Evocation of Marta García

The National Ballet of Cuba’s first dancer, who recently passed away in Madrid, interpreted as no one else the role of the Bride in Antonio Gades’ Blood Wedding, among other many dance feats.

Right from the start of Blood Wedding, choreographed by Antonio Gades, the figure of Marta García was capable of announcing the tragedy that would later be unchained.

When evoking Marta García the first images that come to my mind date back to the mid-1970s. She, who had just reached the level of first dancer of the National Ballet of Cuba, was dancing in the old Principal Theatre of Camagüey the role of Swanilda in a production of Coppelia which the Camagüey troupe, directed by JoaquínBanegas, had just premiered. At the time I was beginning to approach the world of ballet and I didn’t have too many elements to judge what I was seeing on stage, but what I saw in that function had a powerful effect on me. Marta irradiated energy, self-confidence, without losing the histrionic grace that the character required.


Because of unexplainable reasons of the mind I always associate that evening to something that years later I heard Fernando Alonso say during a seminar for ballet professors. The Maestro joked about the groups of well-trained girls, where everything was seen even, including the legs lifted at the same height, and he affirmed: “That never was able to be achieved with Marta García. When she was in school she always stood out too much on the line for her extensions, for her exceptional talent. She was barely able to be in the corps de ballet. She immediately had to be made a soloist.”


Marta not only has gone down in the history of Cuban ballet but also in her non-written legend for the exceptional physical talent which she had the wisdom to restrain and channel to become a great artist and not a circus phenomenon. Many have pondered the self-confidence of the points of her toes, the elasticity of her legs, her notable balance, the excellence of those turns that provoked veritable screams from her admirers concentrated on the highest floors of the García Lorca Theatre. Those who saw that exterior performance did not appreciate her in her just value. The García was also discipline, intelligence and, above all, she had a sense of the artistic.


It is astonishing that that prodigy of a girl won in 1952 a contest of the Supreme Court of Art when she was only three years old. That would allow her to have access to an early stardom on television interpreting Spanish dances or appearing on commercials. She not only did not suffer from a spiritual decline in the midst of those banalities, but rather had the humility and at the same time the ability to leave that world to join the Professional School of Ballet of Havana, at the time headed by Anna Leontieva, and while there being simply one more student, until in 1965, when she graduated, she was admitted to the National Ballet of Cuba.


In barely three years she reached the rank of soloist, which she conserved until 1974 when she was conferred that of first ballerina. For her, knowing how to withdraw from the limelight and starting her artistic career in a more solid way was a way of advancing with certainty toward more noble paths.


I saw her dance many times. She gave the character of Kitri in the Don Quixote pas de deux a special grace and not simply because she knew how to overcome in an impressive way the technical demands of its variation and of the coda, but because her long experience in Spanish dance helped her give her character a personality and to display with her partner – be it LázaroCarreño or Orlando Salgado – a veritable duo of seduction.


Something similar occurred with her Black Swan, although there were some who only expected the furiously-paced finale with the vertiginous fouettes, she actually was exceptional from the start of the adagio, when absorbed in the role of the perverse Odile she catches the attention of the unsuspecting Sigfrid, envelopes him in a net of charms and at the same time displays all her physical and spiritual energy to prevent him from remembering Odette. The technical elements that were needed to reach the artistic goal were guaranteed, but they were subject to a unity with the dramatic, although those who were not very familiar preferred the wrapping.


It should not be forgotten that she did not limit herself to shining in the works of the traditional repertoire, but rather was a malleable material in the hands of the choreographers of her time. When in December 1967 Díasquefueronnoches was premiered, a small ballet with music taken from the Aranjuez Concert by Juaquín Rodrigo, she knew how to penetrate the skin of that woman who in the days of the Spanish Civil War sees how her romance is broken, sees the departure of the man she loves and has to go through the tragic moment of his death, which incites her to persevere in the struggle. She, who had recently become a soloist, knew how to make hers the role and how to justify a choreography that was not too original but had elements to motivate her dramatic performance.


On the contrary, Bach x 11 = 4 x A, a very avant-garde creation by José Parés for the Cuban stage of 1970, presented for her a different problem. It was a work that didn’t have a plot, where the dancers, guided by the grandiose Bach music, had to produce an emotional effect in the spectators, but without a dramatic support, just with the technical instrumental of the contemporary ballet that had the aim of reaching the height of that baroque score. The effect was notable and Marta, with her partner Alberto Méndez, astonished and convinced a public not prepared for such an aesthetic proposal.


I have never felt special admiration for the Cecilia Valdés choreographed by Gustavo Herrera in 1975. It is a dilated work that aims not only to translate into dance the plot of the novel by the same name by CiriloVillaverde but which rather tries, exactly as certain aesthetic canons of that time demanded, to be a sort of lesson in history about miscegenation, transculturation, the class struggle…. Together with valuable passages, there are others that are purely filling. The National Ballet conferred a great deal of importance to that production and in fact it alternated in its main role the major part of the principal figures of the company, from Alicia Alonso herself to MirtaPla, Josefina Méndez, LoipaAraujo…. I believe the work was able to remain in the billboard for some time especially for the performance of these figures and in the case of the García, she knew how to embroider its execution with her own elements that allowed her to stand out, despite the close referent of other figures with much more stage experience.


In my opinion one of the most notable roles she performed in the repertoire of her time was that of the Bride in Blood Wedding by Antonio Gades. I can’t forget that moment in which she entered the stage dressed in white, wearing a garland on her head, supposedly ready for the marriage, but her entire figure exhaling a vibration that already announced the tragedy that would be unchained a moment later. In that role she achieved the perfect synthesis of the Lorca character with the elements of flamenco dancing that Gadesgave the piece, plus her excellent technical formation in the language of ballet. Perhaps her secret was that she was not an academic ballerina who was assuming the imitation of an expert in Spanish dance, but rather that she mixed her great passions in a strong character that perfectly corresponded to her talent.


In the difficult years of the 1990s I was rarely able to see Marta. I found out about her retirement from the stage in 2000 and also of her laudable work, first in Buenos Aires with the Estable Ballet of the Colón Theatre and later in several Spanish institutions, among them the Madrid Joven Ballet de Cámara. She had established herself there with her husband Orlando Salgado. On many occasions I saw on the Internet photos of both in cultural events or in parties with friends. The ballerina, now an experienced professor and skilful rehearser, was fighting the biggest of her battles, this time with an inexorable disease. The images returned her to me with the elegance and grace of always. I was never able to make my dream come true, not to interview her, but to simply talk with her about all those years in which I had followed her from the other side of the orchestra.


Perhaps Marta García’s greatest challenge was having carried out her career in the National Ballet of Cuba at a time when there was a group of notable ballerinas, each one of whom could have been an absolute star in another company. Each one of her presentations was not only judged by her but also inevitably compared, for better or worse, to those of her colleagues. Even so she knew how to make a name and a space for herself and there will no longer be a history of the art of dance in Cuba that can be written without her presence.


For me she is as alive as that night of 197…when I saw her in the noisy Principal Theatre in a Swanilda that few already no longer remember. (2017)

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