Robert Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” will transform Roosevelt Auditorium into a winter wonderland filled with magic this year. The performances will take place from Dec. 6 – 28. EXTRA talked to two of Joffrey Ballet’s Latino members who have been part of the production for years—Raul Casasola from Spain and Yumelia Garcia from Venezuela.
EXTRA: At what age did you start dancing professionally?
Raul Casasola: I began dancing professionally when I was 19 at Victor Ullate Ballet.
Yumelia Garcia: I was 9 when I started dancing professionally in Caracas, Venezuela at the only professional and the biggest ballet school there.
How did you end up at Joffrey Ballet? What has your experience been like with the company?
Raul: I came to the Joffrey Ballet in 2009 from the Boston Ballet. I came to an open audition for the Joffrey in Chicago and a few weeks later I was offered a contract. My experience with the Joffrey has been enriching because of the company´s varied repertoire. This is my sixth season.
Yumelia: I was in Milwaukee dancing for the Milwaukee Ballet. I happened to meet someone from Joffrey Ballet who watched my rehearsal. She was the one who said you should come to Joffrey. I sent a video and, to my surprise, it really impressed them and they called me immediately. It was the first time in my life I felt I was paid for my hard work. This is my fifth year.
Describe your journey to the U.S. What was that like for you?
Raul: I grew up and trained in Colmenar Viejo, Spain. When I was 14, I received a scholarship to train with Victor Ullate in Madrid. Ready for a big change, I decided to look at companies in the U.S. Luckily, the Boston Ballet had an open audition in Paris. I went and they offered me a contract. The move to the U.S. was definitely a transition but I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here, especially at the Joffrey Ballet.
Yumelia: I was 17. When I was a little girl, I was influenced by American actors. We [my dance company in Venezuela] did a tour in the U.S. The director of the Cleveland Ballet offered me training. I told my mom, but she didn’t understand my ambition. Now she does. The first few years were hard but I knew I was going to make it. Eventually, I became a citizen after [I got] my green card.
What does it take to be a good ballet dancer?
Raul: I think the most important quality for a good dancer is discipline.
Yumelia: A lot of work. You have to have something different to offer because the competition is huge. A lot of determination because the pressure is big.
Why is the Nutcracker such a traditional ballet masterpiece? What is your role?
Raul: The Nutcracker is essential for a dancer´s holiday season because of its longevity. In Joffrey´s production, the cast changes in every show. I will be the Soldier Doll, a Russian Nougat and a Flower Cavalier. Having danced several versions of The Nutcracker, I can definitely say that this version is an audience favorite, a tradition for the holiday season.
Yumelia: I play the Sugar Plum Fairy, which is the role that everyone wants, the Columbine Doll and a Mirliton. I always treat the show as if it were my first time. It is a money maker in the U.S. Also, it has become a tradition as a holiday event.
What message would you like to send to the young Latinos out there who want to be involved in ballet?
Yumelia: Never underestimate hard work. We have to work harder as Latinos because we are not the first choice. We tend to get standardized and get roles based on that. Always work harder than anybody else to prove them wrong.
This post is also available in: Spanish