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Viengsay Valdés in Madrid 2007
|Parent(s)||Clara Herrera Rivero and Roberto Valdés Muñóz|
Born in Havana on November 10, 1976, Viengsay Valdés moved at three months to Laos, where her father was the Cuban Ambassador. At age three, her family moved to the Seychelles. At six, she moved back to Havana, Cuba, where her grandmother continued her education.
Viengsay began artistic gymnastics at age six. She put her first ballet shoes on at the age of nine, which is when she began her ballet studies at the Alejo Carpentier Provincial Ballet School in Havana. At age 15, she continued her studies at the Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA). Ramona de Sáa and Mirtha Hermida were her main ballet professors, the latter being her main inspiration. While she was still a student she won numerous prizes and distinctions.
An acute asthma sufferer, Valdes was warned by teachers and doctors not to pursue professional ballet, because of its physical challenges. Valdes was determined to transcend her ailment and continued to fight for her chosen career. Her work was made even harder by the economic crisis into which Cuba descended after the loss of Soviet aid in 1989. Acute food shortages made her intense physical training extremely tough.
In July 1994, Ms. Valdes graduated from the National School of Art (ENA) with a degree in Dance and Choreography, and gold honors.
Professional ballet career
Legendary director Alicia Alonso spotted Valdés' talent, and invited her to join the Ballet Nacional de Cuba when she was 17. A year later, she was promoted to the position of principal dancer. Ms. Valdés developed a reputation for her interpretations of the female lead roles in the ballets Carmen, Giselle, Swan Lake, Blood Wedding, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Coppélia, La Fille Mal Gardée, and The Nutcracker. She also danced in notable pas de deux from The Corsair, Diana and Actaeon, Silvia and Black Swan. She has performed leading roles in the major theaters of Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America; she has toured in countries worldwide.
Every year since 1994, Ms. Valdés has been a participant in the prestigious International Ballet Festival in Havana. She was named the most outstanding dancer in the XVIII International Festival of Ballet of Havana (October 20–28, 2002). This was thanks to her starring performances in Giselle, and her performance as Kitri in Don Quixote. Her partner in Don Quixote was premier dancer Carlos Acosta.
In July 2001, Alonso promoted Ms Valdés to the category of first dancer (primera bailarina), becoming one of the four top female dancers in the company. She toured to important theatres in Spain and the United States. Valdés performed at the World Stars Ballet Gala in Budapest, September 14, 2002. In October 2002, Valdés was invited to guest star as Kitri for a performance of Don Quixote with La Scala in Milán, but she could not participate because she had a prior commitment to tour in the USA, with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. In January 2004, she participated in the 1st Festival of Ballet of Beijing with Swan Lake. In 2003, Alicia Alonso made Valdés the company's prima ballerina, the highest position for a dancer in Cuba. From then on, she took the leading roles in all the company's major galas. In February 2003, Ms Valdés was a guest for the Closing Gala of the Dessau Ballet-Festival in Germany. She was invited to dance in the Real Place of San Lorenzo of The Escorial for second time in 2003 and 2005 during her tour of Spain. In September 2003, Ms Valdes participated as a guest in the World Gala, "Les Étoiles du XXIe Siècle," which took place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Valdés first partner for the Gala was the Italian ballet star Giuseppe Picone and also her next partner was the Russian star Alexei Tyukov.
In September 2004, she was invited for a second time to participate in the World Stars of Ballet Gala in Budapest. The dancers, managers, personalities and other distinguished personages, voted to choose Ms Valdés as their favorite dancer of this World Gala, and she was subsequently awarded the Prize for Popularity. In the summer of 2005, Valdes danced throughout Spain. She was invited on July 23, 2005 to appear in Cannes at the Etoiles du Ballet 2000 Festival, an association of the world's most important dance critics. In August 2005 she starred in a four-day run of Giselle at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London and she received outstanding reviews from several dance critics. In the summer of 2006, Valdes participated in the World Ballet Festival in Tokyo, and also starred as Kitri at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, receiving outstanding reviews from several critics.
In 2007, she participated in the Prague Ballet Gala and in the International Danze Gala in Lisbon. She performed at a gala with the Danish Royal Ballet (the first time since Alicia Alonso in 1969 that a Cuban ballerina had performed in Denmark); partnered with Carlos Acosta at the Manchester International Festival, and played the lead roles in both Giselle and Don Quichotte at the Grand Palais in Paris. In October 2007, she participated in the Gala "The Giants of the Dance", which was directed by the Cuban choreographer Alberto Méndez at the National Auditorium of Mexico City. She was then invited to dance on the show "Carlos Acosta and his Friends" at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London. Her partner was international ballet star, Carlos Acosta.
In February 2008, in his first newspaper article after announcing his formal retirement as President of Cuba, Fidel Castro wrote: "A few days ago, someone gave me a filmed version of 'Swan Lake', a subject about which I am far from being an expert, but which in the current circumstances constitutes a very agreeable way of forgetting almost all the time. I observed for almost two hours the incredible performance of the greatest interpreter of this ballet in the world: Viengsay Valdes, daughter of a Cuban diplomatic couple, who gave her the name in honor of a region of Laos where they were representing Cuba. One European critic described it as an unrepeatable performance. I think the same. I never conceived of such amazing elegance and flexibility, with perfect precision." 
In April 2008, Valdes performed in front of the Giza Pyramids, Egypt, in the first ever professional ballet performance on the open-air stage there. As Kitri in Don Quichotte, she danced beneath the gaze of the Sphinx. In July of the same year, she participated in the International Gala celebrated in Oporto, Portugal next to leading dancers from the Royal Ballet of Flanders and the National Ballet of Portugal. She also performed in the International Gala at the Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela. Subsequently, in August, she participated in the International Ballet Gala in Japan, two time in the Takamatsu and Tokyo cities, after she participated in the International Gala Dance' Stars which was celebrated in the Argentinean cities like Rosario, Tucuman and Santiago del Estero. At the end of 2008, she took part in the International Ballet Competition Gala in Istanbul, Turkey. Also she performed as Kitri in the Centro de Danza de Oporto, Portugal, in the Theater Sá de Miranda and in the Europark, a large-scale auditorium.
In January 2009, she was invited again to participate in the Ballet Gala of Prague, and performed in the State Opera House. In March, she was invited as guest artist by the Mariinsky Academy to participate in the Ninth International Festival of Ballet in St. Petersburg, performing as Kitri in Don Quixote, with choreography by Alexander Gorsky, based on the original by Marius Petipa. Her partner was the Russian ballet star Leonid Sarafanov. She was subsequently invited to participate in the Ninth International Ballet Gala in Dortmund, Germany. She was also invited as a guest artist by the Ankara Ballet to join that company to dance the lead role of Giselle at the Ankara Opera Theater. In April 2009, the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (UNEAC) awarded her the Dance Prize for outstanding female performance during the 2007-2008 season. In June 2009, Valdés was invited to participate in The World Ballet Star Festival at the Seoul Arts Center, South Korea. In July, she performed in the special Homage Gala dedicated to Alicia Alonso, sharing the stage with The Royal Ballet of London in the Gran Teatro de La Habana. On this occasion, she danced the famous 'Black Swan' pas de deux with the ballet star Thiago Soares, premier dancer from the Royal Ballet. In September 2009, she performed the lead in Swan Lake in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's visit to Madrid. She then traveled to Washington DC, to work as a guest artist in the 2009.2010 season opening performance for the Washington Ballet Washington Ballet, Don Quixote in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Dancing the lead role of Kitri, this was a new staging of the classic ballet by internationally recognized choreographer Anna-Marie Holmes.
Her biography, De acero y nube was published in February 2014.
Valdes' performances have received outstanding reviews from the world's leading dance critics, including Anna Kisselgoff and Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times, and Lewis Segal of the Los Angeles Times and others.
Judith Mackrell, writing about her performance in September 2006 at Sadler's Wells in The Guardian: "Valdes, apparently in league with the devil—or with ball bearings fitted in the pointes of her shoes—whirled through countless fouettées before pulling off a series of phenomenal balances. Smiling wickedly as she disdained Carreno's supporting hand, she made time stand still as she perched on one unwavering toe, even sustaining her balance as she lifted and folded her leg through a teasing adage of arabesque and attitude. The audience, barely able to believe what they were seeing, bayed like a football crowd."
Sarah Crompton wrote in the Daily Telegraph of the same performance: "In Viengsay Valdés and Joel Carreño, the company has two principals of world class, and they sparkle with animation and skill as Kitri and her love. Her balances are endless and triumphantly held; her turns so quicksilver fast you lose track of when they started. The moment when she slowly unfolds an unsupported arabesque in the grand pas de deux at the close is magical; a triumph both of rock-solid technique and a personality that fills the theatre."
Clement Crisp, the Dance Critic of The Financial Times wrote a 2007 article entitled: "Pariah Island where the classical virtues thrive". In this article he wrote, "The artists of the ballet believe utterly in what they are doing. I thought Viengsay Valdes a lovely and touching Giselle, moving from beguiling innocence to heart-torn tragedy and then to vaporous compassion with sweetest grace and displaying radiant technique throughout".
Ismene Brown, in The Daily Telegraph reviewed her 2005 performance as Giselle at Sadler's Wells: "Valdes is glorious, one of the great ballerinas of our time, and a very fine Giselle. Very fine-limbed, with eloquent eyes and a dimpled smile, she packs the kind of technique that not only redefines the spectacular but can hide its strength inside sincerest emotion or misty illusions. And her Giselle was so naturally assumed, so light in touch, and yet so deep in impact, an eager, happy girl, driven by the torrent of emotions, loving life, and unfamiliar with deception, her disintegration into death piteous to watch..." In a separate article about the same tour, Brown wrote: "Having lost two major talents - Rolando Sarabia, who reportedly defected to the US last week, and ballerina Alihaydée Carreño - the Ballet Nacional de Cuba relies heavily on its two remaining first-class talents, the stupendously entertaining party-girl Viengsay Valdés and her gentlemanly partner Joel Carreño (yes, another Carreño). Their Don Quixote excerpt in the second half defied belief. The beautiful Valdés takes the celebrated Cuban balancing and turning ability to the highest degree. When she spins, Carreño whips her like a top into a smiling blur. When she strikes an arabesque, arms flamboyantly high, leg at a perfect 90 degrees, head thrown laughingly back, she simply hangs there while time studies its fingernails. In Havana, watchers applaud ecstatically; in London, there was the dead silence of mass incredulity."
Anna Kisselgoff wrote in the New York Times of her 2003 performance of Don Quixote at City Center: "Two exceptional young dancers, Joel Carreño and Viengsay Valdés, led the exuberant version of "Don Quixote" that opened a run by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba on Wednesday, continuing through Sunday at City Center. New York has seen enough of this company over 30 years to do away with facile stereotypes. Alicia Alonso, now 82, was on hand for a standing ovation at the end of the evening, and it is worth remembering that the company is an outgrowth of the troupe she founded in 1948 in Havana with members of American Ballet Theater, where she was a star. As Kitri, Ms. Valdés can bring the house down with her phenomenal balances on one leg, and she is very much a turner. Yet these are technical feats that are only part of the complete picture she gives. She relates to her partner and everyone onstage, fusing characterization with style and technique. Her Kitri is not a pouting poppet but a strong-minded heroine with a brain whose love for Basil radiates throughout the performance."
Mary Ellen Hunt wrote in Dance Magazine: "Cuban ballerina Viengsay Valdes could be justly famous for her rock-solid eternal balances, thrilling multiple turns, and bravura technique. But in an age of superlative technicians, it's the passion and heart that Valdes brings to her dancing that has captivated audiences from Havana to Paris. Whether playing an effervescent Swanhilda in Coppélia or a biting Black Swan, Valdes' every move emerges as a natural expression of her zest for dancing. One of the youngest of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's primeras ballerinas, Valdes made an auspicious debut as Kitri in Don Quixote at the age of 19, under the demanding tutelage of Alicia Alonso. Since then, she's polished all international reputation, partnering with such danseurs as Carlos Acosta, Jose Manuel Carreno, and Giuseppe Picone, and winning enthusiastic critical praise." 
The Stage wrote: "In Don Quixote the ballerina role of Kitri was outstandingly danced by Viengsay Valdés with thrilling balances." 
Ballet Magazine wrote about her performance at the first Manchester Festival in July 2007: "It was the Corsaire Pas de Deux that very nearly had me clapping, because with Acosta and the Cuban miracle that is Viengsay Valdes, it was circus time. Valdes dances on the very largest scale, contrasting her huge movement with brilliant speed and detailed technique. Her pointes are of steel and those effortless balances, held just that second longer, are amazing." 
In June 2007, Valdes branched out into contemporary dance choreography, working with the British director Sebastian Doggart. They created a performance called Balance of Ice, which combined three elements: a piece of music by Canadian composer Andrew Staniland that was inspired by the sounds of ice sheets calving; a dance performance by Valdes that fragmented her usual balletic virtuosity; and moving images of the polar ice caps and the threats facing them.
Awards and recognition
- 1993 - First Prize in the National Competition of Dance for the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (UNEAC).
- 1993 – Gold Medal in the Vignale Festival of Dance, Italy.
- 1994 – Grand Prize in Ballet for the National Competition of Dance, Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (UNEAC).
- 1999 – National Medal of Culture from Cuba
- 2003 – Ms. Valdes was awarded the Medal "Alejo Carpentier" by the Ministry of Culture of Cuba.
- 2004 - Named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch".
- 2005 - Awarded the Les Ètoiles de Ballet 2000 prize at the Palais des Festivals, Cannes.
Viengsay is the Laotian word for Victory.
- Pérez, Carlos Tablada (2014). De acero y nube. Biografía de Viengsay Valdés (fragmento promocional) [Steel and cloud. Biography of Viengsay Valdés (promo snippet)] (in Spanish). Panama: RUTH Casa Editorial. Retrieved 2014-02-19.
- [dead link]
- "De acero y nube. Biografía de Viengsay Valdés (fragmento promocional)". Ruthcasaeditorial.org (in Spanish). Ruth Casa Editorial. February 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- Judith Mackrell. "Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Sadler's Wells, London". Arts.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
- "Culture: Music, TV & radio, books, film, art, dance & photography". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
- [dead link]
- "Culture: Music, TV & radio, books, film, art, dance & photography". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
- "Theatre, dance, opera and cabaret reviews". The Stage. Retrieved 2017-01-13.