By Gualveris Rosales Sánchez .
Choosing between the popular bat-and-ball game and the elite theatrical art was the dilemma Rafael Saladrigas Ruíz, current maître and main regisseur of the Ballet of Camagüey, had to solve when he was just 11 years old.
His decision would determine his career and his life, and why not, it would leave a mark in the dance creation in Camagüey, Cuba.
In 1969, together with other kids of his neighbourhood La Caridad, his name appeared on the roster of Las Aguilas baseball team, that every weekend contended against Los Halcones, Los Tigres and Los Leones, in a tough student baseball league, sponsored by the CV Deportivo in his home town.
“There was a lot of passion for baseball in that time, and the CV Deportivo brought together all the sports areas of children and teenagers in the municipality,” remembers my interviewee.
By that time the restless boy attended elemental classes of ballet at the Marcelo Salado School, an institution that later would be the Vicentina de la Torre Art Academy.
“I went to the entrance examination of that school by chance”, says Saladrigas in the shade of an old almond tree, that abounds in the gardens of the venue of Cuba’s second classic ballet company.
“I was accompanying a little friend that wanted to enter the plastic arts course, when two girls came and led me to the audition. All of a sudden I was in front of the judges’ table. I passed the exam, so in that moment my professional life took its path.”
However, you continued playing with Las Águilas?
“Yes, till the moment I had to make up my mind”•
Being a working-class family child why did you choose the ballet?
“I felt attracted by the ballet because it was different, saw major success chances and a broader field to develop myself professionally. I saw even the possibility of being a teacher, a choreographer; that was what I thought then and that was what I chose”.
Saladrigas tells how, out of a group of 20 kids, he was the only one left by the end of the year. In spite of having an opportunity to continue his studies in Havana, he decided to stay in Camagüey. For his own luck the middle level of ballet was created here in 1972, four years later he finished the degree and began in the company.
For over 20 years his feet slid along the floor and his chest vibrated with emotion in each performance. His active career as a dancer coincided with the golden years of the company.
He remembers the great productions, the mark left by maestro Frenando Alonso, who “opens so many doors for the Ballet of Camaguey”, the festivals in Havana, the company’s appearances at the Garcia Lorca Hall, its performances at the theatres Sauto, La Caridad, El Terry and the Principal. The tour around Europe, mainly the visits to Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
He also recalls the Choreographic Workshop that brought together the most outstanding figures of the Ballet of Camaguey then. By that time Saladrigas –aside from dancing as a soloist or as a part of the Corp de Ballet - he also gave lessons in two levels: elemental and middle.
Apart from teaching in Camagüey and in Santiago de Cuba, you also provide technical advisory services abroad.
“To comply with a collaboration agreement between Cuba and Guyana I travelled to that South American country in 1989 to give classes at the National School of Dance. That was a extraordinary experience, since their ethnic and cultural components and the conception of the dance are different from ours.
Later in 1990 I went as an advisor to the Ballet Municipal de Trujillo, in Peru. I also danced there. Finally I worked as a professor for the Ballet Clásico Moderno of Paraguay in 1999."
Right now, Rafael Saladrigas Ruíz, 49, is also Senior Professor from the Highest Institute of Arts in town, a position he combines with his main task, stage director (regisseur) of the Ballet of the Ballet of Camaguey.
Second creative brain of the local ballet company, this good-humoured man is the one who coordinates the schedule, selects the repertoire and his criteria weigh a lot within the Artistic Council.
As a cultivated person, Saladrigas appreciates the lasting things in art, but as a simple mortal he enjoys the fleetingness of a strong and bitter cup of coffee, prepared by the next door neighbour and the exaltation that a homerun or a spectacular catch cause.
It is time to say good bye, classes begin and the teacher comes back with his students; but we agree on a new meeting. This year the institution founded by Vicentina de la Torre commemorates its 40th anniversary, so projects are many and time is gold for this company, that in spite of limitations accumulated by the Special Period, does great feats to maintain the artistic and technical level of the company applauded in Cuba and overseas.