A Cuban dancer brings Shakespeare’s famous love story to life in Philadelphia
In her new lead role in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” this fall, Mayara Pineiro is living out a dream that has spanned years and continents.
Like the tragic heroine of the famous Shakespearean stage that she portrays in dance as part of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” this fall, Mayara Pineiro is no stranger to making decisions as a young person that are weighted with life-defining consequences.
Juliet, after all, “was a girl, but she thought like an adult,” said Pineiro. As a 17-year-old, the dancer, who was born and raised in Cuba, made the difficult decision to leave behind her friends, family, and home in order to immigrate to the United States in pursuit of her dream to perform with a company here.
From childhood lessons in Havana, to searching for free dance classes in Orlando, Pineiro has now reached the highest ranks of the professional ballet world. But it is the memories of that more difficult past which she draws on in order to depict Shakespeare’s Juliet all the more truly in the production, which runs Oct. 11 to the 21.
“I feel very identified [with Juliet],” said Pineiro, who believes that it’s very important for the dancer “to make it real, so that the public understands, and so that the audience understands the story, so that they feel what you are feeling in that moment.”
“To be able to do that you have to actually feel it. It’s very important to be identified with the character, especially in this ballet,” said Pineiro.
Pineiro first began dancing when she was just three years old, when her mother enrolled her in ballet and flamenco classes. She liked ballet the best, and continued with classical ballet until eventually at age 9 she won a place at the national school of ballet in Cuba’s capital city. She studied there for 8 years until she left and defected to the U.S in 2010, at the age of 17.
At first, the transition was difficult. Pineiro went to live with an uncle in Florida, and had to stop dancing and work to support herself — a difficult challenge for a dancer, for whom every day and every hour of practice matters. Ultimately, though, Pineiro found a dance school in Orlando that allowed her to take classes for free.
While there, she also met her now-fiancee, Etienne Diaz, a fellow dancer from Cuba who also dances with the Pennsylvania Ballet. Unlike the fictional heroine she is portraying, Mayara’s love story with Etienne has been anything but star-crossed: After traversing the world to perform and teach dance everywhere from Romania, to Italy, to China, and beyond, the two are now engaged and plan to be married soon.
Though they have traveled throughout the world, including a recent stint teaching classes in China, Pineiro and Diaz often spend their free time relaxing in the city, taking their dog for a walk, and enjoying Philadelphia's flourishing food scene. Pineiro also enjoys sewing, which she learned about as a little girl on visits to her grandmother’s house, who worked as a seamstress.
About a year ago, Pineiro overcame another goal she had set for herself: officially becoming a U.S. citizen.
“It was a challenge for me, and to have achieved it was very important for me. And it was something that I also wanted because I always felt part of this country, but now that I have citizenship, that I achieved this challenge, it’s different,” said Pineiro. “Now I feel like a member of the family.”
Pineiro has maintained her ties with her home country, though, going back to visit her family who still live there. She said that she could even imagine teaching dance there one day to expose students to a fusion of the Cuban technique and “everything [she] learned from Balanchine.”
Pineiro also feels at home with the PA Ballet company, where many of the dancers come from Brazil, Spain, Korea, China, and countries from throughout the world — a resource, said Pineiro, which artistic director Angel Corella is able to use to the fullest.
“He accepts us as we are, and he tries to bring out the best in each one of us,” said Pineiro of Corella, who took over as artistic director of the company at the beginning of its 2014/2015 season. “All of the schools are different, you know, and it’s very interesting because we all work differently, but it’s a good mix. It’s become an international company.”
Though Pineiro said that she is “very happy” with what she has achieved so far, as a ballerina, her dreams “never stop.”
“We always have to do more. As a dancer, I never stop dreaming,” she said. “And even if you do [a certain ballet] once, you dream about doing it again.”