Cuba says farewell to a jewel
Josefina Mendez, world renowned as one of the four jewels of the Cuban National Ballet (BNC), passed away in Havana after a four-year battle with cancer. Her death brings sorrow not only to the Cuban dance stage, but to all of the island's culture, since she was one of its most valuable exponents.
A ballerina of the highest quality, she brought glory to an entire age of our ballet, with her solid technical and artistic training, her stylistic ductility, and especially for her unalterable loyalty to the principles that for almost half a century have led the destiny of our Motherland, to which she always gave her very best as an artist and as a citizen.
She was born in Havana on March 8, 1941. She began her ballet classes at seven, in the Pro Arte Musical Ballet School, under the guidance of Alberto Alonso, who encouraged a vocation that found its main course as of 1955, when she became a professional member of the Alicia Alonso Ballet Academy and Ballet of Cuba, both institutions led by the famous Cuban ballerina and maestro Fernando Alonso, who had taken the task, since 1948, of bringing the enjoyment of ballet to all the Cuban people.
Josefina Mendez joined this historical quest, which suffered from official apathy, misunderstanding and attacks from the nation's governments of the time. Her passion and disciplined commitment soon turned her into one of the leading figures of this artistic endeavour that became known worldwide as the Cuban Ballet School.
The triumph of the Revolution in 1959, marked a time of definitions, and Josefina did not hesitate to remain loyal her constant ethics. She stayed on the island with her other big family, the Cuban ballet family, to which she added prestige for over four decades, first as an interpreter and later as a maitre and teacher of new generations of dancers.
Her brilliant service record, with the rank of First Dancer from 1962, is undoubtedly linked to the greatest triumphs of BNC in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s of last century, with performances in some 50 countries of America, Europe and Asia, and as guest Artist and Maitre in prestigious foreign companies , among them, the Paris Opera, Mexico's National Dance Company, Chicago International Ballet Festival, the Ballet companies of Odessa and Alma Ati, Sophia's Arabesque Ballet, the Rhine Ballet, Cali Ballet, and the Ballet of the Vienna Opera.
But she felt equally at ease on rustic stages of schools, factories, rural areas and military units throughout the length and breadth of this island, where she contributed to planting the seed of a beautiful art for the enjoyment of all of her compatriots.
In accordance with her outstanding artistic work and her loyalty to the Motherland, she was recipient of the highest recognitions and awards, among them the Bronze and Silver medals at the Verna Dance Contest (1964-1965), the Gold Star Award (Paris, 1970), the Golden Sagittarius International Art Award (Italy, 1976) the Medal of the Brazilian Dance Council (1987), the Distinction of National Culture (1981), the Alejo Carpentier Medal (1984) , the Annual Award of Havana's Grand Theater (1992), the Felix Varela Order (1999), Doctor Honoris Causa in Art, from Cuba's Higher Institute of Art (2000), and the National Dance Award (2003).
Possessor of a complex and charismatic personality, in which perfectionism, good taste, sense of humor, refined irony and almost tragic sobriety coexisted, she knew how to use all these features for the successful portrayal of the most varied characters. These gifts led to her brilliant performances of Lissette in the Fille mal gardeé, and Swanilda in Coppelia, or Madame Taglioni in the Grand Pas de Quatre, the Bernalda Alba, the Consuelo of Tarde en la Siesta. But this queen of style, the sylphide, the country-girl-willi, the evil or languid swan, could equally turn with same efficacy into the sensual Cecilia, or the tragic Penelope, the voracious Dionaea, the mysterious Flora or the very Cuban young lady of Dan-son, just to mention some of her most remarkable examples.
Josefina, an inspiring muse for Cuban and foreign choreographers, who created thirty four world premiers for her, managed to leave her imprint on a legendary gallery of characters, in a repertoire of over a hundred titles that will definitely survive her. They, in their own right, catapulted her to a place from which death or forgetfulness are banned. And there she will always be, as the grand dame of the stage, to receive our eternal homage.