These star ballerinas are retiring
When American Ballet Theatre performs at the Kennedy Center this week audiences will see a company undergoing one of the most notable transitions in its 75 year history. Three of its biggest stars Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes will retire in the coming months. Together, they embody nearly 70 years of hermes vintage replica handbags
ABT experience. They are all poised for graceful exits; in the interviews below you’ll see that these extraordinary women are outspoken yet at peace with the close of their dancing careers. The greater burden is on ABT, losing one third of its roster of top rank ballerinas. Casting for its spring summer run in New York suggests soloists Misty Copeland and Sarah Lane may be in line for promotion. But there is no replacing the veteran ballerinas, as those who know them best can attest. “For many years we’ll be speaking about Julie and Paloma and Xiomara,” said ABT principal Marcelo Gomes, who has danced with all three. “Artistically they are at a whole other level from anybody else.” Let us savor their legacies of hard work, dedication and pleasure.
First, it’s her eyes, that set her apart. Xiomara Reyes, rehearsing with the Washington Ballet, makes a dramatic statement just in the way she looks into the studio’s mirror: Her eyes are lively and her gaze is high, not focused on her own reflection but instinctively tipped up to the corners. She is already imagining herself in the theater, seeking to connect with people in the far balconies.
With scarcely a week’s notice, Reyes plunged into the leading role for last month’s world premiere of “Sleepy Hollow,” the ballet inspired by Washington Irving’s tale. Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre called American Ballet Theatre looking for a replacement after his leading dancer broke her foot, and Reyes jumped at the chance. Approaching retirement in May, after 14 years at ABT, the Cuban born principal dancer was rehearsing roles she had danced for years, so learning Webre’s choreography was a welcome challenge.
Reyes’s partner, Jonathan Jordan, looks a little nervous as he catches her in midair and sweeps her around in a turn. Reyes is, after all, one of ABT’s longtime stars. Petite as she is, she dances gloriously full scale, with palpable intensity. She bends freely, unpredictably, like a tree in a storm; her arms seem to sweep up all the oxygen. It’s a little intimidating.
“Are you waiting for me?” she asks Jordan gently, reassuring him with a smile after an awkward lift.
“I don’t want to push you,” he says, apologetically. “I I’m trying to give you more space.”
Well, you cannot keep up with a whirlwind if you hesitate, as Reyes proves when they soar through the steps again. Her character, Katrina Van Tassel, is the town coquette, and Reyes turns the few moments of this scene into a fiery display of predatory teasing.
She locks eyes with Jordan, daring and taunting him, flirting extravagantly. He catches her spirit, and by the end of the rehearsal, she has shaken the doubts out of him by her sheer exuberance.
“Xiomara has no fear,” says Jos Manuel Carreo, a fellow Cuban who danced with Reyes before he retired from ABT in 2011. “A lot of people get nervous, but she just goes out there and rocks it.”
Reyes “really involves and connects with her partner,” Herman Cornejo, her most frequent partner, writes in an e mail. “She has the passion, but she also has the ability to show it and to really capture the audience with it.”
Xiomara Reyes, right, of American Ballet Theatre rehearses for the Washington Ballet’s production of “Sleepy Hollow” on Monday February 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Reyes has the diminutive, girlish body of a tween, glowing skin and a cute, turned up nose. It’s a shock to learn she is 42. It’s an even bigger shock to find out she is a grandmother. She has a 30 year old stepson with her husband, ABT teacher Rinat Imaev, and the young man has an almost 2 year old daughter who loves to dance when her grandma is around.
Granny Xio gets around pretty well: On Tuesday, ABT’s opening night at the Kennedy Center, she will embody the boot stomping Cowgirl in Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo.” This character is part comedian, part firebrand, with a dash of poignancy. Speaking in an empty Washington Ballet studio before her rehearsal, bundled up in a purple down vest and thick leggings over her practice clothes, Reyes reflects on the role from a quintessentially American ballet that she cherishes because it reminds her of all things of her childhood in Cuba.
“She wants to fit in, in a place where people were being condescending to her; she was not actually valued,” Reyes says, describing de Mille’s Cowgirl, who yearns for a boyfriend though the guys all dismiss her as a tomboy. “I think we can all relate to that.” And she unleashes another surprise even bigger than the fact she has a grandchild.
There was a time, she says, when she was too weak to dance and almost got kicked out of ballet school.
“I had what they called ‘baby muscles.'” Reyes pinches two fingers together, as if she’s grasping the wing of a fly. “The kind of muscles that would not take to exercise. They wouldn’t form. There was no muscle tone.”
One day, in walked a substitute teacher who was a tyrant. “She was extremely hard. She would bang onto my legs, pinch me and hit me, and in one week I got muscles.” Reyes is convinced the bruising maltreatment woke up her legs. At any rate, she started getting stronger.
Soon she was winning prizes at international competitions. She left Cuba for the Belgium based Royal Ballet of Flanders, where she met her husband, who was a principal dancer there. She joined ABT in 2001.
Reyes’s range is extraordinary, from the lyrical softness of “Romeo and Juliet” and Antony Tudor’s “The Leaves Are Fading” to the bravura fireworks of “Don Quixote” and other crisp classical standards. She’ll waltz through the title role of Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” in the March 28 matinee at the Kennedy Center.
Her upcoming farewell, in “Giselle” on May 27 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, is bittersweet, for her as well as for fellow retirees Julie Kent and Paloma Herrera, she says.
“Julie, Paloma and I don’t perform as much as we should.” She faults ABT’s practice of bringing in guest artists to headline performances at the Met.
“All the guests take a lot of performances from you. It’s hard to keep in shape when you’re only doing one performance now and then,” she says. “You get to a point where you say, ‘Let’s see what else is possible.’ I have been very faithful, and it was my dream company, but it’s time to move on.”
Xiomara Reyes and Cory Stearns perform onstage at Bright Future International’s “Beyond the Ballet” at the Beacon Theater on Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 in New York. (Todd Williamson/Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)
Retiring American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Xiomara Reyes poses in the ABT rehearsal studio in New York. (Stan Godlewski/For The Washington Post)
She has busy months ahead, directing a summer intensive at the Hartt School in West Hartford, Conn., and another student program in Barcelona. She worries that young dancers focus too much on technique, not enough on artistry.
“This is an art,” she says, “and if you don’t cultivate your soul, and if you don’t cultivate your education and your knowledge of life and beauty and other things, there are limited things you can share on the stage with other people.”.