Interview: English National Ballet star Venus Villa

Emily Handley 27 November 2012

Which ballet company are you working with at the moment?

I have been working with English National Ballet in London for the past six years, as well as spending one year at the Royal Ballet. At the moment, I am transferring to the company based at Rome’s Opera House, as I have been invited to work there as an Etoile Principal Dancer.

How old were you when you began studying ballet?

I was nine years old when I started at a professional ballet school in Havana, which was founded by the Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso. Before I started becoming really interested in ballet, I trained as an artistic gymnast for a few years, which gave me skills that I could use later on for my ballet training.

Which role in ballet do you enjoy performing the most?

My favourite role would either be Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet, or Kitri, who is the daughter of an innkeeper in Don Quixote. I love both roles for very different reasons: Juliet is a famous dramatic role, while Kitri is a strong and sensual character, and the role shows her strength and explosive nature. I love playing Juliet because of the love story behind the ballet. For me, nothing is more important in the role than expressing the powerful love she feels for Romeo, even though she is still so young. I played Juliet two months ago in a production with the company at the Opera House in Rome, choreographed by Patrice Bart. I’m in Don Quixote next, which begins on 22 December, and my husband Rolando Sarabia will play the lead. I am always inspired by the things I see around me in everyday life, and I try to convey this in my roles. I think that any artist or dancer is always inspired to some extent by what they see around them and by their own experiences. I try to make every character that I play into my own creation, and I feel I can do this by putting my own experiences to communicate my roles to the audience.

Are you enjoying being based in England at the moment with the English National Ballet?

England is a very good place to develop my artistic knowledge and ballet skills, especially my base at the English National Ballet in London. I think classical ballet has a huge importance in London. There are always very accomplished productions being put on in the city, such as the regular performances by the Kirov Ballet, for example. It attracts dancers of a very high level from all over the world, and the English National Ballet and Royal Ballet are among some of the world’s top ballet companies.

Do you miss Cuba when you are working in England?

Cuba will always be my country and my home. I will always love going back to Cuba and seeing my family, but my career is also very important to me. For now I will go anywhere that gives me the best opportunities to develop my career and improve my dancing skills.

Given that so much of your professional life is spent in different countries, do you enjoy travelling?

I love travelling and getting to know other cities, as well as meeting other dancers. As much as I enjoy visiting other countries, I also like having a base in one country that I can return to, and this is London at the moment.

Can you describe a typical working day?

In London, a normal day would involve getting up at eight o’clock to have breakfast, and then to arrive at the company for ten. At half past ten, I warm up and have classes which focus on exercises to improve my technical skills and barre work. Usually, we rehearse until half six in the evening, and then I will return home to relax and prepare for the following day. Of course, this depends on whether I have performances in the evening, in which case I stay at work to prepare for the show and to eat before I go onstage. After the show finishes, I will normally come back home after ten or eleven.

Have you got any plans for the future, after you finish working with the ballet companies in London and Rome?

When I retire from ballet, I would like to teach it to other people. I would love to pass on my knowledge and the skills that I have learned to young ballet dancers. I want to help them to learn about dance, and to enjoy it. Another plan is to train as a psychologist, as I would have wanted to study to go into psychology if I had not decided to go into ballet.

Emily Handley