Welcome to the last segment of our interviews with 6/8 of the international dancers who were here in Malaysia for the International Ballet Super Stars Gala 2019! We’ve decided to break our interview into three for easier reading, and named our interview series “Dance Over Dinner”, because that was what we did: talking about dance over dinner! In this segment, you’ll be getting to know Cuban Principal Dancers and International Guest Artists Adiarys Almeida & Taras Domitro a little better, so let’s go straight into it!
Note: EP stands for Expression Platform – our side of the conversation!
EP: What age did you start dancing, and what got you started in dance? What made you interested?
Adi: Well, I started when I was 6. I didn’t know anything about ballet, but uh, my aunt’s best friend was a ballet teacher, and she came to the house one day and did some exercises, and I thought that I should do ballet? So I started when I was 6, and I did it for three years like a pre-ballet, and when I was 9 I actually auditioned for the ballet school.
Taras: I started at 9. Well, it’s a selective school. You have to audition as a kid. They test your flexibility, your feet… even though you don’t know nothing. But they test you. And from that, they take you or they don’t take you. They test your ear, like a music audition to see if you can count the music, and what else do you do? I don’t know, it was so long ago. And that hasn’t changed. So it’s a selective school, but the studies are completely free – all 8 years.
EP: OH? Ballet education is free?
Taras: All education in Cuba is free.
EP: … so you don’t have to pay for ballet class?
Taras: I only pay for my lunch, I think.
EP: Wow… do you think we can move to Cuba?
Taras: It’s a very good school, I’m very proud of it.
EP: When you started did you know what you were getting yourself into?
EP: You knew very well “I want to be a dancer”.
Taras: Yes, I come from a family where my mother is a teacher, a ballet teacher. I used to go to work with her; she used to take me as a kid. I grew up watching ballet – fell in love with it right away. She advised me not to be a ballet dancer.
Taras: Because it’s a very hard career. It’s painful, then again once you’re on stage it’s worth it. But there’s a lot of sacrifice, especially as a kid. You have to give up a lot of things. But yes, I knew what I was getting myself into and I don’t regret it. At all. I’d do it all over again.
Adi: I mean, I wasn’t sure if I really liked it at first; I was just a kid you know? I took it more seriously later on.
Taras: When she found out she could turn a lot.
EP: And how long have you been dancing since then?
Adi: 30… years?
EP: WOW. *turns to Taras* Have you been dancing that long?
Taras: No, but I’m younger.
Adi: And he started late!
Taras: No, but yes. I started at 9, so around 24 years.
EP: Do you guys do any other dance besides ballet?
Taras: Yeah, modern? Modern dance. Contemporary dance. The school that we come from, the Cuban school, it teaches you to do all sorts of dances.
Adi: It’s very complete.
Taras: African dances, Cuban folklore dances, modern dance, character dance, historic dances, all of that we study.
EP: Could you tell us a little bit about the dance culture in your home country?
Taras: The dance culture. Okay, I’m from Cuba. Dance in Cuba is as big as… I don’t know. Rice in China. I don’t know what to compare it to.
EP: * laughs* We like that metaphor!
Taras: *grins and shrugs* I don’t know, there’s a lot of rice in Asia… eh, it’s as big as… what’s very famous here? Soccer? I don’t know.
EP: Rice. Rice is good. Rice. Roti canai…?
Taras: Okay. Rice. Dance – ballet – in Cuba. Guys, it’s so famous. It all started with Alicia Alonso, who was the creator of the Cuban school and the Cuban technique. She recently passed away – (EP: Yeah.) – so you know a little about it. It all started with her and with the support of Castro and the country, ballet was accessible for everybody. So everybody had access to theatres, tickets – tickets were very cheap, and it grew. Over the years it grew, and they created a very strong school. The Cuban Ballet School is a very strong school – it’s known by the technique. People just know ballet in Cuba. The audience is very demanding, and in Cuba, we always do the same versions, the Alicia Alonso version. They know the version, and they tell you what they want to see from you – very demanding. It’s where I get the most nervous, of all the places. Back in Cuba.
EP: Ah, back home. So most of them know exactly the version –
Taras: They’ve been watching ballet for 50 years. Most of them are old and picky… and very, very good. Great audience. Like it was tonight (the show of 27th October). It was a great audience tonight. So yeah, that’s culture. In Cuba, it’s huge. Everybody has access to ballet. They play it on TV, they have many shows all over the country (not just in the capital). I grew up in it.
EP: So that means even children, they all know what is ballet?
Taras: Ballet is a big aspiration for children. When they grow up, “I wanna be a dancer”. Girls, and boys. Girls, you know, ballerinas. Boys are harder to find. Not in Cuba. We have a very elaborate school; thousands of students. We start at 9 years old, 8 years of study and at 18, you graduate, and you know, you find a company.
EP: And this is just for the female dancer: are you loyal to a single brand of pointe shoe?
Adi: *laughs* Okay, well, growing up, I wore whatever, you know, because in Cuba we have very limited sources. My first pair of pointe shoes was Chacott, because that’s what we had. And then I used anything I could, throughout my dance training. Then, when I left Cuba and went to the United States, I started using Blochs. I’ve been using Bloch pointe shoes for over 16, 17 years. And right now, I switched. I’m still in the process, but I switched to Gaynor Minden for now. They’re very, very different. I was very stoked with Blochs and I really loved them, but they stopped working for me so… now I’m like, in transition.
EP: How often do you wear your shoes out?
Adi: Well, with Blochs, when they were good they last pretty long. I don’t like to wear new shoes all the time, so sometimes I reuse them for class and rehearsals, and pre-warm-ups, actually. With Gaynor Minden, it’s very different, I’ve been using them for about a month – the same pair – for every rehearsal, every show.
EP: But with Bloch, how long do they last?
Adi: It depends on the amount of work. When you have like 6-8 hours a day, maybe faster in a couple of days? Sometimes they can go for a week. Lately they were like so bad which was like a day?
EP: What do you think your best moves are?
Taras: Okay. Best moves. For her, it’s gotta be turns.
Taras: For me, it’s gotta be split jumps. That’s it.
Adi: *laughs* I guess so.
EP: What about some tips if somebody is looking to master a move?
Taras: I would say, hmm… find your best move? There’s not a best move. There are many, many moves that you need.
Adi: You need to execute all of them, but uh –
Taras: But find what builds you up, what makes you look good, and exploit it.
Adi: For turning, I guess I could say that… tips?
EP: I think a lot of us would like to know!
Adi: A good plie; spots are very important. Get the position right away, and don’t the lose the rhythm. Your own rhythm. I guess I can say that, but everybody’s different. That’s why I say “find your own rhythm”.
Taras: Everybody is different, so there are really no tips. There’s a technique that applies for everyone for turns: plie, passe – you know it. We can’t give you a tip to turn. You know it. And your teacher usually has the answer. Listen to your teacher.
EP: Listen to your teacher; that’s a good tip!
Adi: And in ballet, it’s more about repetition, about sensation… so you practice something over and over and over. Of course, you may have some natural talent for jumping, or turning, or whatever, but the repetition and getting the sensation is what’s really important.
EP: Do you guys have a favourite role in ballet? Any role you like to play the best?
Taras: I’ve had many favourite roles throughout my career. But usually, Basilio is up there, always. Basilio.
Adi: For me, uh, I have so many favourites too, but I just say that always when they come around, and they come around a lot – they come back – I try to make my favourite the role I’m working on. But I have to say I like the more artistic or dramatic roles, I’ve gotta say La Bayadere is one of my favourites. I did it here, four years ago –
EP: We were there!
Adi: – which I played both Gamzatti and Nikiya, and I don’t really know which one I like better. They’re both very special to me. I love Giselle, Juliet… more of the dramatic roles. Don Quixote, I love it too – it was my first full-length, and it’s really fun, but it’s different.
Taras: It gives you a freedom all roles don’t give you. That’s the thing about Don Quixote, about Basilio – that’s why I like it so much. When I do Basilio, I make it my own. When I do Swan Lake or Giselle, I follow the choreography and the “prince style”; I identify myself more with Basilio.
EP: For all the shows you’ve done, how do you mentally and physically prepare yourself? Is there like a routine that you do, lucky thing you do before you go on stage?
Taras: Yes, I have routines, but – no, before I go on stage, I practice pretty much everything I have to do, every step – individually. You know, step by step so I don’t get too tired. I don’t run the variation, but I do the first jump, then I rest. Then I do the second jump, then I practice the turns. Physically I prepare with rehearsals. That’s what they’re for. They prepare you for the show. What you do in rehearsals is what you will do on stage the day of the show.
EP: So it’s all full out in rehearsals?
Taras: Mostly. I usually rehearse a lot let’s say a week before I have to perform a piece. The first two days, I go slow – we go slow, we stop. Then the next two days we run the piece, the fifth day we go slow again, and Saturday Sunday by the time we get to the weekend we’re ready. And mentally… I don’t know. At this point I’ve been doing it for so long… I don’t know. (And multiple “I don’t know”s.) I don’t know what to compare it to. Like getting up and getting in your car and going to work everyday.
EP: You get used to it.
Taras: You get used to it! Yeah, it’s performing, it’s a live show, things can go wrong and everything but you know, at this point, if something goes wrong, you just fix it – you know how to fix it.
EP: So do you still get stage fright or nerves?
Taras: I do. Every time. I wake up the day of the show, and I’m nervous. I keep running the music of the solo, or whatever part I think is the hardest in my head. Eh, I always get nervous. Until I go up on stage. Once I’m on stage, I forget about everything. This is my moment, I don’t care about anybody else – just me and my partner. That’s it. That’s my moment.
EP: What’s your goal in the dance industry, or what do you hope to achieve?
Taras: For me, I always wanted to travel the world and dance, all over the place. You know, put my name out there, my dancing out there. Right now, I’ve achieved pretty much what I set out for, I never seek fame or anything. This is what I do, this is what I want. And I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can. That was my goal. To dance every role I can dance, but there’s always more new roles to dance. There’s a few things I haven’t done yet, a few countries I haven’t danced in – those are my aspirations.
Adi: Me… I’m pretty satisfied with the career I have so far, I would say maybe towards the end. For me now the goal is to pass it on to the next generation as much as I can. Enjoy as long as I can, of course, for me, for the audience. Make all the people out there come watch this art form, make them feel something special – that’s what I actually dance for. I dance for myself, but also for people that enjoy and appreciate the art form. But right now, that’s my main goal. Finish up on a high note, and pass it on to the next generation. It’s what I can give them.
EP: If you weren’t a ballet dancer, what do you think you would be doing?
Taras: Guitar player. Guitarist; I know it. I learned myself, and I play, and I suck, but I love it!
Adi: Well… for me. There are so many things I like, but I like painting. I liked it since I was little. It would be something I would do if I wasn’t dancing. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time, so I did it before I started dancing, and I never did it again, but it’s something I enjoy.
Taras: In the arts. I’m not good with numbers.
Adi: I also like to decorate costumes, or to make headpieces, and things like that. Arts and craft.
We had a little more time with Adi & Taras, so we managed to squeeze in more questions! The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
All images courtesy of Adiarys Almeida & Taras Domitro.
Once again ladies and gentlemen, Cuban Principal Dancers and International Guest Artists Adiarys Almeida & Taras Domitro! Thank you for putting on two spectacular shows for us, and for speaking and sharing your stories with us – we’re sure all our readers have gained precious insight as a budding dancer! We hope to see you again in Malaysia soon!
Follow Adi & Taras on Instagram for their dance adventures:
Adi & Taras danced the Carmen Suite and Don Quixote in the Gala. For more information on the classical ballet items in the Gala, click here!
Special thanks go to KL Dance Works Production (@kldanceworks) for organising the Gala, as well as for hosting the dinner which provided this opportunity for the interview to happen!
That concludes our “Dance Over Dinner” series, and we thank you for sticking with us these few weeks! We hope that you’ve been inspired just as we have been, and do let us know any feedback or suggestions in the comments below if you have any!
Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.