Dance

A monumental ‘Giselle’ by Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami and the return of Alihaydée Carreño

Written By Orlando Taquechel
January 30, 2024 at 12:31 PM

Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami presents “Giselle” on Friday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. (Photo by Simon Soong/courtesy of CCBM).

The ballet “Giselle” is a classic longed for and always welcomed by admirers of the Romantic repertoire and Cuban style, whose preservation is vital to the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM).

Under the artistic direction of Eriberto Jiménez, CCBM will present the ballet “Giselle” on Friday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

Gretel Batista of the Houston Ballet will alternate in the role of Giselle in the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami’s production of “Gisell.” (Photo by Simon Soong/courtesy of CCBM).

The first thing Jiménez tells us when we visit him at the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center (MHCAC) is that this year, he asked himself, “Why not dare to do a complete ‘Giselle’ again? We have already put together the second act we presented twice.”

Then, he shared with us that while he was in Panama for auditions and talking about his intentions, María Eugenia Herrera, Principal Dancer and director of the Youth Ballet Company (YBC) of Panama, told him, “I have the production. I could collaborate,” and immediately, they started working on the idea. “We are going to use Panama’s production for the first act and ours for the second,” says Jiménez.

María Eugenia Herrera, who will alternate the role of Giselle with CCBM, is shown in Youth Ballet Company of Panama’s “Giselle.” (Photo archive (courtesy of Youth Ballet Company).

When we asked whose choreography would be used, he says: “I’m doing my version, respecting the style of the original staging but making some changes to give more coherence to the plot. As always, the dances will be adjusted to the group of dancers I will have.”

On this occasion, it will be members of YBC, CCBM, and the Sanctuary of the Arts Choreographic Ensemble of Rafael Maldonado and Alice Arja.

“To alternate in the role of Giselle with Maria Eugenia, we will have Gretel Batista from the Houston Ballet. Mayrel Martínez of Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami will be Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Jorge Oscar Sánchez of the Washington Ballet will perform the role of Albrecht.”

And, giving us the most unique, good news at the end, Jiménez says: “Alihaydée Carreño will be Berthe, Giselle’s mother.”

Eriberto Jiménez, artistic director of the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. (Photo courtesy of Salvador Gómez)

Carreño – now fully dedicated to teaching – was the protagonist of the unforgettable “Giselle” presented at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach in February 2007 by CCBM, founded by Pedro Pablo Peña just a year before.

We asked her what makes her return to the stage in such a vital role, but one that is more acting than dancing.

“I always told myself, ‘If I’m not a dancer, I’m going to be an actress,’” she says without hesitation. “When Eriberto called me to ask me if I would like to be Giselle’s mother in these two performances, I answered, ‘I would love to.’ I haven’t danced in over 10 years, so returning to the stage is very exciting,” says Carreño.

Alihaydée Carreño and Osmani Molina in the unforgettable “Giselle” by CCBM in February 2007 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach. (Photo by Frank Díaz/Courtesy of CCBM).

Talking with Carreño about the creation of the character turns out to be quite the experience, discovering “her” answers to questions like, “How old is Giselle’s mother? Why is the bodice of Giselle’s costume different from the other dancers? Where is Giselle’s father?”

Nowadays, the achievement of a character with a solid “biography” in ballet has become a rarity, but never when its performer is the outstanding female link in the Carreño lineage of the National Ballet of Cuba, something we ask her to explain.

“It all starts with Lázaro Carreño, although there were three brothers,” she says during the interview at her home in Miami. “My grandmother, who lived in Santa Clara, saw in the newspaper that they were looking for boys to audition and thought it could be a good thing to get 3 of the 7 children she had on scholarships and studies. One of them, my uncle Pepe, did not want to be a dancer. But my uncle Lazaro and my father, Álvaro Carreño, were.”

The incomparable Alihaydée Carreño will be Berthe, Giselle’s mother, in the CCBM production. (Photo courtesy of Salvador Gómez)

Carreño’s mother, the charming Haydée Delgado, who was also a dancer with the National Ballet of Cuba, intervenes occasionally in our conversation. After Lázaro and Álvaro come, in chronological order, José Manuel Carreño, Alihaydée and Joel Carreño. José Manuel and Joel are the children of Caridad, sister of Lázaro and Álvaro, who was not a dancer.

“I must tell you I have a 7-year-old little brother on my father’s side, Alvarito. Look at him there. (She points out a photo on a small table in the living room). He loves ballet, and I think he could be a tremendous dancer. He is going to do what my daughters were never interested in doing.” She momentarily thinks about it, smiles, and enthusiastically proclaims, “Giselle’s mother has a 7-year-old brother who is also her two daughters’ uncle.”

Not 24 hours have passed and Jiménez sends a message telling us that María Eugenia is in Miami. And that makes us go back to MHCAC.

When we shared with Maruja – we met her by that name when she performed at the 2003 Miami International Ballet Festival –that Carreño is going to play her mother, she tenderly exclaims, “My God, what an honor!” and she proudly tells us about how Amparo Brito, another great Cuban dancer, was her coach for 10 years until 2014 when she retired due to health problems.

María Eugenia Herrera, Gian Carlo Pérez, and dancers in the second act of Youth Ballet Company of Panama’s “Giselle.” (Photo archive courtesy of Youth Ballet Company).

Luckily, the dancer and teacher – director of the National Ballet of Panama between 2003 and 2007 and of the National Institute of Culture from 2009 to 2014 – is recovered and even venturing into the world of cinema; she recently played the role of Margot Fonteyn, in the documentary film “Tito, Margot and I,” made by Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias.

“It is Panama’s version to the world of the most private and familiar part of Margot’s life,” she says. “I did not have the joy of seeing her dance, but I grew up in the National Dance School that she helped found. When she died on Feb. 21, 1991, all the members of the National Ballet went to her funeral, where I felt like I was saying goodbye to someone very close. Knowing her story more thoroughly for the film, she inspired and still inspires me so much.”

Regarding Giselle, she explains, “It is a role that has left a very important mark on my life. I danced it when I was young, and I danced it as an adult. Feelings change. They are never the same. I thought I would never dance it again, but Eriberto invited me, and it’s like starting over, so I’m enjoying it. I am very grateful because it is a great opportunity.”

She reveals that “everything has happened without much planning. Right now, I dance and have fun. Of course, I do everything with a lot of love. I admire and respect the Miami audience; I hope that everyone likes my work and that they enjoy it.”

(Above: Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami / 2024 “Giselle”)

WHAT: Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami’s  “Giselle”

WHEN: 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 10

WHERE: Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2001 West Flagler St., Miami

COST: $35 to $65,

INFORMATION: Visit cubanclassicalballetofmiami.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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