Mayara Pineiro and Davit Hovhannisyan. Photo: Petr Zahradnicek.
Every one of our dancers has a story that could be transposed into a movie. The only boy in a ballet school, the child of professional dancers, leaving home at nine to go live and train 18 hours from home, being told they’d never make it…
These stories have all of the determination, sacrifice, hardship and passion that the very best sports movies include. Sitting with Mayara Piniero the other day hearing her story literally made my jaw drop. At nine-years-old, Mayara started dancing at the Cuban National Ballet School and studied there until she was 17. After graduation she began to travel the world with founder Fernando Alonso, to Peru, Italy, South Africa and Canada. She performed major roles from “Le Corsaire,” “Diana and Acteon,” Kitri from “Don Quixote,” “Esmeralda” and “Majisimo” for competitions, festivals and galas. One of these trips was to Canada for a festival featuring the 12 best ballet schools in the world. Following the performance, there was a field trip to Niagara Falls. As the story goes (and you can Google it and watch the news coverage yourself), Mayara ate lunch, saw the sights… and then defected. At 17, she crossed the bridge into the United States, called her uncle in Miami and claimed political asylum. Mayara was held in an immigration detention center in New York for a night and then in Miami for 17 days – during which her family had no idea where she was. Talk about leaping into the unknown.
Eventually Mayara was released. She had to put her dream on hold for awhile; she didn’t have the money to continue her training. She traveled to Orlando Ballet for a week and there she met her boyfriend, Etienne Diaz (also here at Milwaukee Ballet). He had a contract with the National Opera of Bucharest and she was able to get one too so off they went to Europe where they also danced with Balleto del Sud in Italy. Mayara came back to the U.S. to compete in the Youth American Grand Prix in 2011 and took the gold medal. This is truly the stuff of dreams.
Mayara is in her second season with us and she had some breakout performances last year. You might remember her as the sassy little waitress in “La Bohéme.” I think if we were handing out awards though, my vote for best performance would be for “Bye, Bye Blackbird” in “Simply Sammy”. Performed in front of the curtain in black sparkly leggings and three-inch-heels, Mayara was all legs, unexpectedly comedic and irresistibly sexy. During a rehearsal in the studio, she had to perform it more or less to an audience of one: Michael Pink. I remember thinking that a) this must be terrifying and b) that it was a pivotal moment; she was really putting herself out there. But having learned her story now, dancing must really feel like freedom and that brings so much to her artistry. Her solo in this ballet was a big eye-opener for what she’s capable of and I could watch it over and over again.
In “The Nutcracker” Mayara will be dancing Snow and Snow Queen, Flowers, Arabian AND Marie for the first time! She is beautiful in her Sugar Plum tutu and she and Davit Hovhannisyan know how to bring out the subtleties of this age-old pas de deux. I watched her in rehearsal the other day and really saw the articulation of the music coming to life through her arms and through the presentation of her feet. Her face is gorgeous and her eyes twinkle. If you peek into the studio, you will see her turning in a corner. Four pirouettes is nothing for her, seven or eight is the norm. Look at her YouTube reel and you’ll see her do 12 as if it’s nothing. This 22-year-old has lived quite a life already – adventure, love, triumph and beauty. Sounds like the perfect Sugar Plum to me.
Director of Community Outreach