Yumelia Garcia is part of what dance aficionados are calling the ballet world’s “Latino invasion.” Once dominated by Russians defecting from the Soviet Union’s stringent artistic “iron curtain,” Latin America is now supplying ballet companies worldwide with a fresh crop of brilliant dancers gaining recognition for their fiery artistry and burning desire to present their abundant talents to the world’s most discerning audiences.
Born in Venezuela, Ms. Garcia received her professional training in Caracas at the Escuela de Ballet Gustavo Franklin. She joined the National Ballet of Caracas at the age of 15 under the direction of Vicente Nebrada and was promoted to soloist one year later.
Ms. Garcia began her U.S. Career with Heinz Pohl at Ohio Ballet. She then performed as a principal dancer with the Milwaukee Ballet where she had a ballet created for her: Scheherazade by Katherine Possen. Ms. Garcia then moved on to Ballet Florida where she was featured in principal roles in contemporary and classical works, most recently as Ben Strevenson’s Cleopatra. Ms. Garcia has been dancing with the Joffrey ballet for three years which is on tour and performing in Los Angeles at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion February 1 – 3rd.
Ms. Garcia recently sat down with Cris Franco for Latin Heat to give her take on the Latino Invasion of the ballet world.
CRIS FRANCO:What are the forces behind ballet’s “Latino invasion?”
YUMELIA GARCIA:Some of it’s economic because unfortunately our homelands don’t provide the same opportunities an ambitious dancer needs if they want to be challenged and surrounded by the best talent. If you want to get exposure and support yourself you have to leave because the arts aren’t taken seriously in Latin America. And not just dance, opera and the other arts, too.
CF: Why doesn’t Latin America take the arts more seriously?
YG: It’s a matter of finance. With every new governmental budget cut, the arts are the first things to go. The current Venezuelan government doesn’t support the art schools in general, not just ballet.
Back when I was a girl studying in Venezuela it was different. To get into the program I went through a long audition where they measured your musicality, body and freedom of movement. There was a lot of competition but if you got in, you knew you had great potential and you were going to get trained.
I think it’s a problem with the infrastructure but today the government states that there is no money for the arts because people need to eat and need health care first. So basically “the factory is closed” for lack of a better term.
CF: The Russian’s had an unbeatable classical style. Do Latino ballet dancers have a unifying style?
YG: Yes. We tend to be more moldable dancers because that’s how we’ve had to survive. We had to leave our countries, learn a new language, learn how to dance in a new style. We’ve had to make huge life changes to pursue our careers. All these life experiences make us more versatile which is a big advantage. I’m used to not just dancing one way. As they say, “There’s more than one way to peel a potato!”
CF: What Latin American country to do see producing the best dancers?
YG: Brazil. Especially the younger generation and they’re extremely well trained and strong.
CF: Do you think the presence of Latinos in the ballet companies are in anyway affecting the art?
YG: Absolutely, yes! More choreographers are creating works incorporating Latin style and sensuality; more dances with our sense of sharpness and movement.
CF: Do you see more Latinos attending ballet?
YG: Yes, and it’s great to see them! I want to ask them, “Where have you all been throughout my career?” Because more of us are prospering in the U.S. these Latino professionals can afford the $80 ticket. That’s pricey! And if you have a family with kids it could cost hundreds of dollars. So you need to be financially well off.
CF: The Joffrey now has lots of Latinos in the company. I’m going to mention a name and you just say what comes to mind: Miguel Blanco.
YG: He’s from Havana, Cuba and he’s a fabulous partner. The Cubans are trained to present their ballerinas so they look their best. Their men shine during their solos and they’re reliable and comfortable partnering.
CF: What about Raul Casasola from Madrid, Spain?
YG: Cris, he’s the funniest person in the entire company! He’s soulful and talented and the kind of person you want to have around you all the time.
CF: What about that dancer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lucas Segovia?
YG: Lucas is a very intense person and dancer. Sometimes you have to calm him down because he gives everything he’s got. I’m scheduled to dance with him in L.A., we’re at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Friday through Sunday, February 1st through 3rd.
CF: Speaking of L.A., what about Dylan Gutierrez?
YG: Dylan is young and he has a very bright future. I think he’s gonna do great things just like Ricardo Santos from Brazil. He’s from Rio de Janerio and he’s got perfect technique.
CF: There’s another Cuban, Alberto Velazquez.
YG: Again, another fabulous partner. He’s young, only twenty-one, I think. He’s just starting out but his raw talent is extraordinary.
CF: Do you know Mauro Villanueva from San Antonio, Texas?
YG: Yes, he played my prince in Cinderella. He’s one of the few American dancers whom I think can partner well. When he’s behind you, you know he’s all about helping you do your best. He’s intuitive, like he’s got a sixth sense. He’s great.
CF: What you feel is the future of Latinos in ballet?
YG: That’s hard to predict. The outcome will vary from country to country depending on governmental support of the arts. I’m certain we’ll see more Brazilians, perhaps less and less Venezuelans. But whoever does make it onto the global stage, you can bet they’ll be damn good with lots of talent and determination. They went through hell to get there so you can bet that although they might only be a handful, they’ll all be stellar!
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