Before Taking His Finals Bows, PNB Principal Karel Cruz Reflects on His Long Career and Search for Patience
On Sunday, June 10, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Karel Cruz will take the stage with the company for the last time. A native of Cuba, Cruz danced with Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the Venezuelan companies Ballet Clasico de Cámara and Teatro Teresa Carreño before joining PNB in 2002. In 2009, Cruz was promoted to principal and married fellow PNB principal Lindsi Dec. In addition to their frequent onstage partnership, the couple is also raising a young son, Koan, and co-running Solu, a dancewear line (check out a very hectic day in their life here). Earlier this week we had the chance to chat with Cruz as he reflected on his 16-year career with PNB.
How did you choose the works that you’ll dance at your retirement show this weekend?
I’ll be doing Don Quixote pas de deux with my wife and the pas de deux and finale from Balanchine’s “Diamonds” with Lesley Rausch. Don Quixote is one of the first pieces that I did with Lindsi, and we thought it would be nice to bring it back. And I think the audience enjoys it; it’ll be a fun one for everybody. “Diamonds” is a beautiful pas. I have always loved the music and how intimate it is. I think it will be perfect for this moment.
What’s next for you?
I will probably be teaching. I think it’s important for me to share what I have learned over all these years. I will also be working on Solu. We have so many ideas and new things coming up, so we have to have a little bit of patience and do it one step at a time. And I will also be taking care of my son. He’s two-and-a-half years old, and as a ballet dancer I haven’t been able to spend much time with him. That’s what I have for now; I’ll keep searching and keep being open and available for whatever is next in life.
Cruz in George Balanchine’s “Agon,” © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
Can you share a favorite memory from your time with PNB?
One is when I was in the corps with Lindsi: We used to go to the back studio and work on other stuff, and one of the things we were working on was Don Quixote. We weren’t working to perform, but just to improve our technique and our artistic side. And then we ended up getting a guesting job, and eventually we did the whole ballet with PNB—that was a big highlight for me. Another is that my mother came in 2013 and got to see me do Swan Lake. Those are moments that I didn’t think were going to happen, and I didn’t ask for them; life just surprised me.
What will you miss most about being with the company?
I think I will miss being with the whole PNB family. This was just my everyday life, so to have to stop that all of a sudden is going to be tough for sure.
Cruz with Lesley Rausch in Ronald Hynd’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
What has been the biggest challenge throughout the course of your career?
One of the biggest challenges for me was leaving Cuba. The company in Cuba told me that I was too tall for the corps, and I was basically forced to leave. At the time it was very difficult. I was very ambitious and very young and I wanted to dance a lot. My aunt was in Venezuela, and she helped me to leave and continue with this dream of mine, so I joined two different companies there. And then when I came here to Seattle, the biggest challenge was going back into the corps. When I was in Venezuela I was busy dancing all kinds of roles, and in Seattle I spent four years as a corps member. I had to take a few steps back.
What has been your favorite piece to dance at PNB?
I have so many favorites. I enjoyed doing Swan Lake and Don Quixote; I think it’s because it’s been a dream of mine since I was a student back in Cuba and seeing the company perform these classics and wishing to be there one day in my career. And then all of a sudden I have the opportunity to dance them here in Seattle. I also enjoy the work of Jiří Kylián and Nacho Duato.
If you could have given yourself a piece of advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?
When you’re going through a hard time it’s really hard to trust that the situation will work out. I wish I could have been a little bit more patient. I have no regrets, and I believe that things happen for a reason. But it would have been nice to understand in the moment what was going on.