first dancer. Who is currently your most frequent partner?
GM: Osiel Gouneo is my partner now.
TS: So you are very lucky, because he is an amazing dancer and so is he, to have you as his partner!
GM: I am very lucky, and he has really had an impact on the company, as an Afro-Cuban dancer, especially. But he gives of himself completely when he is onstage, and it is amazing to dance with someone who fully experiencing whatever he does, and I think people realize that. Even though his physical conditioning alone makes him look brilliant, everyone can also see that he is a really talented young man experiencing and enjoying what he does onstage.
TS: With few exceptions, working conditions for dancers are in decline. I know that Cuba has always had a hard time supplying its dancers with enough shoes. One of the reviewers in the U.S. once remarked that your shoes looked very soft. Do you have enough shoes?
GM: The shoes that most company members wear are Gaynor Mindens, so that is difficult because we have to buy them while we are on tour [The U.S. embargo against trade with Cuba prevents goods manufactured by U.S. companies from being sold in Cuba]. So we can work with the same pair of shoes for several months, and when you can feel that they don’t fit well anymore, you can pass them on to another dancer, hoping that at least someone can wear them. When they begin to wear, we have little tricks to restore them. One is to freeze them.
TS: You speak excellent English. How were you able to learn to speak it so well?
GM: I studied at a language school for two years, two hours each day. And I had really good teachers there, who worked very hard with me, because at the same time that I was studying, I had rehearsals, performances, and even tours!
TS: Though tonight is our first face-to-face meeting, we know each other because of an interview I conducted with you via email that will appear in my forthcoming book about Fernando Alonso. What was it like to work with him?
GM: He is an outstanding teacher and human being. He has an eye for every detail that completes a step, series of steps, or the character you are dancing. He is so well educated in the arts, literature, and sciences, that he can draw on a wealth of material to explain what he wants to tell you or to give you an image to work with.
TS: Does Alicia Alonso actually coach?
GM: Yes, it is quite amazing, but she does.
TS: How is she able to coach when she cannot see?
GM: She demonstrates and sings the music as she shows us how to interpret the movement. We are extremely fortunate to still have access to her interpretation.
[Up until Lewis Segal wrote a follow-up to his Los Angeles Times review of the opening night performance of Don Quixote, reviews of the tour tended to be critical. Reviewers disliked the choreography and production qualities, but liked the dancers.]
TS: Why do you think the reviews up to now have been so bland?
GM: In my opinion, we have one of the best versions of Don Quixote in the world, and some of our First Dancers [a rank above that of Principal in Cuba] are renowned for this role, such as Viengsay Valdes. I think it is better for us as Cubans to make a big impression with Don Q. First of all, it is a story that we can tell from right from the beginning, and second, we have the Don Q style in our blood. We Cubans are like that, and so we do not have to act quite as much!
TS: Who chose the repertoire for each of the venues?
GM: The presenters in each city chose what they wanted to show. Only Los Angeles chose Don Quixote.
TS: Carlos Acosta has been saying that when he retires from the Royal Ballet he would like to start another company in Cuba. What do you think of that idea?
GM: I think he would have to surround himself with a strong administrative team, but his connections with choreographers around the world—if he were able to get support for bringing them to Cuba—would offer us a great advantage.
TS: Given how difficult it is becoming to find a dance job outside of Cuba these days, do you think that having a wider selection of choreography to dance inside Cuba would mean that more dancers would remain there?
GM: Yes, I think so.
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