Today, two of American Ballet Theatre’s longtime stars, Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes, retire from the company in—what is sure to be emotionally charged—back-to-back performances of Giselle. Herrera, who has danced with ABT for 24 years, will say good-bye during this afternoon’s matinee, while Reyes will give her final performance tonight. The departure of both dancers marks an end of an era, and a sign of change for ABT’s future. In two seperate interviews, both dancers offered reflections on their careers, retirements and future plans.
Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
For many of my generation growing up, Paloma Herrera set the bar—she was the one whose abilities we all strove to match. One year older than me, Herrera was a principal dancer before I was even an apprentice. Back in the 90s, my friends and I devoured news articles about the teenage Argentinian prodigy with to-die-for insteps (her name alone becoming a synonym for beautiful feet). We tore out her famous black-and-white New York Times Magazine cover and taped it to our walls. We rewound her Don Quixote video with Angel Corrella over and over, hoping to emulate her never-ending balances and whip-smart attack.
As she matured, we looked beyond the prodigious talent and got to know her as an artist. And she is an artist who resides very much in the moment, who loves both the process and the final product. In an interview with me in March, she spoke often about the “magic” she feels and tries to create onstage. “For me, it’s about being natural,” says Herrera. “You have to figure out all of the technique in class and rehearsals, because onstage, it has to be free.” And she sees the learning process as never-ending. “Last year, when I danced my last Don Q, until the last rehearsal it was, ‘Oh, maybe I should do this, or maybe I should do that.’ And how many times have I danced Don Q? I’m always looking for something else, something more.”
Herrera was originally scheduled to retire in June as Aurora in Alexei Ratmansky’s new Sleeping Beauty (a decision she says was not hers), but she ultimately changed her retirement date to dance Giselle, a production she feels more attached to. “In a way, I feel like my retirement was last year,” she says. “That’s when I said goodbye to all of my roles—Don Q, Coppélia, La Bayadère. Every performance was huge because they were all ballets I had done with ABT for so long.”
Following Giselle, she’ll return to Argentina, officially retiring with Onegin at the Teatro Colón in October and a small tour in November. According to a recent article in the New York Times, she also plans to start a dancewear business. But today, she says farewell to her American audience—and she will be sorely missed.
Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT
Xiomara Reyes is one of those rare dancers that you never have to worry about onstage. Technically assured, calm and confident, she brings ease and purity to her performances. Dancing effortlessly, no matter how hard the role, is a skill she learned in her native Cuba at the National Ballet School. “I ground myself in the knowledge of the love for what I do,” Reyes said in an interview over e-mail. “When I get nervous, I ask myself, ‘What’s really important?’ And the answer is I give it my best, that I forget about myself and become alive to the story. And then I pray real hard and trust!”
Although Reyes danced with the Royal Ballet of Flanders for seven years, joining ABT was a lifelong dream. She didn’t think a career there was possible—but her parents did. They sent her videos and resumé to the company, “and the rest is history,” she says. She recalls one of her favorite memories at ABT, during her first onstage rehearsal for Don Quixote: “It dawned on me that it was the same decor and costumes of the Baryshnikov production, the one from the video that I was in love with growing up. Seeing Natalia Makarova’s name in the costume I was wearing, I understood that I was part of something much bigger than the dreams of a little girl, something that encompassed the dreams and achievements of so many amazing people.”
Giselle has special meaning for Reyes—it was the first ballet she saw and the first role she studied in depth. As she matured, Reyes found it easier to personally connect with the role. “The reason is simple,” she says. “I have lived. I know how my Giselle feels because I have experienced a degree of heartbreak that feels like you can lose reason. I understand that someone frail could die from it.” For tonight’s performance, she hopes to tap into those years of experience. “I just want to be present to the moment so the history of my Giselle can flow from me to you. It’s not about a retirement, it’s about having the chance once again to let her live through me.”
After she retires, she heads to Spain to co-direct IBStage, a summer intensive in Barcelona. Her advice for young dancers? To search for what is unique inside them and to trust it. “It is the only antidote to the comparison sickness that we all suffer from in this competitive world. Live, feel, trust.”