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The Fort Wayne Ballet's guest dancer Ariel Cisneros
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Two weeks ago, just as FWR #138 was streaming its way to the printers with our cover story on the Fort Wayne Ballet’s 2009 production of The Nutcracker, we got a phone call from guest dancer Ariel Cisneros. But the issue was done, deadlines were looming, and to get to the point, we didn’t have time to include our interview with him in the cover piece.
Still, Cisneros’ career as a professional dancer is so interesting that we decided to include our interview in this issue — and why not? The Nutcracker is still on, and runs through December 13.
Cisneros’ relationship with the Fort Wayne Ballet actually began several seasons ago, in pretty trying circumstances. The Fort Wayne Ballet found itself in a tough position: the professional dancer they had contracted 12 months earlier to take the part of the Sugar Plum Cavalier in a production of The Nutcracker was seriously injured just three weeks before the opening (the injury turned out to be career-altering, but that’s another story). They needed another male dancer — and fast — to fill the position.
And so at practically the last minute, Ariel Cisneros, a professional dancer with a long career to his credit — including a stint at Chicago’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet — took up the challenge and was willing to step in. “I was told, ‘they need somebody right now. They’re really anxious’,” he says, adding that he thought the time frame might be a little daunting. “But I was really impressed when I got there. I was so impressed with the school. To dance at this kind of ballet, you need at least a few weeks, a month. We had just two or three rehearsals. But Miss Karen (Gibbons-Brown, Fort Wayne Ballet’s Executive and Artistic Director) and the dancers were very focused and dedicated.”
Born in Cuba and trained at the Professional School of Arts in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, Cisneros has been performing since he was 10 years old, dancing with Ballet Camaguey and the National Ballet of Cuba. In 1992, he got an offer to work in Brazil (he has performed at the famous Teatro Municipal in Rio). He says he was originally supposed to work there for one week, but he decided to stay when he got another offer. In 1996, he got a contract from the Cleveland Ballet to come there as a guest artist. “Before that, I tried seven times to get a visa to come work in the United States, but it was denied,” Cisneros says.
The problem, Cisneros says, is that it requires a lot of paperwork to get that visa. You essentially have to prove you’re a big deal in your field. “The person has to send a contract, proving that you’re very special, to come to the United States,” he explains. “You have to send newspaper reviews, a lot of recommendation letters from all the directors who worked with you… It’s a lot of work, very complicated. When you are an artist, you are flexible. But it’s always complicated.”
In addition to time with the Cleveland Ballet and the Kentucky Ballet Theater, Cisneros has also danced as a guest artist at many places in the United States and Europe, including as a soloist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He was a member of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago until recently. “2006 was my last year dancing with the Joffrey,” he says. “Now I’m mainly a teacher there. There’s a group of young people who are going to be in the company in a year or two, and I’m working with them to get them ready.”
Cisneros own education as a dancer was pretty rigorous and comprehensive, with training in Russian, French, and Italian styles “… and a little of the Latin touch,” he says. But dance education in the United States seems to get mixed reviews from him. “Here, anyone can open a studio,” he says. “It’s great that everyone wants to dance. This is good. But you have to create a certain discipline.” And cultivating that discipline is essential for the extremely competitive dance world.
Cisneros didn’t get to spend much time with any of the Fort Wayne Ballet dancers during his earlier visit here — as we said, the rehearsal schedule was pretty intense, and there wasn’t any opportunity for Cisneros to offer the rest of the young dancers here any kind of instruction, answer questions, offer advice, etc. But Karen Gibbons-Brown says that, in this field, a dancer can learn a lot by “osmosis.” In other words, while Cisneros may not have the time to (for example) teach technique during his visits, the dancers can learn a lot simply by watching him work, and observing the dedication, commitment, and artistry that a professional like Cisneros brings to his work. “I try very hard to surround our students with those qualities through our staff and our professional dancers here with Fort Wayne Ballet,” Gibbons-Brown says. “It is just as important that anyone we bring in to join us for any length of time share those qualities.”
The kind of validation that working with a dancer like Cisneros can give to the younger dancers at the Fort Wayne Ballet is important. “Validation is crucial for continual excellence,” adds Gibbons-Brown.
Fort Wayne Ballet presents The Nutcracker
All performances are held at Arts United Center, 303 East Main Street
Friday, December 4 @ 8 pm * (w/Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir)
Saturday, December 5 @ 2:30 pm (matinee performance)
Saturday, December 5 @ 8 pm * (w/Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir)
Sunday, December 6 @ 2:30 pm
Tuesday, December 8 @ 7 pm
Friday, December 11 @ 8 pm
Saturday, December 12 @ 2:30 pm (matinee performance)
Saturday, December 12 @ 8 pm
Sunday, December 13 @ 2:30 pm
Tickets: December 4th & 5th at 8:00pm: Adults $36; Seniors (60+) & Youth (11-18) $31; Children (3-10) $26
All other performances: Adults $26 – Seniors (60+) & Youth (11-18) $21 – Children (3-10) $16
For ticket information, contact Fort Wayne Ballet’s box office at 260-484-9646, or visit online at www.fortwayneballet.org.