On a warm summer’s night several years ago, I found myself caught in what I like to call “the YouTube spiral.”
I had spent the last hour and a half sifting through ballet videos, watching, studying, and gawking. I came across a video of the Le Corsaire pas de deux performed by real-life couple, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti at the USA International Ballet Competition.
For the full ten minutes and thirty-two seconds of the video, my jaw hung open. To this day it is still one of the most impressive and dazzling renditions of this pas de deux I have ever seen. No scenery, no props, no story. Just pure, unadulterated ballet.
From that moment on, I was a fan of the power couple.
Rhiannon Pelletier: What first inspired you to become a dancer and when did you begin dancing?
Adiarys Almeida: I started dancing at age 6 at “Casa de Cultura” (Culture Home) in Matanzas, Cuba, my hometown. I did 3 years of pre-ballet there before I joined the Vocational Arts School “Alfonso Perez Isaac” when I was 9 years old.
My biggest passion was painting. But I had the artist in me since I was very little. I was always giving shows, dressing up, dancing and singing around the house.
It all started one night at my grandmother’s house. My aunt had invited a friend for dinner and she was a ballet instructor. She saw me painting on the floor in a full open split and said: “She is very flexible. You should bring her to take ballet class.” And my family did. I didn’t like ballet right away, but the challenge of it and the freedom I felt when I danced made me fall in love with it.
RP: What is your favorite place to perform?
AA: In Cuba! There is not audience like the Cuban audience. Ballet is big in my country. It’s as big as sports. People understand it and there is a huge appreciation for it. They go crazy at the theater! But, I haven’t performed in Cuba for over 10 years. I’m afraid I can’t, since I defected in the United States looking for the artistic freedom and the opportunity to bring my art to every possible place in the world. I hope one day before I retire that I can dance in Cuba again.
RP: What is your favorite on stage memory?
AA: I have had many great memories on stage but to mention a few – when I got to dance Victoria Morgan’s “Romeo & Juliet” with the Cincinnati Ballet in 2008. My Romeo was my boyfriend Joseph Michael Gatti so I felt the story was even more real. It was very special and emotional.
Also when I danced Natalia Makarova’s “La Bayadere” in Liceo de Barcelona in 2009. I was Gamzatti and I got to share the stage with such stars and wonderful artists and people. Alina Cojocaru (one of my idols) was Nikiya and Ángel Corella was my Solor. I will never forget that performance. It was like a dream.
RP: What is your most embarrassing stage moment?
AA: When I was 18 years old and I was just starting to rise at the Cuban National Ballet I got to dance “Munecos” one of my favorite Cuban ballets by choreographer Alberto Mendez. This performance was for a Gala in celebration of 4th of July and they were broadcasting the performance live on TV for the whole country. There were so many important people in the audience, even the president. I slipped and I fell on the floor in the middle of my solo. I was so embarrassed.
RP: What is your favorite role and why?
AA: “Manon” by Kenneth McMillan. I have never danced this role. But it is my very favorite. Manon is about a young girl corrupted by Parisian Society in the 18th Century. She falls in love for the first time, but her life turns the wrong way and she ends up dying. I love the movement in the ballet and the amazing music score, but what I love the most is how McMillan describes the story with such dramatic scenes. To dance this ballet is the biggest dream in my career.
RP: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
AA: Not really. I just like to be around the theater and get ready with time. I don’t like to rush before a performance. Doing my hair and makeup makes me relax and I also like to have some extra time to visualize my performance, think about the role, etc…
RP: I’ve heard that you love to do story ballets and add your own feeling and emotion to a character. Of the roles you’ve danced, which is your favorite to dance and which character do you relate most to?
My favorites roles to dance are Juliet ( Romeo & Juliet ), Giselle ( Giselle ), Nikiya ( La Bayadere ). I love these ballets because I can transport myself to a different world. It’s more than dancing; it is the acting in them that I love the most. It is so deep that it’s like you are really living in these stories.
I relate myself to Carmen (Carmen). She was a very strong woman, very secure of herself. She was a gypsy, a fortune teller. She knew her destiny from the beginning, but she still went her way, because she wanted to live her life the way she wanted, without caring about what others think. I’m a little bit like that. When I want something or I have a goal, I will go for it.
I also relate myself to Kitri (Don Quixote). She is a very playful young girl that likes attention, have such an independent personality, a free spirit and she is fiercely stubborn. I can be like that too! [laughs]
RP: With a wide variety of roles and awards under your belt, what are your goals and aspirations as a dancer from here on out?
I just want to keep growing and become the best artist I can be and make every performance special in a different way. I want to touch people’s heart with my art and drive them to a different world.
RP: What it’s like working alongside the man you’re dating?
AA: It’s great! But sometimes is hard. The great part is that we get to dance together a lot and that is very special. We have a great chemistry on stage and I love that we can share the adrenaline and energy in many performances. We also get to travel together most of the time and we have each other for support, a thing you need a lot through this career.
The hard part is that we feel so comfortable with each other that sometimes while rehearsing together we get to small disagreements. We don’t fight a lot like other couples I have seen. But sometimes we do. Also it is very hard when one of us is injured because it becomes very stressful for the other.
RP: Describe the atmosphere of the Boston Ballet Company. What were the pros and cons of working there and why did you decide to leave and work for the Cincinnati Ballet?
AA: I was very unfortunate my first year with the company. I had to deal with a bad injury and missed almost the whole season, but I came back from it stronger than before and didn’t get hurt for the rest of the time I was there.
Besides that, Boston Ballet wasn’t the place for me. It was very hard and frustrating after being a principal dancer for 5 years with two different companies and then I find myself dancing secondary roles. I was sitting in the audience for most of their opening nights, I wasn’t cast for any contemporary work, and the role I got to dance the most it was the Chinese Dance in the Nutcracker. Mentally it was very hard for me because I felt I was at their principal level, technically and artistically.
I constantly saw dancers getting promoted and fired within the same year and I didn’t want to live with that stress for the rest of my career. Every year to me was a big question of whether or not I would have my job back. My boyfriend felt the same way so we both decided to take a break from company life and go on a freelancing adventure together. So we resigned from Boston Ballet last February. It’s funny because after that, in a period of three months, Boston Ballet gave me all the principal roles.
The best thing about Boston Ballet is that they not only have great dancers, but they are all wonderful human beings. I made some really good friends there. And for me particularly, working with Larissa Ponomarenko was a pro. She is an amazing coach and helped me so much.
We are now International Guest Artists. I was invited by Victoria Morgan to dance the role of Guinevere with the Cincinnati Ballet for the new “King Arthur’s Camelot” last February for the company’s 50th Anniversary Season. [Editor’s note: In April, Almeida performed with Ballet Mississippi, and continues to appear as a guest artist.]
RP: Describe a working day in your life.
AA: If I’m in a company, I take class for an hour and half, then most of the time I have a full day of rehearsals, 6 hours total. We have an hour for lunch in between that usually gets really busy for me. In my lunch time I have to eat, find time for some therapy if I need it, and sometimes I have to rehearse for my guestings. It all depends. Sometimes rehearsal schedules can be rough. We can go from flat shoes, to pointe shoes, to character shoes. It gets really crazy sometimes.
RP: What is the legacy you would like to leave? When you retire one day and people look back on your career, what do you hope they remember?
AA: I hope they remember a true artist that was able to touch their heart in a different way with every single performance. I think that is the most important. I will say 80% of the audience doesn’t know about ballet technique. You have to make them feel something special with your artistry and the freedom of your movements. That’s what they will always remember.
RP: What advice would you give to aspiring professional ballerinas about making it in such a competitive field?
AA: This is very difficult profession.
You have to be very smart and to be the best dancer you can be, you have to compete with yourself. Work hard every day and be open to and listen to the ones that can help you; don’t ever think you know everything.
In ballet you are always learning until the very last day of your career. At the end of it you will be happy and satisfied that you have tried your best and you have enjoyed the journey.
Rhiannon Pelletier is a principal soloist for Maine State Ballet Company. A student at a small, private college, Rhiannon is a writing and publishing major, dance teacher, daughter, older sister, and a glutton for strawberries. She is also the editor of the blog “A Dancer’s Days” and a published poet.