If there was any doubt whatsoever, in the Karl Marx theatre it disappeared at once. He was only seven years old, but when he saw himself in Eduardo Blanco’s premiere of Elpidio Valdés holding a flag in his hands when he was so tiny that he could barely be seen on stage, Ariel Martínez knew he wanted to feel forever the thrill filling his heart, with such a determination, that young man is today one of the main figures of Cuba’s National Ballet (BNC).
“I wasn’t quite convinced at first. On the one hand, I had a weakness for swimming and on the other hand, it was not easy, even for a child, to face prejudices. But that experience I lived being so young scarred me for life.”
BNC soloist Martínez staged the world premiere of Oscurio accompanying Viengsay Valdés at the opening gala of 25th Havana’s International Ballet Festival. This event will give him the chance to exhibit his class in choreographies like the pas de deux of the corsair, alongside Ginett Moncho, with the same couple he will perform Ely’s Regina Duet on Thursday 5:00 pm at Mella Theatre. His art will also be seen at the Alicia Alonso Havana Grand Theatre with Dido and the classic Don Quixote at the National Theater on Sunday 5:00 pm.
Ariel affirmed that throughout his life his teachers have played a key role. Although he has no words to describe the passion with which Elena Canga, Yuneisi Rodríguez, Erín Nieto, Normaría Olaechea, Martha Iris Fernández, Chery (Ramona de Saá), Dunia Vera, Verónica Muxó... took him under their wings, he never forgets his teachers from the Adolfo González primary school, who spotted his talent.
“I remember that after the lessons a bus came to take us to Prado where we stayed from seven to nine in the evening... sometimes when I left school about 4:30 pm I only wanted to play with my cousin.
“The thing is that one day a teacher from the National School of Arts (ENA) suggested that I take the entrance exams for L and 19... and I passed! I remember everything about that period: my teachers and my colleagues. We became very close since together we made up the last ballet group from L and 19.”
-Then with L and 19 the doubts were dispelled, right?
-I always knew what I wanted, although sometimes you go to bed wondering if you did it right, but with the passing of time I was wondering less and less, since you get addicted to that. Of course, I still love swimming, but my life belongs to ballet.
-I guess ENA ended up conquering you...
-Definitively, despite ENA, we dreamed about at the beginning and went into repair. When we had just started there, we were moved to Zanja Street, where the Residence is located, and we were back in the mid second year. Nonetheless, in my vacation I went to Calabria, Italy with the school.
-After ENA you joined the ranks of the BNC...
- That was always my dream, for which I studied hard eight long years and I’m proud of that. To see that so much effort was not in vain, fills me with satisfaction, and I say that thinking not only about myself, but about all the people behind, in front of me, next to me. First and foremost Zunilda Fabré, my mother, bending backwards to buy me shoes, socks, clothes...; to have my uniform impeccable; my father, who despite being estranged from my mother they are as one; my grandparents, my stepfather, who has being with me since I was very young, my aunts... All of them attentive to my progress, the school, the shows, rushing me to the hospital because of my asthma attacks...
-Because you are asthmatic how have you managed?
-I’ve been asthmatic since I was 19 days old. I practically spent my first five years of life at Marianao Pediatric Hospital. I had performances in which I was forced to rush to the hospital. I will never forget that day when I had to run to the hospital after having performed at the Miramar Theatre. That was the ugliest day ever. I really got scared.
“Asthma is a silent killer. Sometimes you are relaxed and three hours later you can hardly utter words. However, you learn how to gain self-control, and ballet has been a good therapy. I still suffer, but not that often. When I have the feeling, I take an aerosol and I always have a bottle of water at hand.”
-Was the BNC what you dreamed?
-I never imagined I would have the chances they have given me to this day, for which I am thankful. They have trusted in me. I joined the BNC in September 2014, a few months before the start of the 24th Festival, and in October I was part of the Shakespeare dancing group for that event. Then I joined the company on a tour in Canada in December, taking on the lead role of Cascanueces.
-And how did the 5th South African International Ballet Competition occur?
-It was not my first visit to South Africa, where I had performed with the school, but when I was in the BNC the sponsor of the 5th South African International Ballet Competition came to Cuba to invite me to dance, when I went there he asked me why didn’t I take part in the contest. “I’m not prepared” I replied. “I know you can. Compete! , he insisted and I finally accepted. I should have entered the Junior competition according to my age but I looked older than my competitors, so I was moved to the Senior category, where I was the youngest. I swear that I didn’t rate my chances of winning, because the competitors were amazing.
“I went on to reach the finals in a contest when the jury was made up by figures like Brigitte Lefèvre, Julio Bocca, Hae Shik Kim, Valentina Kozlova, Oliver Matz, Elizabeth Triegaardt and Dirk Badenhorst. I won silver in the variations, and what struck me most: the only medal awarded in Contemporary. I never expected that, that’s why I couldn’t react to the mention of my name three times. I was happy since if there was something to spare that was talent with competitors from Russia, Switzerland, United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, South Korea...”
-The road is still long, but I’m proud of representing Cuba and this dance company were I trained and sweated; for it my parents have given everything. I know there is still much to be done, that’s why I’m working hard every day, because I want to grow.
Translated by ESTI