Maria Luisa Marquez and Yankiel Vazquez, principal couple of the fourth movement of the work Seventh Symphony, at the Inauguration of the 27th Havana Ballet Festival, at the National Theater of Cuba. Photo: Ismael Francisco/ Cubadebate Archive.

I remember it was a summer morning of 2011 when I went to the halls of the National Ballet of Cuba, located on 5th streets. and E, in El Vedado, to see the audition class that the young dancers who would graduate that year from the National Ballet School had to perform. For a reason I didn't remember I was late and couldn't get into the classroom, so I watched the class from the front door, flanked by an exercise bar. I was quickly attracted by a young dancer, of small stature, but with a very well proportioned body. He had beautiful legs, with a rare en dehors in men, and he showed care, both in the bar exercises and in the center. It had been a long time since I had seen a student arrive from the School with such technical cleanliness and with such a virtuoso execution in the turns, jumps and drums. When the class was over, almost at noon, and as was my custom, I went to the director's office to greet and talk with Alicia. With enthusiasm I told him about the class I had seen, with men with visible talent potential, but especially about the young man who had captured my attention. She curious asked me for his name, but I could not answer, because I had never seen him before.

The next day I was able to find out who the boy was, who was none other than Yankiel Vázquez. I called Alicia, who had gone to lunch at her house and told her. She made me repeat that name several times, because for a long time in the company we had a dancer, also from Pinar del Rio, with a similar name, because his name was Yansiel Pujada. Alicia insisted that she repeat the name well and asked an assistant to bring her the famous "butterfly folder", where she kept important papers and documents. I was intrigued why she insisted so much on the name until she clarified that this young dancer had been removed from the list of possible members of the company, because of his short stature, according to the criteria of some maîtres and teachers. Luckily, Alicia with her clear vision of the future, decided that Yankiel not only became a member of the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), but quickly assumed prominent roles, including in the ballet Acentos, by choreographer Eduardo Blanco, where five dancers must show the virtuosity of Cuban male dance. A short time later came the shocking news that Yankiel was ill, attacked by the horrible and almost deadly Guillain Barré Syndrome. He had to undergo a strong hospital treatment and keep a long rest in the town of Mantua, where he was born and there he received the encouragement of all his companions, wishing him a speedy recovery.

I remember that I was able to establish communication with him and I sent him programs and informative materials about the International Ballet Festival that we were going to celebrate soon, in which he, unfortunately, could not participate. Almost miraculously, due to the effective medical treatment he received and his disciplined conduct, he was able to return to the stage in full physical and mental capacity, without losing any of the extraordinary physical attributes that had distinguished him. Little by little he managed to ascend to higher artistic levels and in 2015 he was named Soloist Dancer and in 2022 to the higher rank of First Dancer. With this status he has achieved success during the tours he has made with the BNC in Mexico, Canada, Spain, Italy, France, the United States, Oman, Panama, Puerto Rico, the People's Republic of China, Costa Rica and in Colombia, where last year he was a guest artist at the Cali International Ballet Festival.

As a pure noble danseur he has obtained great successes in works of the great classical tradition such as La fille mal Gardeé, Coppelia, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote and Swan Lake, in the versions of Alicia Alonso, but he has also been a dancer of great stylistic ductility, capable of facing and overcoming the challenges of contemporary choreography. in works such as Concerto DSCH, by Russian Alexei Ratmanski; Seventh Symphony, by German Uwe Scholz; The Death of the Swan, by Frenchman Michel Descombey; Celeste, by Belgian-Colombian Anabel López Ochoa; Love, fear, loss, by Brazilian Ricardo Amarante; Ballet 101, by Frenchman Erick Gauthier; Muto y Muñecos, by Alberto Méndez and Acentos, by Eduardo Blanco, also Cuban.

Still sweaty from the essays of La Cenicienta, by Cuban-French Pedro Consuegra, who will perform with the talented María Luisa Márquez, in the jubilee for the 75th anniversary of the BNC, we talked with him for the readers of La Jiribilla:

Photos taken of La Jiribilla

You come from Mantua, a place that has contributed so much to Cuban ballet, especially its male dance. Did that heritage influence your connection with ballet?

"Of course, and a lot. The neighbors talked to my father to get me to sign up for ballet classes and he did. In addition, I liked it and also thought it was a possibility to have a better future. I started in the workshop of the teacher Elida Jústiz, an experienced pedagogue, famous for discovering the Mantuan talents, who taught the classes in her house, very close to mine, whose training bars were in her portal. She tested me and I traveled to Pinar del Rio, where I passed the exams and entered the Vocational School of Art. A new world opened up for me, because I was far from my family, I had a discipline to face and I was only 9 years old. But teachers like Elsis Martínez and Berto Borges helped me pass that experience, which lasted 5 years. A young Pinar del Rio master, Odel Camps, was the one who took me to Havana, to the demanding Level Pass, after having overcome the Elementary Level.

What new experiences did entering the National Ballet School, where you studied the three years of the Middle Level, bring you?

"It was hard for me to be away from family and on a scholarship. I was at a disadvantage with the Havana students who had always been able to see the ballet shows in the theaters, something that did not happen in Mantua or Pinar del Río, but I was a very shy "guajirito", who was learning, leaving behind my traditional shyness. I was happy to have teachers and essayers as valuable as Mirtha Hermida, Martha Iris Fernández and Elena Cangas, although my technique teacher during the three years was Yuneisy Rodríguez. It was a stage of growth in all aspects, which allowed me to enrich my training and obtain important awards such as the Silver Medal in the first year (2009), the Gold Medal in the second (2010) and again Silver, in the modality of Variations, in the third year (2011), all in the Competitions of the International Meetings of Academies for the Teaching of Ballet.

What has it meant to you to be a member of the BNC?

"First of all, a dream, because it is a famous company in the whole world, which has given very good dancers. I have never felt my height as a limitation and I have fought to overcome challenges with hard work and discipline. Dance as much as I was programmed and try to do my best.

In a historical account you and Vladimir Álvarez, in 1997, have been the only dancers of small stature who have managed to reach the highest artistic category within the company.

―I never thought of my stature as a limitation and I have always believed that work is the way, so I dance with equal dedication the works of the great traditional repertoire as well as the creations of contemporary choreographers, whose technical, expressive and stylistic challenges force me to learn new lines of work. With that certainty I face the future.

A future where we can affirm with certainty, new triumphs await him, as the exceptional exponent of the Cuban School of Ballet that he is.

(Taken from La Jiribilla)