Cuba’s Losada will be centre-stage when The Nutcracker comes to Burlington

B821787113Z.1_20141207221516_000_GQ21CHT7S.2_Content[1]HAVANA Tough and tender in tights. That’s Jose Losada, the amazing new star of Ballet Nacional de Cuba. He looks like the boy next door, but he can jump like Nureyev.

The good news? He’s ours for Christmas.

Well, actually the week before, but with a star like this who’s counting dates?

When the Cuban company joins forces with Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble to present “The Nutcracker” in Burlington, Losada will be centre stage, wearing that great smile.

Tall, long-legged and boyish, Losada could melt the severest December snowstorm. Eyes dark and mischievous, a slightly shy shrug, he’s ferocious on stage. Think superstar dancer.

So who is Jose Losada? Why is he one of Cuba’s great exports, like Corona cigars and dark Havana Club.

I went to Cuba to find out.

Walk into the Havana Studios of Ballet Nacional de Cuba, past green palm fronds, past white washed walls, into a sunny courtyard where you’re suddenly struck by history. Here the great ballerina Alicia Alonso danced. Here she directed her great company. Here she made starts like Jose Losada.

Alonsos’ picture is still on the wall of the company’s main studio, smiling benignly at those who work there.

At 95, this company is still very much her domain.

B821787113Z.1_20141207221516_000_GQ21CHT8M.2_Content[1]Though there are stunning female dancers, this has always been a company known for its strong, masculine men.

Bathed in Havana sweat, 15 young stallions leap into the air. They don’t just invade space, they own it. But one stands out from the pack. Jose Losada is taking morning class.

“Stretch, stretch,” calls the ballet mistress, snapping her fingers. Losada stretches — into infinity.

Later, rehearsing “The Nutcracker Pas de Deux”, he lifts Amaya Rodriguez his partner. She’s light as a dragonfly’s wing in his strong and expressive arms. Together, they are the epitome of what classical ballet should be. Romantic, lyrical and filled with passion. They dance to the very edge of the music. Finished to their fingertips, they create dance magic even in morning sunlight.

After rehearsal, Losada walks into the quiet courtyard, dressed in dove tee shirt and black stretchy slacks. He sits down to talk, his jiggling leg and slight blush betrays a shyness that is endearing.

Losada’s English is pretty good. My Spanish is non-existent. It doesn’t matter.

“I’ve been dancing since I was five,” he says, nodding his head. “I don’t know why. Maybe it was the music that made me feel something. Salsa, rumba, folklorico, you name it, I danced it. I just like to move, I guess. I say I was born to dance.”

A little shrug, a tug at his shoe, a stretch in his chair, Losada warms to the conversation.

B821787113Z.1_20141207221516_000_GAR1CM6M7.2_Content[1]There’s nothing vain about him you understand. He wears his masculinity, good looks, like a comfortable second skin.

“I watched Carlos Acosta, Jose Manuel Carreno, all the big Cuban stars and I loved the way they jumped. Now I do it too. I try to hang in the air.”

Losada doesn’t know why Cuba has so many amazing male ballet dancers.

“We’re not afraid to dance I guess. Baseball and ballet, those are big things in Cuba. We don’t think there’s anything feminine about men dancing. And men love to come and watch. ‘Be a man, we’re told at ballet school. Real men are comfortable in tights.'”

Losada has remained in Cuba, refusing to defect to North America or Europe like many other Cuban stars.

“I have my family here,” he says. “My life is here. It’s complicated,” he shrugs looking at his shoes. “People leave because they want a different life. They want to dance new works. They want more money. But I’m happy in Havana. It’s my city. There’s music everywhere. And you know I feel free when I dance here. We have our own personality, our own character and a strong love of life.”

Losada, 28, attributes the greatness of the Cuban Ballet to Alonso who has been the artistic director, guide and spirit of the company since its inception.

It’s Alonso’s version of “The Nutcracker” Losada will be dancing in Burlington. He loves it because it’s a Christmas tradition.

“For me, Christmas is a time for family. I’m not married, but there will be eight of us for dinner, my mom, my aunt and my cousins. We have a traditional meal of pork, rice and black beans. We give little presents like soap or perfume. We decorate a little tree and play Christmas music. The fact I get to dance ‘The Nutcracker’ is just the icing on my cake.”

Though he has a slim frame, Losada is very strong. “I exercise at the gym every day. I build up my muscles. I guess I like to show off my body. It’s important to be able to lift, jump and spin in ballet; for that you need strength,” he says.

Being a black dancer in the ballet world is an issue for Losada.

“Traditionally, princes in ballet are white,” he laughs. “I’m not. That’s changing little by little. And I hope people like me for what I can do. That’s what should matter. My answer to everything is to work harder and be good at what I do.”

In Burlington, Losada will dance The Snow Pas de Deux, or The Nutcracker Grand Pas de Deux at most performances.

“Both are difficult,” he says. “Lots of tricky steps to manage because this production is very traditional and makes lots of demands.”

When you ask Losada what his biggest problem in life is, he grins. “Time,” he says.

“I’m always late. I don’t have a car. I’m always running to catch a bus. That’s okay. It helps keep me in shape.”

Expect Losada on time for his Burlington performances. “I never miss the curtain going up,” he smiles.


By Gary Smith, Hamilton Spectator

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years.

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