Dancing Among the Stars: 16-Year-Old Elisabeth Beyer on Performing at the Havana International Ballet Festival
may only be 16, but she is already cultivating an international following. A Professional Training Program student at Ellison Ballet in New York City, this year she won first place in the senior women’s finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and the junior gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition. In late October, she had the opportunity to perform Grand Pas Classique at the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival in a gala alongside stars from The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala and, of course, Cuban National Ballet. Her partner was Cuban-born international guest artist Daniel Sarabia, and the two only had a short time to prepare. We caught up with her to talk about what the whirlwind experience was like.
How did you learn that you had been invited to partner with Daniel Sarabia in Havana, and how were those arrangements made?
Mariaelena Ruiz, the director of the professional training program at Cary Ballet Conservatory, helped connect Daniel and I. She has known Daniel for some time and he mentioned to her back in June that his original partner for the Festival couldn’t make it. She suggested my name to him as a potential partner. Ms. Ruiz then reached out to me, my mom and my teacher, Edward Ellison, to see if this partnership might work. From that point on, Mr. Ellison and Daniel communicated and took care of the arrangements.
Since Daniel is based in Florida, how much time were you given to rehearse together?
We organized one weekend in New York City to rehearse together. Daniel flew in to Manhattan from Florida and Mr. Ellison rehearsed us for an hour or two each day. Once in Cuba, we had one studio rehearsal and one stage rehearsal (on the day of the first performance).
What did you find most useful in the coaching you received to prepare you for the performance?
Mr. Ellison is very meticulous with the details of pas de deux. He not only emphasizes technique, but also artistry and little nuances like head positions and finger positions, and really tries to teach the feelings of the ballet. Also, since we knew I wasn’t going to have much time to rehearse with Daniel, Mr. Ellison tried to prepare me for different partners. I rehearsed a lot with my main partner at Ellison Ballet, but occasionally I would do pas class with another, just to get the feeling of someone different.
What was the festival atmosphere like?
The atmosphere in Cuba was amazing. I was worried that I might feel intimidated, being surrounded by so many talented and established professional dancers. However, everyone was so warm and welcoming. They treated me with kindness and respect. I loved taking the daily class and was inspired to watch the other dancers. The event was challenging in that it was the first time I had performed this pas, we had limited preparation time, and I got sick while I was in Cuba. But I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.
Would you consider dancing with the Cuban National Ballet if you were invited to join the company?
I’m still pretty young, but I would definitely consider it, as it’s such a fantastic company with great classical repertoire.
rom the point of view of a dance artist, what did you find most impressive about the festival?
The most impressive thing was the number of talented artists from all over the world who came to dance. So many companies were represented and even the most seasoned professionals were honored and excited to be performing in the festival. In addition, the Cuban culture loves ballet!
What was the most valuable lesson that you would want to impart to other students offered the chance to dance in galas and festivals?
Take it all in. The other dancers have so much experience and wisdom, so learn as much as you can from them. I would also say be prepared as possible. Things may work a little differently than they do back home, so understand that going in and be flexible so it doesn’t affect your mental preparation. And have fun. Enjoy every minute both on stage and off!